Reliving Ekweremadu’s Legislative Activism
Former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, is bringing his experience to bear as a ranking fourth term Senator in the Ninth National Assembly, Deji Elumoye reports
That former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has gathered a lot of parliamentary experience at the local and international level is not in doubt. He still holds the record as Nigeria’s longest serving presiding officer and one of the longest serving lawmakers, as he clocks 20 years in the Senate by 2023. The Ninth Senate may be Ekweremadu’s last outing as a federal lawmaker having already told his constituents during his 57th birthday in May 2019 to start shopping for his replacement come 2023 as he was no longer interested in returning to the Red Chamber.
Besides his steering the efforts that led to the breaking of the jinx of the constitution amendment in 2010 and recording a plethora of other amendments since then, Ekweremadu has served as both first Deputy Speaker and Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament. The international community appointed him into the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace as Nigeria’s representative. He is also a member of the International Parliamentary Congress and the Climate Parliament.
Ekweremadu lost his re-election bid as Senate number two man during the inauguration of the 9th Senate on 11th June 2019. Those versed in the politics that midwifed the current Senate revealed that although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators-elect had planned to support Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo), Ekweremadu’s candidacy became an imperative in the early hours of that fateful day when Alimikhena succumbed to party pressure and pulled out at the last hour to allow for Senator Ovie Omo-Agege’s emergence.
Ekweremadu had alluded to this fact while fielding questions from Senate correspondents after the contest. He said: “We believe that there must be a referendum looking at what happened (on 18th April 2018) when I was presiding when the Senate was invaded. I also wanted a situation where Nigerians, especially through their representatives, will be able to present a referendum in respect of what transpired and then be able to either endorse or condemn it. That was all and I and my many of colleagues have made the point”.
He, however, assured that having made that point “it is now time for all Senators to now channel their energies to the current challenges of insecurity, unemployment, and issue of disunity, among others, which are staring the nation in the face”.
Ekweremadu is not the first former presiding officer to return to the National assembly as an ordinary member. Former Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, is also a member of the current House of Representatives.
Bills and Motions
Besides attending plenaries, Ekweremadu has enriched the 9th Senate with bills and motions. He has sponsored eight Bills in the current Senate: Bill for the Establishment of State Police, River Basins Development Authorities Act (Amendment) Bill, Federal High Court Act (Amendment) Bill, Federal Co-operative Colleges (Amendment) Bill, Private Detectives and Investigators Licensing and Regulation Bill, Institute of Mediators and Conciliators Establishment Bill, and the Federal University of Agriculture Mpu, Enugu State Establishment Bill.
These Bills are considered of strategic import. For instance, many Nigerians, including the Nigeria Governors Forum, see state police as the way to go in arresting the worsening security situation in the country.
The import of the River Basins Authorities Act (Amendment) Bill, according to Ekweremadu, is “to address the inadequacy and imbalance in the establishment of River Basin Development Authorities”. There are 12 River Basin Development Authorities for the six geopolitical zones, but the South East zone has only one (Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority).
On 11th December 2019, Ekweremadu’s motion entitled “Escalating Rate of Unemployment in the Country culminated in Senate’s resolution urging the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to declare emergency on unemployment and also initiate a sustainable Unemployment Fund for the payment of living stipends to unemployed Nigerians until they secure any kind of employment. Ekweremadu had warned that the high unemployment rate was a time bomb.
On 24th June 2021, Ekweremadu, who leads the South East Caucus of the Senate, presented a motion on the need to condemn and investigate the 20th June 2021 incident in Enugu in which an Inspector of Police shot and killed five persons and the 31st May 2021 fatal shooting of a Germany-based Nigerian, Mr. Oguchi Unachukwu, allegedly by personnel of the Nigeria Air Force near the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport.
Apart from chairing the Senate Committee on Environment, Ekweremadu is a member of the Committees on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Niger Delta, Judiciary and Human Rights, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Works, and Police Affairs.
By convention, former presiding officers are accorded the privilege of choosing the committee they prefer to chair. However, the general feeling when Ekweremadu was named as Chairman of Environment Committee was that such privilege might not have been extended to him. Not only did he accept the appointment, but has also given it his best, leaving no one in doubt of his capacity as a multi-tasking parliamentarian.
Under Ekweremadu’s leadership, the Committee on Environment has so far undertaken oversight visits to the Federal Ministry of Environment, National Agency for the great Green Wall, National Oil Spill Detection Agency, National Park Service, National Biotechnology Management Agency, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency and the Hydrocarbon Remediation Project (Hypres-Ogoni Clean). The Committee has processed and secured approvals of the fiscal budgets of the above agency and considered the Bill on Erosion Control Commission.
He is a member of the Brussels-based Climate Parliament and an active participant in the initiation of action for the institutionalisation of legal framework for the implementation of decisions reached at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 16th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP16), and the third meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA3).
The Committee on Constitution Review has equally continued to reap from his years of experience in constitution-making. He currently chairs the sub-committee on Past Constitutional Alterations to help guide the Committee on what has been amended, what could not be amended and way forward.
His membership of the Committee on INEC has also helped to further Nigerians’ yearning for more electoral reform. It is recalled that all the electoral reforms currently enjoyed by the country happened under Ekweremadu’s leadership as Chairman of the Committee on Constitution Review. Although his efforts to have electronic voting in the Electoral Act in 2010 was not only voted out, and electronic voting outlawed, he led the lobby that saw to the inclusion of electronic voting in the Electoral Act before the 2015 election. This paved way for the card reader in the 2015 general election and recent test-run of electronic transmission of results in the Edo and Ondo governorship election.
He has therefore brought these experiences to bear on the Senate Committee on INEC. Not many know that the much talked about electronic transmission of results was not originally in the Bill referred to the Joint National Assembly Committee on INEC. An impeccable source within the Committee told THISDAY that Ekweremadu, who is also a member of the Joint Technical Committee comprising INEC, CSOs consultants, and select members of both chambers of the National Assembly, personally drafted the clause for inclusion in the Bill. THISDAY had previously exclusively reported that this move was initially resisted by the Joint Committee leadership. But Ekweremadu threatened to resign his membership of the Committee should the clause be dropped.
It was also reliably gathered that Ekweremadu’s intervention helped to save the clause when the Committee’s report was widely reported to have been tampered with to outlaw electronic transmission of results. Ekweremadu was reported to have pointblankly told the Committee leadership that in his 20 years as a Senator and presiding officer for 12 years, there was never an occasion a Committee accommodate the opinions of Senate or House leadership. This ensured that the clause made it to plenary.
He therefore did not hide his disappointment over the rejection of electronic transmission during the consideration of the report at plenary even when clean copies of the report was printed, vetted and endorsed by Committee members. Reacting, Ekweremadu, who was attending a plenary of the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace in Montenegro, had tongue-lashed the ruling party.
He said: “It is very unfortunate that those who rode to power on the back of the electoral reforms and conducive democratic environment engendered by PDP administrations have continued to take various caustic measures to frustrate further electoral reforms”.
He however assured that all hope was not lost for electronic transmission of result in 2023. According to him, just as in the case of electronic voting, he and other progressive lawmakers would ultimately converge across party lines to salvage the situation during the harmonisation of the Bill by the House and Senate once the National Assembly resumes from vacation later this month.
Ekweremadu was equally at the centre of the legislative activism that ensured that the preservation of INEC’s independence and image by thwarting the confirmation of Buhari’s Personal Assistant, Lauretta Onochie, as INEC Commissioner.