Nigeria’s new parliament sworn in after April polls

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ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian lawmakers elected in watershed polls in April were formally sworn in to parliament Monday facing the key task of enacting legislation on long-delayed oil sector reforms.

The 109 senators were the first to take the oath, followed by 360 members of the House of Representatives.

“This, indeed, is a new dawn … for our great country,” said senate president David Mark, who retained the post, becoming the first to hold the position for two successive terms.

A deputy chief whip in the last parliament, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal a northerner, was elected speaker of the house of representative, beating his rival, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, from southwest Nigeria.

The National Assembly has the responsibility for ¨very critical legislation that will propel Nigeria to the world’s 20 most advanced economies,” Mark told the senators.

Topping the agenda of the new 469-member National Assembly will be passing legislation to overhaul Nigeria’s vital oil industry.

Uncertainty over the sweeping legislation, which has been years in the making, has chilled investments in new projects in Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil producers, with energy firms unclear on what the new rules will be.

The overhaul is aimed at allowing Nigeria’s government to collect more revenue from lucrative offshore projects as well as restructuring the state oil company, widely seen as corruption-ridden.

Government officials had pledged the law would be passed before the end of the last parliament.

Mark said this session of the National Assembly “has to be truly transformational in all ramifications. Our budgeting system needs a radical change.”

¨Nigerians complain that their democracy is too expensive,” Mark said.

“We as representatives of the people must initiate legislation that will reduce the cost of governance at all levels thereby freeing resources to attend to the basic needs of the people,¨ he said.

Despite the country’s oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians live in poverty with basic services such as electricity and drinking water in erratic supply.

Nigerian lawmakers are meanwhile considered some of the highly paid in Africa.

The swearing-in of the new parliament took place as the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives and powerful politician, Dimeji Bankole, was under arrest on allegations of corruption linked to house funds.

The anti-graft police arrested Bankole late Sunday fearing he was planning to flee the country ahead of questioning over alleged misappropriation of tens of millions of dollars of parliament funds.

Bankole lost his parliamentary seat in the April elections.

The polls were seen as a test of whether the Africa’s most populous country was capable of holding credible elections.

While judged as the fairest election since the end of military rule in 1999, the country was hit by deadly post-vote riots which left 800 dead in the mainly Muslim north.

The election also exposed a regional and religious divide in the country of more than 150 million people.

One of the first tasks of the upper house will likely be to vet cabinet nominees expected to be submitted by President Goodluck Jonathan this week.

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