Sen. Abdul Kwari, the law and order man

Senator Suleiman Abdul Kwari (Kaduna North), Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, remains the only aspirant that in the build up to the 2019 elections party primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC), enjoyed the unflinching support of Nasir El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna state. El-Rufai’s unwavering support for Kwari was due to Kwari’s proven competency, capacity for hard work, and cognate experience as a former member of the House of Representatives – sterling qualities that forced a remarkable departure from El-Rufai’s policy of not intervening in the power of the people to elect their representatives.

The other compelling reason was the certainty that Kwari would resoundingly defeat Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi, who together with Senators Shehu Sani and Danjuma La’ah had constituted themselves into an antagonistic opposition. Kwari went on to win the elections by 411,497 votes, 118,667 votes more than the 292,830 scored by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state in the 2020 elections. Remarkably, Kwari, with his astonishing output, hasn’t misplaced the trust vested in him.

Kwari presently has seven bills at different stages of legislative actions before the Senate. They include the Forfeited Assets Management Authority Bill, Witness Protection and Management Establishment Bill, Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to, among other provisions, transfer the powers of the National Judicial Council to appoint or remove Judges of State Courts to the Governor of a state and the amendment of the third schedule to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for other related matters; Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for indigeneship and residency rights and for other related matters connected thereto and the public interest disclosure and complaints (Enactment) bill 2021 (SB. 644). There is also the Corporate Social Responsibility Bill.

It’s important to stress that law making and amendments to laws connote unforeseen problems that need to be solved. Truly, it’s not about conjuring up solutions for problems that do not exist, because without functional laws democracy cannot work, herein lies the importance of the bills proposed by Kwari and indeed other legislators.

For instance, the immediate background to the Forfeited Assets Management Authority Bill is the apparent lack of capacity of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to properly manage and account for movable and immovable forfeited assets. One of the accusations by Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, against Ibrahim Magu, the former Acting Chairman of the EFCC, was that he sold off forfeited assets to his cronies and allies. Malami, in what appears to be a power grab, has gone ahead to surreptitiously set up a 22-man inter-ministerial committee to dispose of assets forfeited to the federal government, supposedly on the order of Mr President.

Nigerians are known to thrive best in confusion, and the 2012 decision of the Federal High Court, which acknowledged the power of the EFCC to seize assets and to seek interim forfeiture orders, but in a legalistic summersault, surprisingly ruled that the EFCC lacked the power to appoint any agent to manage the forfeited assets without the express order of the court. By 2013, another Federal High Court compounded the crisis by nullifying the EFCC’s appointment of an agent, and appointed a Federal High Court official as the receiver/manager of the assets that were the subject of an interim forfeiture order.

Kwari’s bold intervention will clear the ambiguity on who has power to manage forfeited assets, ensure accountability and transparency in the management of forfeited assets, especially the immovable assets, some of which are in deplorable condition. The Bill, a product of a rigorous oversight of the EFCC, confirms the relevance of the legislature in entrenching good governance, through the instrumentality of the law.

The Ninth Assembly, if it continues on the road that its presently traveling, will go down in history as the body that finally bequeathed to Nigeria the True Federalism that virtually every section of the country has been clamouring for. Without doubt, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is a terrible piece of legislation, full of contradictions, a unitary constitution, made in the command image of the military, which the political class accepted so as to hasten their exit, with the hope to rework it.

The Witness Protection and Management Establishment Bill by Kwari also flows from a fundamental flaw in the Whistleblowers policy, an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Finance, in the war against corruption. Its lack of a comprehensive legal backing became a hindrance to the realisation of the lofty objectives, putting the cart before the horse. Considering the importance of information in the fight against corruption, the need for protection for whistleblowers ought to have been accorded the urgency it demanded, due to genuine fear of possible repercussions.

The noticeable lack of enthusiasm in the number of whistleblowers squealing has been attributed to fear of reprisals, due to lack of a protection protocol. The Bill will give impetus to the war on corruption.

Slowly, but steadily the National Assembly is championing the march towards the entrenchment of True Federalism, with members sponsoring bills from the El-Rufai True Federalism Committee Report. The El-Rufai committee had strongly canvassed for decentralization by devolving more powers, autonomy, and resources to the federating units, so as to foster efficiency and sub-national responsiveness and local accountability. It was also correct in its assessment that the problem with the Nigerian federation is the enormous exclusive legislative powers of the federal government with resultant over-centralisation of power and authority.

Senator Uba Sani and Hon. Garba Datti, both from Kaduna state like Kwari, have equally introduced bills that will address many other areas of concerns. Uba Sani has four consequential bills that will remove the anomaly of a unitary police force in a federal republic while the bill by Datti seeks to move labour matters from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. If passed, the expected consequence of the bill by Datti, which the shortsighted leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is fighting by its usual resort to brawn, rather than by solid argument, is that each state can freely legislate on its minimum wage, based on its resources.

The other Bills by Kwari, the law and order man, include an Act to Alter Nigerian constitution, which, among other provisions, will transfer the powers of the National Judicial Council to appoint or remove judges of state high courts to the governor of a state. This will entail amending the Third Schedule to the 1999 constitution, to move the constitutional provisions wholly or partly from the exclusive list to the concurrent list, so that powers and responsibility over them can be devolved. The NJC, established under Section 153(1) of the 1999 Constitution, like a federal police, is an anomaly in a federal system.

Nigeria’s evolution into a robust democracy is on an onward process, with the approach adopted by the National Assembly. They are also asserting the supremacy of the Parliament as the embodiment of supreme will of the people, as opposed to the posturing of non-state actors who can only overheat the system.

Ado writes from Kaduna.