NEW LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: THE MYTHS AND REALITIES

By Abubakar Jimoh

The recent passage of the 8th House of Representatives’ well-articulated Legislative Agenda, which was unanimously adopted by the members, if sincerely implemented, Nigerians will witness robust legislative proceedings that will drive desirable growth and development.

This piece will take practical look at some of the key elements in the House’s Agenda as they affect lives of the common citizens.

Building a responsive and responsible Legislature

A field experiment from Daniel M. Butler and David W. Nickerson at Yale University indicates that legislators’ ignorance of what the voters want may be a big deal alongside voter ignorance of what legislators are doing. They observed that the legislators receiving their district-specific survey results were much more likely to vote in line with constituent opinion than those who did not. Results from the survey show that legislators want to be more responsive to public opinion than they are in their natural state; and can be if given solid information about constituent beliefs.

As the 8th House promised to build a responsive and responsible House based on integrity, transparency, and accountability, it is important to reiterate that in Nigerian context, to be responsive and responsive, members have the primary responsibility to effectively relate and interact with their constituents. Also, strengthening the linkages between a legislature and the people is a necessary step for promoting peace and stability in a democratic system.

Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) describes representation as an important function of the House. The House has the primary mandate to carry out representative functions on behalf of the people who in our case, are demarcated in 360 federal constituencies. The legislators have a duty to represent the interests of their individual constituencies. Apart from servicing the needs of constituencies, for the legislators to be responsive and responsible as promised, members must listen to their constituencies, brief them about legislative and policy issues, aggregate the demands of these constituencies into legislative decision, and project such on the floor of the House.

In the words of Nikhil Dutta et al, legislators can effectively relate with constituents through “top-down” and “bottom-up communication”. Legislators represent the people`s interests, while simultaneously providing feedback and information to their constituents on the political processes.

When citizens feel that their views are represented in government and their representative bear constituents` interests in mind, they are not only encouraged to participate in legislative process, but also accept the legislature to enact legislation and the executive to implement and enforce it.

On this note, to be responsive and responsible as promised, the 8th House must be able to disseminate timely information about their actions to their constituents, educate them on political process, gather constituent feedback and act upon suggestions. This will enable the legislators to manage constituents’ expectations of the role, scope and constraints of legislative power, thereby ensuring public confidence and peaceful conduct of legislative assignments.

A legislator must be available and accessible to the public. He or she must report back to the constituents on what is happening in Assembly.  Although the constituents deviate in their expectations from the fundamental responsibilities of legislature, nevertheless, a good legislator must create a functional Constituency Office and maintain constant visit to his or her constituency to establish workable relationship with the constituents for constant consultation and as a feedback mechanism for proper representation. Through Constituency Office, members of the public can approach elected legislators and make constructive input in legislative process as it affect them. The services available at the constituency office must be available equally to all members of the public.

More importantly, the House can partner credible civil society to ensure proper education and orientation about the true responsibilities of the legislators for the constituents, to avoid unnecessary and unrealistic demands and expectations that compromise legislative standards.

The House must strictly comply with legislative Code of Conduct that guides members in their legislative activities to promote value of excellence, professionalism in legislators’ performance; and ensure civility and responsible conduct inside and outside of the Assembly commensurate with the trust placed in legislators by the electorate. High moral and ethical standards must be maintained to guarantee public’s confidence, reduction to a minimum of any conflict between private interests and official duties, should be carefully observed and differentiated. By so doing, members must strive to avoid all manners of engagement that might comprise legislative code of conduct, values and ethical standards.

Renewed commitment to oversight activities

It is no more news that Nigeria has suffered from era of mismanagement, wastage, and looting of national treasury, resulting in monumental financial loss that renders the country incapacitated to finance real sectors of the economy.

Interestingly, the highlights of the agenda adopted by the 8th House has revealed that the House oversight activities will leverage on the constitutionally mandated power of investigation under Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the conduct of government business.

Section 88 (1-2) of the constitution stated: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.

“(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to – (a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”

Section 89 (1-2) added: “For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitutional and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House of Representatives or a committee appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to – (a) procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial, as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter; (b) require such evidence to be given on oath; (c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions; and

“(d) issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or the committee in question, and order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refused or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.

The Section continued: “(2) A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by any person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.”

Legislative oversight has been briefly coined in the words of Sen. Victor Ndoma-Egba as the power to review, monitor and supervise agencies, programmes, activities and policy implementation of the executive arm of government by the legislature.

In functionality, legislative oversight aims at promoting accountability in government and asking tough questions of public officials. Legislature does this through helping the executives fix mistakes and most importantly preventing good decisions from going bad. Effective oversight is expected to give the public a view on important issues. It must provide people with the opportunity to have an opinion on what the executive branch is doing, and how they are going about it.

Oversight is paramount as the revision and supervision of the executive activities allow legislature to find and address problem areas; and to make the necessary improvements or changes to create an effective process.

Oversight responsibilities are exercised in two broad ways: “the police patrol” method and the “fire alarm” method. The “police patrol” method implies a continuous watchfulness or constant supervision of the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of Government and bureaucracy. This type of oversight is usually costly in terms of funds and capacity. The “fire alarm” method on the other hand is conducted as a result of concerns by constituents; the public, or the media. It can also happen through whistle blowing.

Appropriate Whistleblowers’ Protection

Importance of legislative oversight and its impact on corruption is proven in various parts of the world. Reduction in corruption results to enhanced economic development and increased standards of living. Having in place effective legislation on whistleblower protection in the country is long overdue. It would be recalled that Whistle Blower Protection Bill was passed by the Seventh National Assembly, but did not witness presidential assent. Adequate protection for the whistleblowers will help legislature either at national or state level to gather facts and findings on mismanagement and abuse by the executive.

Whistleblower protection will complement the 8th House’s investigative effort and unveil related facts on how effective executive arm exercises its constitutional mandates. It will encourage speaking out in a case of observed wrongful conducts and corrupt practices.

Promote equality among the citizens, right of women

To fulfill the above promises, the 8th House must understand individual diversity by recognising and valuing difference, where everyone is respected for who they are. European Commission describes equality as creating a fairer society, where everyone can take part and where everyone has the opportunity to be all they can be. Another analysis from University of Edinburgh, views equality is ensuring individuals or groups of individuals are treated fairly and equally and no less favourably, specific to their needs, including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age.

Despite the commendable contributions by women to the nation’s political development since democratic rule in 1999, they are under-represented in all key political decision making bodies in Nigeria including National and State Houses of Assembly. It is regrettable that although women constitute the greater number of registered voters in any of the elections held in the country, they are yet to experience full representative positions.

To promote culture equality as promised, the 8th House should seriously consider full-fledged gender inclusiveness in the composition of leadership at all levels, in fulfillment of the 35% Affirmative Action, which offers women equal chance to participate and capture a good number of their aspired positions.

Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill is a very important Bill awaiting passage by the National Assembly. The purpose of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is primarily to give effect to chapters II and IV of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the International Conventions on Human Rights which affirms the principle of non-discrimination and proclaim that all humans are born equal, in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights set out without distinction of any kind including distinction based on sex.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria has the highest population of in African continent with 38 percent of its women lacking formal education as against 25 percent for men and only four percent of women have higher education against the seven percent of their male counterpart.

Passage and assent of Violence against Persons Prohibition Bills by the 7th House and former administration, respectively is indeed appreciated. It is important for the 8th House to build working relationship with the executive to ensure the new Act is transformed to reality.

Of course, Nigerians are however not carried away from discussing the existing situation. Hence, in Nigeria, majority of girls and women face real-time poverty, gross inequality, molestation and injustice, denying them effort to acquire meaningful skills and contribute positively towards the nation’s development.  There are series of discrimination and atrocities against women include poor education, poor nutrition, violence and brutalization, vulnerability and low pay employment.

Similarly, studies have showed that every 10 minutes one woman dies from conditions associated with childbirth in  Nigeria; and only 39% births take place with assistance of medically trained personnel, coupled with the scarcity of skilled attendants, absence of personnel among other factors impede the effectiveness of health services in the country.

In 2012, a report by UK Department for International Development (DFID) In eight Northern States, over 80% of women are unable to read (compared with 54% for men), owing to some traceable factors such as lack of funds, existing traditional and religious inclination, non-provision of educational facilities by government, poor funding of the educational sector, weak educational policies, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation and ignorance.

The 8th House must in its doings, promote non–discrimination, combat racism, and other forms of intolerance, rights of persons with disabilities, equality between women and men and gender mainstreaming, prevent violence against children, young people, women and other groups at risk, promote the rights of the child.

While girl child right has hitherto been ignored in some part of the country, rapid population growth characterized by poverty and food insecurity has resulted in persistent demand for child labour to enhance for domestic activities.

Instead of moral support, proper up-binging, good education and respect for Child Rights, thousands of girl children are enslaved by parents or guardians to engage as domestic workers or forced to early marriage across the country, primarily to mitigate socio-economic challenges facing their families as against AU Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which promotes right to live and personal integrity; Section 33 and 35 of 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria which promotes rights to live and personal liberty respectively; and 2003 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on Child Rights.

As confirmed by UNICEF, trafficking of girl children for the purpose of domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour remains a widespread phenomenon in Nigeria.

A report by UNFPA revealed that nationwide, 20 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 40 percent were married by age 18. Child marriage is extremely prevalent in some regions. In the Northwest, 48 percent of girls were married by age 15, and 78 percent were married by age 18. Only 2 percent of 15–19-year-old married girls are in school, compared to 69 percent of unmarried girls. Three out of four married girls cannot read at all; and almost one out of four married girls gave birth before age 15.

Child marriage remains a fundamental violation of human rights as many girls are married without their free and full consent; and persistent deprivation of girl children rights to good education and personal liberty have altered their efforts to secure befitting future which includes improved health, lower fertility, and increased economic productivity.

Promote Rights of Youths and Vulnerable Groups

It is no more news that the country is presently experiencing economic difficulties while youth unemployment is on the increase. Youth unemployment remains one of the most critical socio-economic problems facing the country. The 8th House can work closely with the executive to prioritise such legislation (including the proposed Structural Development Goals) that will positively enhance employment opportunities for the youth to save the country from the rising armed robberies, vandalism, kidnapping, and unwarranted agitation.

