Strengthening Nigeria’s Democratic Process

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent roundtable organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies was targeted at strengthening Nigeria’s democracy

The National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), recently organised a roundtable for speakers of state house of assemblies. According to the organisers, the roundtable was aimed at strengthening democratic process, especially now that the ninth assembly was just concluding it’s preparation for proper take off in its four year duration.

In his welcome address, Director of National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, said the conference was the first since the 2019 election, adding that the lawmakers have enormous responsibilities to the Nigerian people in ensuring good governance, providing a forum for grassroots representation and oversights.

Urging the lawmakers to be active participants in strengthening the capacity of law making in Nigeria, he said the 1999 Constitution empowers the State House of Assembly to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the state.

Under sections 4(6)(7), 90, 91, 100, 101, 128, 188, he added that state assemblies are vested with powers to carryout different range of functions including: representation, law making, investigation, approval, regulation and oversight.

He buttressed: “Thus, the state house of assembly, like the National Assembly, has enormous responsibilities to the Nigerian people in the spheres of ensuring good governance, providing a forum for grassroots representation and, generally, in the areas of lawmaking, effective representation and oversight.

“More than the National Assembly, state legislatures, therefore need the necessary capacity to perform the enormous and tedious responsibilities saddled on them by the constitution.

“This is even more important considering the high turnover (about 70 per cent) in state legislatures, which parallels that at the National Assembly.

“From its early days as a project and spanning through to the establishment of the institute, capacity development for state houses of assembly was prioritised. The effective performance of constitutional mandate assigned SHOA in the constitution requires adequate capacity for legislators, legislative staff and aides.

“In the absence of sufficient capacity, state legislatures will not only fail to perform their statutory responsibilities but more importantly would be unable to be accountable to the people.”

Trainings

It is in light of these considerations that the institute organised this one day event focusing on two principal areas: the first is reviewing the activities of SHA with a view to identifying their impact and challenges and mapping out strategies to enhance their performance; and the second is strategic capacity building activities (such as training) aimed at building and strengthening capacity in areas of needs.

“In the past eight years, the institute has invested greatly in developing capacity of legislators, staff and aides through local and international trainings. We have organised several short courses, conferences, retreats, workshops and seminars on various aspects of parliamentary management and administration as well as legislative practice and procedure.

“In addition to providing training to legislators and staff at the national and state levels, the institute has also organised exchange of experience visits for legislators to other parliaments around the world. We have also designed training modules for state assemblies on topics such as the budget process, effective management of committees, legislative drafting, report writing and official reports, among others.

“These trainings are available on demand and state assemblies should take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Institute to build their capacity. Furthermore, since 2013, the institute has offered Postgraduate Diploma and Master’s Degree Programmes in Legislative Drafting, Legislative Studies, Parliamentary Administration, Elections and Political Party Management, Election and Party Politics, Constitution and Constitutionalism and HND in Official Reporting.

“The institute also runs Open Distance Learning (ODL) for the postgraduate programmes. Our students include legislators (Senators and Honourable Members) along with legislative staff serving in various capacities (including committee clerks and staff, research staff, chamber staff and drafters, etc.) as well as legislative aides.

“These programmes are available on both full-time and part time basis and are administered in affiliation with the University of Benin, Nigeria.”

Collaboration

Sulaiman added, “Suffice to say that you have become presiding officers at a very crucial moment in the development of the legislature at the sub-national level in Nigeria. On June 8, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari, signed the Fourth Constitutional Alteration Bill, which effectively grants financial autonomy and independence to the houses of assembly of the respective states and to the Judiciary of the respective states.

“The Act alters the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to provide for the funding of the State House of Assemblies directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state.

“The autonomy granted to state assemblies has considerable implication on good governance particularly with regards to accountability and transparency. It means that going forward, you would be better positioned to recruit capable and competent staff for the Assembly, determine yourfinancial resources and decide on the internal governance and organisation of the Assembly.

“In this regard, the institute is prepared to collaborate with all State Assemblies to conduct institutional and capacity needs assessment, conduct trainings and workshops and develop manuals and other relevant materials needed for the effective functioning of the legislature. We are also open to providing technical support towards the development of your various Assemblies.”

Capacity Building

In his address, Speaker House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was represented by his deputy, Rt. Hon Ahmed Idris Wase, said the timing of this occasion is another factor that brings out the ingenuity of the organisers, giving the fact that the ninth assembly is just concluding its preparation for proper take off in its four years duration flight.

