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NASS open week: Bridging gap between legislature and the people

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National Assembly

Not many people are conversant with the workings of the legislature, particularly the National Assembly.

Pictures readily transmitted to citizens of the national legislature are those of heavy expenditure, and of late, confrontation with the executive.

Whereas, the executive and judiciary have had longer years in service, as they were never abrogated in the years democracy was suspended, the legislature did not enjoy such advantage.

It was the first to be done away with because it is the very heart of democracy.

Without the legislature, any government in place would lack the participatory essence that confers people’s ownership. Yet, this legislature is always not well explained.

Perhaps, it is the need to broaden public understanding of legislative functions and processes cuased the National Assembly to stage its first Open Week.

The Open Week, which held between July 19 and 19 had in attendance members of the National and State Assemblies, civil societies and non-governmental organisations and private sector operators; the media; 469 constituents selected from all the senatorial districts and federal constituencies; researchers; academia; traditional and religious leaders; pressure groups; students bodies; trade unions and lobby groups.

The aim of the week was to create avenue for interaction between legislators and key stakeholders, as well as, bridge the gap and address the perennial negative public perception of legislators.

Speaking during the week, President Muhammadu Buhari commended the National Assembly and the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies for organizing the programme.

Represented by Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), he highlighted efforts of the present government to sustain a healthy Executive-Legislative relationship.

He said: “Since it was not possible to play politics with the wellbeing of Nigerian citizens, on assumption of office in 2015, the President forwarded a supplementary budget to the National Assembly in November and within three weeks, it was passed.

This act enabled the administration tackle fuel scarcity and commenced effective action to tackle insecurity.

In 2016 when the country went into recession, he introduced Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for the 2016 budget and by 2017 with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) to serve as the medium term economic plan of the country from 2017-2020.”He lauded the legislature for its cooperation.

President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki revealed that the Open Week had been organized to foster interaction between the legislature and the public and showcase the activities of the two chambers to Nigerians at home and abroad.

“The open week had been designed to create the necessary opportunity for a live interface between lawmakers and their constituents, here and in the Diaspora.”

According to Saraki, who is Chairman of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), sais they believed that the open week has a potential for a more heterogeneous audience that would create awareness for legislative agenda and initiatives, as well as engender momentum towards legislative openness and significance as symbol of democracy.

He charged the participants to take advantage of the forum by listening attentively and making meaningful contributions while working together to advance the development of the country.

Similarly, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara said that the Open Week was organized in response to the declaration of the World Parliament in 2012 (Parliamentary Openness) which, among others, had requested the promotion of a culture of opening up government activities to the public, orderly, organized, synchronized form of interaction between of the legislature and the public, ensuring compliance and adherence to the ethics of governance and enabling electronic coverage of legislative activities for wider mileage.

He noted that the people needed to understand the workings of the legislature in proper perspective as many Nigerians did not understand the responsibility of the parliament in Nigeria’s democratic development

His words: “Although everyone was aware of the legislative role of oversight, representation and lawmaking, there was need to further enlighten the people on other activities of the legislature.

The legislature played a critical role in democratic systems and remained the nucleus of democratic systems across the world.

While the legislature’s work was well appreciated, the widespread effect of poverty, inequality and misery in the country, raised the bar of expectation of the public on the National Assembly.”

Dogara, who is alternate Chair of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, noted that the legislature had been able fast-track development and build stronger institutions to the extent that some of the laws passed by the National Assembly helped reform the appropriation process and strengthened institutions include the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000, the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2002, Debt Management Office Establishment (etc.) Act 2003, Public Procurement Act (2007), Fiscal Responsibility Act (2007), The FIRS Act of 2007, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act CAP B2 LFN 2011 (Repeal and Re-enactment) 2015 and the .Whistle Blowers Protection Bill 2015.

Ahmad Lawan, Leader of the Senate said the first National Assembly Open Week (NASSOSW) was designed to engender stakeholder engagement with National Assembly (NASS).

He stated that the open week was a forum for the public to know the workings of the legislature with a view to correcting various misperceptions about the legislature, legislators and their activities.

“The open week project was premised on the need for greater citizen’s participation with constituents in legislative process and to ensure representative leadership. The programme was in response to the declaration on parliamentary openness signed by 140 countries in 2012”, Lawan said.

He pointed out that despite opening up the activities of the two Chambers, with the National Assembly Television and National Assembly Radio have been in operation, very few persons still know about the parliament.

While the media focused on what happened at plenary, the bulk of the National Assembly activities were done through committees; and there had not been any major platform for a one-stop public engagement with legislators in Nigeria.

The Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Ataba Sani Omolori, noted that the legislature did not exist in a vacuum but operates within the workings of other arms of government and the confines of the will of the Nigerian people.

He noted that while the NASS Open Week was critical to the enhancement of increased engagement with the public on the activities of the legislature, it was important to maintain a harmonious and cordial working relationship with the other arms of government.

Chudi Izuwa, the Acting Director General of Infrastructure Concessionary Regulatory Commission (ICRC) made a presentation on the Commission.

The summary of his presentation was that for accountability to impact constructively, it was necessary to review the Acts that established agencies like EFCC, ICPC and INEC, among others because the accounts of majority of the agencies had not been audited for a very long time.

He submitted that extant laws designed to check the excesses were not arresting the situation because whenever the agencies failed to account for what they spent, the purpose of accountability had been defeated.

Hon. Oluremi Tinubu stated that the two presentations had been eye openers, particularly with lack of infrastructure to deal with climatic and environmental changes.

According to her, the nation’s budget was low in these two areas, such that there were no appropriate infrastructures for assessing the speed of the wind, for example. She then advised that it was important for the Budget Committee to incorporate critical infrastructures in the items laid before the legislators.

Prof, Akaro, Vice Chancellor, Nassarawa State University, Keffi wanted to know if it was not possible to send information towards preparation of the budget to everyone particularly private citizens and not just the MDAs?

He equally asked if it was not possible that the budgetary-document presented by the Executive be seen and accepted as joint ownership since its content and applications applied to all Nigerians.

Abdulwahid Odushile, President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that the notable development and progress in Lagos State resulted from the harmonious and cordial working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature.

He then wondered if it was not possible for the Executive and Legislature to develop a synergy and attitude for cooperation and collaboration at the centre.

There was a special documentary on History of Nigeria’s Legislature. The documentary captured the evolution, various stages of development as well and transformation of the legislature in Nigeria.

It began with the colonial era; skirted through pre-independence; highlighted the various constitutional practices; showcased the regional governments; filled out the independence period and finally, dovetailed into the four republics that had evolved since Nigeria’s independence.

It highlighted the role of the National Assembly in Nigeria’s development and emphasized the need for all Nigerians to support the growth and development of democratic institutions as a panacea for Nigeria’s overall socio-economic and political development.

It is hoped that after one week of interaction, more citizens and stakeholders have become more familiar with the workings of the legislature, towards building public confidence in the nation’s democratic institutions.


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