Revitalisation and diversification of the economy through massive deployment of agriculture, industrialization and Small Scale Businesses are areas of critical important that must be prioritised by the House to save the country from over-reliance on oil sector, which results in legendary tardiness, and backpedals growth and development at all levels.

A study by CISLAC confirmed that the recurring nature of numerous internal conflicts and natural disasters have rendered thousands homeless without means of livelihood to suffer a lot of depravity and other forms of hardship including loss of income from inability to work in places where they are relocated as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and the aged are persistently kept under trees and in uncompleted houses and left uncared for; as against the African Union Internally Displaced Persons Convention, which sets out the obligation of member states (including Nigeria) to protect and assist IDPs in meeting their basic needs.

The 8th House in collaboration with executive should ensure establishment of appropriate early warning systems and proactive measures to reduce risks of natural disaster, prevent and resolve conflicts in any form to mitigate the causes of displacement across the federation through peaceful coexistence among individuals and local communities.

There are millions of Nigerian citizens with living with disabilities, yearning for equal access and protection of their fundamental human rights to effectively contribute to society. With Nigeria’s current situation, the country cannot afford to ignore this important segment of the population. The security issues being faced, economic and unemployment crisis, and other related issues pose further challenges to individuals with disabilities.

Reports revealed that many years now, persons living with disabilities through the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities have been demanding the passage of the National Disability Bill. Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which under Article 4 mandates member states to pass national legislation on disability.

Protection of Persons with Disabilities Bill was passed by the 7th Assembly, but did not witness presidential assent. The Bill seeks to establishment an Agency that will cater for the needs of persons with disabilities including healthcare, employment opportunities, and easy access to both public and private establishments. It gives persons with disabilities right to equality and shall not be discriminated against on grounds of their disability.  Rights of disabled persons include protection from inhuman treatment and equal protection and safety in situations of risk, armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters.

Tackling Revenue Linkages

The 8th House promised to put in place measures to promote economic growth and development through robust legislation against the culture of non-remittance of internally generated revenue amongst Ministries, Department and Agencies of government.

The House should support ongoing effort by the executive to sustain the existing momentum at blocking loopholes and leakages manifesting in monumental corruption that eats deep into the nation’s socio-economic and backpedalling growth and development. While corruption and money laundering are not farfetched in Nigeria, the alarming rate of financial loss the nation continues to suffer from stolen crude has called for global attention.

CISLAC has lamented the level of impunity in the nation’s oil and gas sector, noting that about $6 Billion loss annually in 2014 to crude oil theft. “The immediate past Finance Minister in 2013, indicated a volume of over 300,000 bpd and a financial loss of some $12 billion annually, corroborating the figures of survey conducted by the Global Financial Integrity at the instance of the Central Bank of Nigeria in the same year.

“The immediate past Minister for Petroleum Resources estimated that Nigeria lost N1.29 trillion to industrial scale theft of crude oil and production shutdown last year in 2014. PENGASSAN puts the estimates at $25 million daily. The inability of stakeholders to agree on the volumes is a problem resulting from the absence of metering facilities.

“In spite of the numerous committees set up by the previous administration, the problem had escalated. It is obvious that beneficiaries of oil theft had usually included top politicians, high ranking military officers, militants, unscrupulous oil company personnel, rogue oil traders, disgruntled communities, and a range of local and international facilitators. This explains why curbing it has been difficult as the political will has been lacking,” it noted.

Immediate passage of the much delayed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by the 8th House will install transparency, accountability and good governance in the petroleum industry.

As CISLAC recommends, the era of post theft probes by the National Assembly should be replaced by a proactive, effective, and transparent oversight framework that prevents and stops corruption rather than dramatized but futile efforts to recover looted resources which legislative probes have turned out to be.

Strengthened legislative-executive working relationship is essential to fast-track amendment to the outdated anti-graft laws to enable appreciable performance of the nation’s anti-graft agencies.

Use of ICT for legislative activities

Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) has observed that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play critical role in enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of legislative processes. The 8th House can use ICTs to manage proceedings and records keeping, enhance communication process, improve tracking capacity, establish new deliberative platforms and promote better public accessibly. ICTs also allow the Legislature to organize its own self-generated information in a more efficient way. In the analysis of CITAD, by using the website, it would give visibility to the work of the legislature, such that members of the public would always be in the know of what it is doing. It would also readily receive feedback from the public on its activities.

In order to ensure openness and effectively utilize the ICTs in the legislative processes and activities, the House must build the capacity of the legislators to maintain official and personal websites relating to their duties as members of the Legislature; train the members on the use of e-voting system that can be used in plenaries. The House should provide mechanism and framework of e-voting.

Adoption of ICT in legislative work will help in effective dissemination of legislative information and activities that encourages public participation, promotes transparency and well-informed citizens about emerging developments in the legislature. ICT will help the House to constantly disseminate timely information about their actions and budget to the public, educate the citizens on legislative process, gather constituent feedback and act upon suggestions.

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