He said: “The theme “strengthening the capacity of state legislature for effective governance” is very apt. This is largely because it’s only an effective cabin crew that can successively pilot an airplane from its take off to a safe landing. This therefore implies that the role of capacity building cannot be over- emphasised, particularly in a growing democracy like ours.

“The constitutional roles of appropriation, law making and over sight bestowed on the legislative arm of government require skillful display of intellectual input based on sound knowledge acquisition through information, training workshops, seminar, retreats, etc.

“I therefore urge you to painstakingly accord this event all the seriousness it deserves so that the huge tasks ahead of us as a critical arm of government would have been discharged firmly with courage and precision. The time we are in calls for service delivery that are only possible through knowledge based application of meager resources to attain utmost objectives.”

LG Autonomy

On local government autonomy he said: “In the past, the seventh and eight National Assemblies took some far reaching resolutions towards granting the local governments autonomy. That was not to be then because the state houses of assembly did not share in the wisdom of the national assembly. Today, the agitation is even more than before.

It is pertinent for me at these juncture to emphasise that the lessons learnt from that unwillingness calls for us to believe in ourselves as legislators and work for the independence of the legislature.

“Let us appreciate the need for a collaborative effort to work with the other arms of government, but we must realise that the influence from any quarters must not override our national interest because an independent legislature is not only critical for democratic survival, but also guarantee even development in the sectors of our economy.

“I therefore challenge you all speakers of the state houses of assembly to save the local government system from an eminent collapse through your instrument of law making. A revitalised local government system would in our view bring about effective governance.

“Furthermore, my distinguished speakers, for a more robust ninth Assembly, I would also implore you to invest in knowledge acquisition by running short and long term course in areas such as budget implementation and related programmes so that through oversight engagements you can insist on real value for money on contracts awarded for the wellbeing of our people upon whose mandate we stand here today.”

Constitution Review

He added, “Very soon, the ninth national assembly would commence its process on the work of its constitution review committee. In that process, there would be need for synergy between the national assembly and the state houses of assembly to attain set objectives.

“I must point here that there is a need for caution. The caution lies in our collective efforts to ensure that the work of law makers, be it at the state or national does not suffer any infringement.

We must not only been seen to be working, but work in a way that our work would speak for us. Of particular note is the need to point out the sanctity of the national assembly which must be recognised.

“For the avoidance of any doubts, the National Assembly is the head of the legislature in Nigeria. Events of recent weeks in some parts of the country tended to go in the wrong direction, but we are glad that intervention by the Nass has brought wisdom to play in the eyes of men, particularly in Bauchi and Edo States. Such interventions by the National Assembly are necessary to safe guard the institution.

“I want to assure you that the National Assembly would not allow any break down of law and order in any state assembly, let alone to contemplate any vacuum.”

Goodwill

In his goodwill message, Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislators of Nigeria and Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, urged relevant stakeholders to intensify efforts toward implementation of the constitutional provision of financial autonomy to state legislature and judiciary with a view to strengthening our democracy.

Obasa who was represented by Abel Peter Dia, Taraba Speaker, urged the lawmakers to be active participants in the round-table.

He said: “The roundtable with its noble objective of discussing common issues facing legislature at the state level is apt and timely. We are not unaware of the Federal system of government being practised in Nigeria. But indeed, there are common challenges confronting state legislature in our country.

“It is well over a year that President Muhammadu Buhari gave his assent to financial autonomy for both state legislature and judiciary in the last constitution review exercise. We want to use this medium to call on all the relevant stakeholders to intensify their efforts towards effective implementation of the constitutional provision with a view to strengthening our democracy.

“I like to implore my colleagues to be active participants in the course of our deliberation in the roundtable for the effective accomplishment of its objective.”

Also speaking, Oyo State Speaker, Mr. Adebola Ogindoyin, said the lawmakers as democrats want the laws implemented which was part of the reasons for the roundtable.

QUOTE:

I therefore challenge you all speakers of the state houses of assembly to save the local government system from an eminent collapse through your instrument of law making. A revitalised local government system would in our view bring about effective governance….Furthermore, I would also implore you to invest in knowledge acquisition by running short and long term course in areas such as budget implementation and related programmess so that through oversight engagements you can insist on real value for money on contracts awarded for the wellbeing of our people upon whose mandate we stand here today