2017: National Assembly and the Pending Priority Issues

By Abubakar Jimoh

As the National Assembly resumes legislative activities for the New Year, it becomes paramount to draw attention of the legislators to pending and important issues that will shape the nation’s socio-economic development such as Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill, openness and transparency in the 2017 Appropriation Bill, Constitutional and Electoral Reforms, constituency accountability, sustainable security, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and Open Government Partnership.

Petroleum Industry Governance and Institutional Framework Bill 2015

The hostile nature of the existing law governing the oil and gas sector in the country led to reforms that culminated in preparation of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in 2008. The non-passage of the Bill about a decade after was due to many identified factors.

Meanwhile, the presentation of Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) 2016 on the floor of the Senate on 13th April, 2016 presented new opportunities for the Bill to be passed. It is different from previous versions of the PIB in many ways.

If passed into law, the new Bill will provide appropriate legal and regulatory framework particularly important for optimal performance of the oil and gas sector. It will pave way for efficient and effective governing institutions with clear and separate roles for the petroleum industry; establish a framework for the creation of commercially oriented and profit driven petroleum entities that ensures value addition and internationalization of the petroleum industry; promote transparency and accountability in the administration of the petroleum resources of Nigeria; and foster a conducive business environment for petroleum industry operations.

The Bill will ensure competitive, open, non-discretionary licensing and tender processes; promote independent regulator insulated from political interference; eliminate discretionary powers to the President and Minister of Petroleum; establish Petroleum Host Community Fund to be used for the development of economic and social infrastructure of the communities within the oil producing areas; address the lingering challenge of gas flaring, environmental protection, remediation and restoration.

In December 2016, the Bill was subjected to a Public Hearing in which the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and her partners actively participated. To achieve transparency, accountability and significant growth in the oil and gas sector, the legislators must fast-track passage of the Bill.

2017 Appropriation Bill

Encouraging thorough, open, and constructive process in the passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill is essential to win citizens’ confidence in the legislators. Legislative openness in the Appropriation process entails transparent, inclusive and participatory process to reflect the needs and aspirations of Nigerians.

Legislative openness strengthens relationship between the people and the legislature and provides a means for the people to participate in the legislative activities. Legislative authority is exercised and upheld by legitimacy. The legitimacy is guaranteed by strong trust reposed on the legislature by the people. Strong trust in this case, cannot be achieved without adequate democratic process to allow for effective participation by citizens at all levels.

Legislative openness is increasingly recognized for its crucial role in making appropriation information more accessible to citizens, strengthening the capacity of citizens to participate in the process, improving legislative accountability, and increasing collaborative dialogue among the legislators on issues affecting Appropriation Bill.

It is evident across the globe that citizens’ participation in budgetary process can help governments to be more accountable and responsive, improve the people’s perception of budgetary performance and democratic dividend.

While endemic socio-economic problems as well as poor budgetary and economic policies implementation result in wasteful spending, misplaced priority and mismanagement of capital projects in various parts of the country, citizens’ participation in the appropriation process allows for effective monitoring of budget implementation, encourages accountability of public funds, and ameliorates mismanagement.

Observing the impacts of citizens’ participation in budgetary process, Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) in United States, has noted that the process allows the citizens to directly decide how to spend part of a public budget, and enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives. The process which was first introduced in Brazil in 1989 has been adopted by over 1,500 cities across world. This has helped Brazil in decentralization and participatory budgeting, leading to appreciable shift in more resources to the grassroots, and increased local revenue.

In a study titled ‘Our money, Our responsibility: A Citizens’ Guide to Monitoring Government Expenditures’, Vivek Ramkumar observes that if a government makes an honest effort to implement the budget as it is appropriated, important questions often remain about the specifics of spending. In this case, by engaging with the budget throughout its appropriation and implementation, civil society can identify lapses and make appropriate advocacy interventions.

In a trend towards participatory budget process, the legislators must activate the existing commitments for allowing citizens input into the appropriation process so that it can reflects their aspirations. They must ensure the budget process and passage is timely, devoid of scandals and undue distractions. The legislators should ensure that through the appropriation process and related legislation, commitment to addressing the recession is clearly demonstrated.

More importantly, to ensure openness, citizens’ participation must be encouraged through physical access to the legislature. All citizens irrespective of their social, economic, political and ethno-religion backgrounds should be allowed access to the legislature.

Constitutional and Electoral Reforms

Electoral process in Nigeria is knowingly characterized by violence of various kinds, which manifest in killings, maiming of lives, and destruction property worth millions of naira. It is on this note that both local and international empirical investigations contend that electoral violence presents greatest obstacle to democratic consolidation in Nigeria. The recurrence nature of electoral violence since 1999 has assumed greater magnitude leading to instability in democratic consolidation as well as the loss and displacement of many innocent lives

Several underlining factors such as money politics, ethno-religion sentiments, unguided utterances and hate speeches, rigged elections, irregularities, malpractice, fraud monitoring in electoral processes, extrajudicial killings, among others have been identified to metamorphose into electoral violence.

The reported death before, during and after the elections is worrisome. For instance, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) estimated no fewer than 58 people killed in election-related violence in 22 states from Dec. 3, 2014 to February 13, 2015. Also, Rivers Commission of Inquiry revealed that out of the 97 allegations of killings it received, 94 of them occurred between November 15, 2014, and April 11, 2015. A total of 275 different violations involving killings, injuries to persons or destruction were reported to the Inquiry.

Similarly another report by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) records revealed no fewer than 66 reports of violent incidents targeted at polling, the Commission’s officials, voters and election materials in the 2015 general elections. These were in Rivers State (16), Ondo (8), Cross River and Ebonyi (6 each), Akwa Ibom (5), Bayelsa (4), Lagos and Kaduna (3 each), Jigawa, Enugu, Ekiti and Osun (2 each), Katsina, Plateau, Kogi, Abia, Imo, Kano and Ogun (1 each).

While studies have traced electoral violence to the rascal politics engaged by the political elites, the violence emanates from both intra-party and inter-party settings. Apart from the fact that electoral violence affects the credibility of the electoral system, other essential elements like the democratic system and the rule of law, the nature, extent and magnitude of violence and rigging associated with elections in Nigeria had assumed alarming proportions calling for immediate holistic legal intervention and political will to  stem the tide.

Money politics is another lingering challenge threatening peaceful electoral process and democratic culture in Nigeria. Political financing has become a profitable investment in the country. Despite the limits to campaign donations as stipulated by the Electoral Act, in 2015 general elections, there was no control of electoral spending, as billions of naira were expended on political campaign adverts, luring traditional leaders and political road shows.

The legislators should identify key laws and priority areas for reforms to empower INEC and relevant electoral bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences in the electoral process, and ensure a level playing ground for competitive elections and guarantees for all democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution.

Also, the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution should be fast-tracked to address emerging issues affecting Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists for timely growth and development of the country. This will ensure issues related to Immunity Clauses, Devolution of Powers, Local Government Autonomy and financial independence of States Houses of Assembly and Residency Rights and the issues resulting in Statelessness are critically examined and addressed.

It would be recalled that the Assembly, in its legislative agenda, had pledged to deliver on the amendments within the shortest possible time.

Constituency accountability

As democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to a large extent, on effective citizens’ participation, and on what it delivers, the quality of democratic politics diminishes if citizens are ignorant about their representatives.

While the concept of legislature legitimacy implies that citizens have some knowledge of their legislative institution and a certain level of support for it, the exercise of democratic control over the legislative system and the policy-making process, in the words of   Baker et. al, cannot occur unless the public has an elementary understanding of the national legislative institution and its membership.

Meanwhile, the workability of democracy, in the analysis of National Democratic Institute (NDI), requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Citizens have the responsibility to understand the basis of citizenship, politics and government as well as knowledge to make good policy choices and proper use of authority. It is on this process that citizens can exercise their rights without unreasonable resistance or harassment from authorities or others.

The channel through which citizens access their legislature has been through their elected representatives. In Nigeria, where the electorate is geographically divided into constituencies with members representing a specific locality, such access is expected to be typically facilitated by face-to-face contact or through constituency office.

To strengthen its relation with the constituency, while legislature must be available and accessible to the public, a legislator must report back to the constituents on what is happening in Assembly.  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.

In the words of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a Constituency Office provides a key point of contact for electors with their representative and local staff. In view of its importance, legislators initiate wide-ranging programmes to ensure effective operationalization of their Constituency Offices, where members are available to see their constituents.

Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) finds it paramount that members should experience their constituents’ concerns and problems at first hand, and not just rely on second-hand reports when assessing the impact of legislation.

