The Quest for a Responsive National Assembly

0

By Egbo Mon-Charles

Mon-Charles Egbo defends the commitment of both chambers of the National Assembly to engage stakeholders responsibly

In all spheres of human endeavour, politics and governance inclusive, public goodwill is essential for bottom line success. It is an intangible asset acquired through excellent performance, inspired by public opinion and then complemented with adequate publicity, because organizations and individuals are rated based on what is known about them. Goodwill is about perception. Also it is a function of public engagement and responsiveness in-which transparency or openness is very crucial in developing and sustaining.

Hence, an entity such as the legislature cannot excel amid negative attitudes from the public. Bcause parliamentary roles are highly information-driven, trust-deficit or communication breakdown between legislators and constituents including other diverse stakeholders especially the media, retards governance.

As an instance, whatever accomplishments of the previous assemblies, particularly the immediate past, were diminished by poor public perception. Consequently, the 9th National Assembly inherited huge image and reputational crises. This, of course, necessitated its deliberate policy and strategy towards a parliament that truly enjoys the confidence of the Nigerian people. The legislative agenda of both chambers reflect clear-cut commitment, through public engagement and responsiveness, to taking back the legislature to the masses who indeed are the major stakeholders. And ideally, they recognize the catalytic role of the media in the vision.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, declared that “there will be a conscious effort to build sustained public engagement. We shall use all available channels to ensure a regular flow of information to the general public and encourage feedback and dialogue, so that we remain responsive to the Nigerian people that we were elected to serve. I am confident that, in no time, we shall transform the public perception of the Senate positively.”

Complementing the senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, affirmed that, “The 9th house of representatives will be a reform assembly, a centre of policy innovation, and agent of transformation in the administration”. He further stressed that the agenda, “Is the product of extensive deliberations and contributions from within and outside the House of Representatives.”

Instructively, both chambers are unanimous on the imperative of demonstrating exemplary leadership by looking inward, particularly on the outcries about national assembly’s budget.

Lawan is convinced that, “To effectively address the crisis of confidence between the Senate and the general public, the 9th Senate shall adopt a transparent and accountable system that offers full disclosure of its budget in terms of personnel costs, operational expenses and other expenditure.”

Similarly, the Speaker believes that though there are several steps, the, “First among these is to reform the way the house of representatives manages its own affairs in every area. From the administration of our finances to the operations of the committee system and the process of vote taking and recording in the House.”

Acknowledging the media’s relevance, while Lawan held that “there is no shut out of the press from what we do. We need the press to tell Nigerians what we are doing”; Gbajabiamila reminded journalists that “nation building is a joint task, not just about the members; it also includes those of you in the fourth estate of the realm. We will be working together and working together means a lot of things. It means that we are going to be developing Nigeria together. You are an intrinsic part of the business of law making.”

Again, the 9th assembly is committed to legislative excellence. Senator Lawan was emphatic “that whatever we do in this senate and indeed in this national assembly is in the best interest of Nigeria. We will not compromise on anything as far as the national interest is concerned”. Lending his voice, Hon. Gbajabiamila charged the media to be dispassionate and professional. According to him, it should not “only be reporting positive stories about the house. No. this is the part of check and balances. If there is any negative, don’t waste time, don’t hesitate, report it. But imbibe the culture of investigative journalism and not speculative journalism that will sometimes say nothing but flames the anger of the constituents.”

These efforts at perception repair nonetheless, the 9th assembly has been pragmatic in meeting the expectations of the people, aware that performance is the ultimate.

Towards cutting cost but achieving maximum results, both chambers adopted joint oversight duties as demonstrated among others, in the unprecedented and insightful visit to the epicentre of the military operations against insurgency in the North-East. On the 2020 budget, they displayed firm commitment to national interest. Thoroughness and empathy profoundly guided the overall consideration of the proposal. Particularly, the resolve to revert to January-December fiscal cycle is remarkable. This initiative in the words of the senate president, “will bring better economic environment for our people when the budget implementation starts from January instead of June.”

In enlightened democracies, the quality of legislation just like the pace of budget implementation, is very critical to speed and direction of national development. As such and in the interest of the citizenry, the 9th assembly has since extended hand of fellowship to the other arms particularly the executive, for rewarding synergy in legislation and governance, though without compromising its independence. Aside having cordial but rigorous budget defence sessions with the ministries, departments and agencies, there was an epochal meeting between the leadership of the national assembly and the attorney general of the federation for sustainable seamless passage as well as accenting of bills towards accelerated national development. Rationalizing this collaboration, Lawan reiterated that “we are also determined to work with the executive arm of government because when we work together Nigerians benefit better”.

Empirically, the 9th National Assembly is ambitious to make a difference. These deliberate policy and actions for open, transparent and responsive legislature are clearly indicative that sovereignty is gradually returning to the people. Therefore it deserves the understanding, cooperation and support of all to deepen these orchestrations for improved living standard of the citizenry. Otherwise, as the legislature is undermined, governance suffers proportionately.

*Egbo, a public relations practitioner can be reached at moncharles@yahoo.com