The countdown to 2019 has begun. In fact, most politicians cannot see the 2018 calender.

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission's timetable, Nigeria has about 400 days before the next general elections.

But for the Senate, 2018 is a year of political activities before the actual year for the general elections.

2018 coincides with the completion of the third session of the 8th Senate.

The third session is usually critical in the life of a legislature as it incidentally also coincides with the period of elections rituals.

By the beginning of the Fourth Session, lawmakers would have known their fate as to those that may return to the next Assembly and those who will walk alone.

The lawmakers are resuming plenary on Tuesday, December 16 after the holidays.

The Senators are expected to take five critical political decisions before activities for the general elections kick off later in the year.

1. Confirmation Impasse

The Senate has practically ‘downed tools’ on this issue since April 2017.

It follows the two week suspension of plenary on the continued stay in office of Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The crisis was further aggravated after Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo insisted that the executive does not need senate's confirmation for some positions.

The impasse has stalled the confirmation of about 50 nominees sent in by the president.

The pending conformations include that of Deputy Governor of CBN, four nominees of Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) 10 Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Pension Commission (PenCom), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) and Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA).

But in an interview on Tuesday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Ita Enang, said the issue is being addressed.

“According to Enang, this year is going to be a very robust year in the executive-legislative relationship because Nigerians will see harmony, concord, cooperation and the best of relationship between the executive and the legislature.

“You are not going to have uncommon compromise you are going to have engagement not something combustible,” he said.

2. Zamfara Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Squabble

Awaiting the resolution of the Senate is the feud between Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara state and Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central).

Both are locking horns over Ahmad Bello Mahmud, a nominee of President Buhari for Resident Electoral Commission of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

While Governor Yari is insisting that the nominee, who is to represent Zamfara in INEC should not be confirmed by the Senate, Marafa who chairs the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), thinks otherwise.

The battle over the nominee whose confirmation has been hanging for nine months became messier when the Senate Committee on INEC chaired by Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi) recommended that Mahmud’s confirmation be rejected.

Mahmud was among the 27 persons nominated as RECs by President Buhari in March, last year. The rest nominees have been confirmed.

Following the objection of Marafa, the issue has been reassigned to Nazif’s committee. The report is being expected this month.

3. A New Cabinet

This is the year President Buhari will finally wean himself of his fear to change his cabinet. This was projected to take place in 2017 but the President did not make up his mind.

There are also reports that he has had difficulty getting replacements for the ministers even though he is convinced some of them need to go.

A reliable source said President Buhari is considering a tentative proposal to restructure some of the ministries and appoint eight new additional ministers.

In the proposal being considered by the President for the appointment of eight new ministers, one will represent each of the six geo-political zones and one each from Lagos and Kano States.

The preferential treatment for Lagos and Kano is to ensure the two most populous states are delivered to APC in 2019.

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The President is expected to lobby the senators, particularly those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party for his would be nominees.

Aside the President, each of the nominees is also expected to beg the senators for a soft landing during screening.

The last ministerial screening and confirmation was done in May 2017 when Professor Stephen Ocheni of Kogi State and Suleiman Hassan of Gombe State were confirmed.

4. The phrasal verb 'Restructuring'

Agitations for restructuring have remained on the front burner of the national conversation.

It comes amid cries of marginalisation by some ethnic groups. The controversy often pitches the South against the North, with southerners seeing the current structure as highly problematic and unworkable.

Meanwhile, President Buhari has passed the buck to the National Assembly to form modalities for the restructuring debate, but rejected any break-up of the country.

It is expected that the National Assembly will come up with a template on restructuring in the course of the year.

5. Constitutional and Electoral Amendments

The Senate is currently working on electoral amendments to strengthen the electoral process in the country.

To fine tune this, various amendment to the electoral process would soon be concluded.

Some of the bills for the amendments of the Electoral Act have been passed by the Senate and are awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives.

However, the ones requiring constitution amendments are currently bogged down in the lingering constitution amendment process.

Though the two chambers promised to complete work on the amendments early enough, it is almost becoming certain that they would come in at the last minute as usual.

Sources in the polity suggest that some forces who are not disposed to changes before the next general elections might be deliberately slowing down the process.

The non-passage of the amendments by the National Assembly has left INEC in a dilemma.

Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, recently appealed to the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of the relevant bills expected to guide the conduct of elections.

If the amendments are not passed in good time, the nation might have to make do with the 2010 Electoral Act, which has proved the most enduring so far.

Two highly anticipated bills are - Not Too Young To Run Bill and Independent Candidates Bill

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