One-to-one and one-to-many communications between individual legislators and their constituents remain important elements of direct communication between a legislature and the public. Communications between legislators and citizens in the constituencies help lawmakers make appropriate decisions about legislation and public policy issues, and provide enabling platform for the expression of public views and opinions.

The legislators as representatives of the people must strengthen their working relationship with their respective constituencies for constructive information and contributions to inform qualitative and citizens-led legislative process.

Security sector

In recent times, the spate of insecurity in Nigeria arising from bomb blasts, assassinations, kidnappings, communal clashes has become order of the day. It is worrisome that communities are persistently invaded and innocent lives are lost to dreadful attacks launched by individuals or group.

It is no more news in the country that some political and socio-economic saboteurs and other enemies of social integration in most occasions take advantage of the existing instability to fuel precarious attacks on innocent citizens, primarily for their selfish and unpatriotic interest.

The increasing rate of insecurity in some parts of Nigeria is a clear indication that security of lives and property is by far eluding the citizens on a daily bases. It is glaring that the rate of insecurity is rooted from diverse and complex phenomena ranging from socio-economic, political and ethno-cultural disagreements to criminal activities across the country. The situation has exposed the executive, legislative, judiciary, government officials, traditional rulers, their subjects, and family members to all manners of threats.

Encouraging social cohesion among various groups in the country with key interests in national socio-political development is paramount to combat insecurity. Each constituent part of the country should be involved in the national socio-political and economic decisions. This will not only help to install the years of lost confidence in leaderships, but also to achieve national socio-political stability.

Workable efforts must be made to stop violence and proliferation of small arms and ammunitions across the country. This has long contributed to the intensifying rate of insecurity.

Due care and calculated thoughts must be exercised in government’s response to armed violence; since various attempts to tackle conflicts in forceful manner have provoked an escalation of violence generating hefty support for armed groups and strengthening the positions of militants in Nigeria.

The National Assembly should intensify its oversight on security sector to complement and sustain the nation’s recent achievements at combating insecurity and prioritise security as a crucial issue to attain desired political and socio-economic growth and development at all levels.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The recurring nature of numerous internal conflicts and natural disasters in Nigeria 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) across the country.

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.

Lack of legislation to address the plights of over 2million IDPs in the North East and other parts of the country is appalling.

A National Summit organized organized by CISLAC in collaboration with National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs in 2015 to commemorate the World Humanitarian Day on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) freshened critically reflection on the need for adoption and implementation of African Union Convention on Internally Displaced Persons.

The Summit observed and lamented absence of frameworks to provide holistic approach in supporting IDPs’ search for durable solutions, and in preparing for and preventing future displacement. It reiterated the importance of national responsibility to ensuring an effective approach to internal displacement, calling for prompt domestication and implementation of Kampala Convention on IDPs in Nigeria.

In April 2015, a joint assessment by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) identified no fewer than 1,538,982 registered IDPs in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Plateau, Nasarawa, Abuja (Federal Capital Territory), Kano and Kaduna.

It would be recalled that on 6 December 2012, the African Union (AU) celebrated the entry into force of the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention. The Convention was endorsed in 2009 at an AU Special Summit in Kampala, Uganda and signed by 31 of the 53 member states of the African Union including Nigeria.

The Convention aims to mitigate the causes of displacement, including through establishing early warning systems and taking measures to reduce disaster risks. It also sets out the obligation of states to protect and assist internally displaced persons “by meeting their basic needs as well as allowing and facilitating rapid and unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations and personnel” and to ensure durable solutions.

It establishes that member states that are not in a position to meet the humanitarian needs of IDPs are expected to seek out and facilitate international assistance. The Convention also provides that humanitarian organizations must abide by humanitarian principles, international standards and codes of conduct.

In addition to access to humanitarian assistance, the Convention sets out a comprehensive set of protection issues, such as non-discrimination, freedom of movement and sexual and gender based violence, and obliges States Parties to take measures ensuring the protection of IDPs in these respects.

It has become imperative for the National Assembly to expedite action in the domestication of the Kampala Convention and reviewing the Act setting up the National Commission for Refugees.

Open Government Partnership

The National Assembly should ensure legislation that will facilitate the country’s ability to keep to her commitments to the international community are revisited and addressed. The National Action Plan for the implementation of the Open Government Partnership that seeks to pursue open governance and the Roadmap to implement Beneficial Ownership under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative are clear examples of this.

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