Positioning the Eighth Assembly to deliver democracy dividends
In line with its constitutional mandate to strengthen the legislative arm of government, the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) organised a five- day induction Certificate Course on Legislative Studies for both returning and newly elected members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The initiative organised by the Dr Ladi Hamalai led Institute was a proactive effort designed to train and equip new legislators with the relevant and necessary knowledge, skills and understanding of the their responsibilities and the legislative environment in the eight session of the National Assembly billed to be inaugurated on the June 6, after the swearing in of the President -elect, Muhammadu Buhari.
The initiative was imperative in view of the high turnover rate in the legislature since the return to democratic rule in 1979. In the coming 8th Assembly, of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, only 85 are returning while of the 109 senators, there are 33 Senators that retained their seats in the just concluded poll.
Arriving at the National Assembly as a new legislator could be a daunting experience and a tough test for many. For some of the newly elected legislators, they could be faced with an alien working environment which is disorientating and can be difficult.
Not only is there a new job to get to grips with, a vast amount of information to absorb, but also formal procedures to master. The induction programme organised by NILS recognises that the effectiveness of the legislature ultimately depends on the quality of its members who are required to have a basic understanding of legislative processes in order to work within committees and the House. Such a programme is therefore critical as new legislators join the parliament.
The 5-Day induction course witnessed several technical presentations from diverse topics on legislative practice and procedures and had resource persons, who were Nigerians with robust legislative experience.
The programme was graced by the President elect, Muhammadu Buhari who solicited the support of the lawmakers in his quest to offer good governance and tackle the myriad of problems besetting the country.
Among resource persons were serving and former principal officers such as the senate president, David Mark and Ike Ekweremadu and those of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Emeka Ihedioha, Femi Gbajabiamila and Ghali Umar Na’Abba, who were on hand to share experiences with their colleagues.
The first and second sessions were chaired by the Senate President, David Mark, where Senator Ita Enang set the ball rolling in a paper presentation entitled: “Legislative procedures and practice in the National Assembly: focus on standing orders”.
Enang who is the Chairman, Senate committee on Rules and Business, congratulated the newly elected federal legislators adding that the legislature remains a highly cerebral arm of government.
Drawing from his reservoir of legislative experience, he stressed that the task of the legislature is principally about law making for the good governance of the country adding that it behooves the lawmakers to acquire the requisite knowledge to achieve the desired goal.
Dwelling on salient concepts such as consideration of bills, motions, Petitions, Privileges, State of Emergency, Procedure on Treaties, Matters of Urgent Public Importance among others which provoked discourse among participants, he noted: “It is the law that we make or enact in the National Assembly that goes for application or interpretation in the Federal or State High Courts, upon which a dissatisfied party may appeal to a higher court for determination of specific Constitutional matters.
This imposes on the legislature, the need for intellectual capacity and legislative dexterity. “ Na’Abba who delivered a paper in the second session entitled: “Separation of powers, checks and balances, the appropriation process and good governance- the legislative perspective” critically examined the symbiotic relationships among various institutions that facilitate democratic governance.
Making reference to the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, with special interest in the appropriation process, he illustrated how such relationships help to bring about good governance.
Na’ Abba who had a running battle with the executive arm under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he presided over the affairs of the lower legislative chambers, asserted that contrary to widely held notion, there was nothing unusual if there are frictionS between the executive and the legislative arms of government if it is in the interest of the citizenry.
He noted: “It must be appreciated that the idea of Separation of Powers and checks and balances is not to make the institutions of democracy friction free.
The Executive will never perceive the Legislature as fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities unless the Legislature is pliant or subservient to it. Equally, the Legislature will never cease to perceive the Executive as arrogant and anti-people. This friction is healthy for all democracies.
“There is in this country, rightly, the public perception that, the Executive branch at all levels seeks to always have a Legislature that is pliant and subservient and thus easily controllable.
The mutual leadership gap that exists for the past fifteen years must therefore be closed. It is without doubt, foolhardy and short sighted in a constitutional democratic regime to govern with a Legislature that is not autonomous, independent and vibrant and which is unable to provide the much desired constitutional check for Executive governance.”
He thereby listed three fundamental requirements for fostering the much needed harmony between the Executive and the Legislature for the delivery of good governance thus; That each arm must keep within the limits of its power as enunciated in the constitution, that arrogance of state power as well as its intolerance must be restrained, that constructive engagement through consultations and dialogue is necessary.
Another session was chaired by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. A paper on “Opening of a new Parliament” was presented by the Clerk to the House of Reps, Alh. Muhammed A. Sani-Omolori.
He described the parliament as “a section or region of a democratic nation”. He pointed out that the core basis of parliamentary system should be representation of people and their interests noting that an important in-house business to be conducted by a new parliament is the formation and composition of Committees as well as the appointment of the Chairmen for the Committees.
This, he said is an exercise that is usually guided and conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Standing Orders of the two Chambers adding that the composition of Committees and appointment of their Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen is usually carried out through collaborative work among the Presiding Officers, the Selection Committee and the political parties’ caucuses.
And to wrap up the session, a paper presentation on “Representation and Constituency Relation” by Dr. Rasheed Raman attempted to capture the very essence of representation as well as the nature it should assume in an ideal democratic society. He argued that in all of its functions, “the legitimacy of parliament and its members rests upon a central claim: that parliament institutionalizes political representation in society”.
The concept of representation according to him, focuses in particular on the questions of how members of parliament relate themselves to the electorate, whom they represent in their decision making and in what way they aim to represent a given constituency.
The Chairman House Committee on Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa in a presentation on the topic “Effective Communication in the Legislature” charged the newly inducted legislators to adopt a renewed and vibrant communication strategy that will ensure a two-way communication that is in line with the 21st communication realities and reflect the mood of the nation for a better Nigeria.
Dabiri-Erewa noted that since the substantial and critical business of the legislature are done at the committee levels, and the legislative institution being a transparent and open system, it behooves the National Assembly, as an institution, and respective Parliamentarians to optimize the use of the social media platforms which is effective and cost efficient to carry their constituents along.
She emphasized that work of the Parliament should account for about 70 per cent of media reportage, urging that Bills, Motions, Public Hearing and Committee activities should be promptly posted on the social media and websites in order to make it more interactive and responsive.
She called for the establishment of a state of the arts media centre and an e-library within the precinct of the National Assembly to enhance efficient dissemination of parliamentary proceedings.
She further advocated for the sustenance of public hearing as a means of promoting efficiency, transparency and public participation.
While commending the National Institute for Legislative Studies for its vision on training and capacity building, Dabiri-Erewa noted that such regular seminars will continue to provide the right atmosphere for active engagement of all stakeholders and ultimately provide opportunities to correct the erroneous perception and misconceptions about such issues as, the salaries of the legislature and the notion of constituency projects among others.