Keynote address by His Excellency, Senator (Dr.) Abubakar Bukola Saraki (CON) on the occassion of the maiden edition of national assembly interactive session with Civil Society Organizations (CSO) on the 2016 budget, held at senate conference room 231, National Assembly complex on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016
Mr. Speaker, Distinguished and Honourable legislators here present, leaders from the non-governmental and civil society sectors, and thought-leaders from the online and social-media-sphere: Welcome to the maiden edition of the National Assembly Interactive Sessions.
Everyone here will agree: we have come here today with the determination and resolve to ensure increased citizen participation in the processes that govern our activities here at the legislature. Today’s session on the 2016 Budget is the first of these series of engagements – but I assure you all – it will not be the last.
As my colleagues and I have stated on multiple platforms, on previous occasions, and at various events: the National Assembly is actively working towards repositioning its efforts.
These steps – though not as complete as some of you may want; and these endeavours – which may not be as perfect as all of us may wish for – are fully intended to ensure that this National Assembly works for and on behalf of every Nigerian, and for the present and future successes of our collective ‘Nigerian Project.’
Ladies and Gentlemen: we will all agree that this reformation process must begin with ‘Accountability.’ This is why one of the most important undertakings of the 8th National Assembly is the adoption of our ‘Legislative Agenda.’ What this agenda does is three things:
First, it establishes the parameters and focus for our representative duties over the next four years;
Secondly, it establishes a binding framework through which CSOs, development partners and other professional bodies can collaborate and cooperate with us, and lastly; it sets a standard for the goals we must meet, and the criteria for the citizenry to hold us accountable to.
Over the last eight months, we have made ambitious strides in our quest for a more effective and efficient use of our legislative resources. These endeavours have included pushing for the timely delivery and passage of bills; supporting the reformation programmes of the current administration; and expeditiously reforming the annual budget and economic planning processes. As we have done this, we have also taken into cognisance the urgent need for inclusivity and on-the-ground monitoring of budget implementation.
Nigeria has come a long way since our return to democracy in 1999. Undoubtedly, this road has been full of challenges. Consequently, our task as your representatives in government is to work towards the actualization of a more effective federal system of governance. A close examination of the budgets of the past 16 years shows that the ineffective implementation and abandonment of projects have caused excessive wastages that have negatively buckled the Nigerian economy.
Cross section of CSOs
In response to this, the National Assembly has stepped up its oversight functions to ensure that funds are spent ‘how’, ‘where’ and on ‘what’ they were earmarked for. Furthermore, as economic diversification is crucial to the success of our economy, we are working to pass laws that will boost internally generated revenues by plugging the loopholes that exist in our system, and encouraging the small and medium-scale business owners in our communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, we know that the work ahead of us is necessary. We also know that the road ahead of us will be lined with challenges. However, we also know that we cannot do this alone. We need all hands on deck for this one.
In this regard, in response to citizen’s concerns and public expectations, the 8th National Assembly through this platform and the various others that we have set up online, will continue to be accessible to you. We will work tirelessly to address your concerns’ after all; we are only here because of you.
Today, this maiden interactive session has been convened to allow us all to explore new angles, consider fresh opinions and weigh new suggestions on the reasonable changes that need to be made, and on the best way to forge ahead with the 2016 appropriations process. This is not only an opportunity for you to air your views, it is also a window that has presented itself that will allow all of us to work together to pass a budget that we can all be proud of.
Therefore, I urge you all to feel free to point out your genuine concerns about the budget. Know that your relevant input is crucial towards ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of the Senate to pass a document that we can all be proud of. When the civil society of a nation is strong, loud and empowered – we are all better off for it. When the civil society is a part of the process – with seats of their own at the decision-making table – governments become more responsive and accountable.
As we strive to acquire and execute critical and suitable programs that are highly beneficial to every citizen of this Nation, we ask for your continued support, patience and understanding. These sessions might be baby steps to some, but know that little steps are the beginnings of greater outcomes that lead to the positive change that Nigerians voted for at the polls.
Again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming. Without further ado: Let’s get this process started.
God bless you, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Senator (Dr.) Abubakar Bukola Saraki
President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria