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NILS: Sustaining Institutional Capacity Of The Legislature

By Bisi Alabi Williams
03 May 2015   |   6:49 am
PERHAPS, there is no better time to test the institutional capacity of the Nigerian legislature, with about 70 per cent of members of the two Houses not returning to the 8th Assembly sometime in early June.

Odigie-Oyegun, APC Chairman (left), David Mark, Gen. Muhammad Buhari (President-elect), Ekweremadu and Tambuwal during the last week‘s induction at NILS, Abuja.

PERHAPS, there is no better time to test the institutional capacity of the Nigerian legislature, with about 70 per cent of members of the two Houses not returning to the 8th Assembly sometime in early June.

Many of the legislators either did not win the primary elections and tickets of their parties, or were unable to make the election of March 28. The implication is that a good number of members in the next Assembly would be rookies, without knowing much of the traditions of the Assembly, except that the National Institutes for Legislative Studies (NILS) is on hand to bridge the gaps.

THE NILS, Abuja, has just completed an induction certificate course for the newly elected members, as it is the responsibility of the Institute to develop and sustain the institutional capacity of the legislature, comprising of legislators and the legislative staff.

The NILS promotes and reinforces the constitutionally assigned roles and functions of the parliament, through research, advocacy, teaching, networking and other related activities.

Justification for the establishment of NILS, according to Dr. Ladi Hamalai, the Director General of the institute, was born out of the fact that sustainable democratic development does not end in successfully completed free and fair elections. Rather, elections are the beginning, indeed, a critical step on the road towards democratic maturity.

The entire process requires a deliberate long-term and comprehensive effort to build up and consolidate representative and well-functioning parliaments, able to ensure sound implementation of its law-making and oversight powers.

According to her, the NILS is tasked with the responsibility of designing projects that will deepen democracy and provide opportunities for political parties to interact more often with the understanding that governance belongs to all Nigerians, and for speedy development to be achieved.

Thus, an Act of Parliament established the NILS as an organ of the National Assembly. The Act was passed by both Houses of the National Assembly and signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on March 2, 2011, making NILS build on the successes of the Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP).

PARP, a capacity building institution of the National Assembly, with the financial support of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), was established in 2003.

For over seven years PARP’s programmes strengthened the capacities of legislators and legislative staff through requisite research and analytical support and projected the positions and proposals advanced by the National Assembly.

The vision of NILS, according to the DG is to be a world-class facility that would support the sustenance of dynamic and effective Legislature in Nigeria and the sub-region. It seeks to be a world-class multi-disciplinary institution capable of providing capacity building, research, policy analysis and extension services for the legislature at the Federal, State and Local Government levels, promoting best practices in legislative activities in Nigeria and countries in the sub-region.

The institute seeks to promote and disseminate among the Nigerian Legislature the practice of science based methodologies of law-making, while improving the capacity of legislators to sustain and consolidate democratic governance, through deliberation and policy formulation.

NILS wants to improve the technical capacity of legislative staff, committee secretaries and political aides to process appropriation bills and assist in policy oversight of the executive and assisting legislators in their efforts to formulate and draft bills.

A database on relevant development policy issues is made available by the institute for utilization in deliberations on bills and drafting of legislation, while taking stock and improving the quality of relevant information, for members of the NASS and State Assemblies and for use by the general public.”

According to the Director General of the institute, it provides supports for networking among parliaments and policy analysis units in the ECOWAS sub-region in order to share experiences.

Some of the key services provided by NILS are capacity building, teaching and research as well as publications. In terms of capacity building, the NILS organizes two types of training programmes for the legislature, national programmes and international programmes.

The national courses are those organised within Nigeria targeting legislators and parliamentary staff in the National and State Assemblies and Local Councils.

These take the form of supply-driven, open programmes and demand-driven, tailored programmes. The institute also has international training programmes that cover the three aspects of programmes organised by NILS for foreign legislators and parliamentary staff; progammes arranged for NASS legislators and parliamentary staff in foreign training institutions and the internship programmes.

The open courses are those advertised and open to the legislatures and stakeholders. Other available programmes are the National Institute for Legislative Studies Capacity Building Project (NILS-CAP) programmes funded by African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and the ECOWAS Parliament.

Training programmes under this target ECOWAS parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. The DG explained that in furtherance with the institute’s mandate to act as a centre for continuing education on democracy and legislation, and to the improve the capacity of legislators and legislative staff in legislative practice and procedure, the institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the University of Benin to run Post Graduate Diploma and Master’s programmes on; Legislative Studies, Legislative Drafting and Parliamentary Administration.

“These programmes are available on both full-time and part time basis and are administered in affiliation with the University of Benin, Nigeria, and in collaboration with the Centre for Legislative Studies, University of Hull, United Kingdom.

All lectures will be conducted at the training facilities in Maitama, Abuja respectively.” As far as research is concerned, the NILS is involved in active research on current and emerging key issues, legislation and policy reviews, Drafting of Motions and Resolutions, Bill Analysis and Scrutiny etc.

“As part of the institute’s research effort, the NILS Library, Data and Documentation Unit are open to researchers, students, National Assembly staff, and legislators. The institute is also involved in reference services, parliamentary publications and NILS’s publications.

We also print reports, periodicals and journals and give information alerts,” Hamalai said. So far, the NILS has over 50 titles published on different aspects of legislative practice in Nigeria. Some of NILS’ important publications include; the Nigeria Journal of Legislative Affairs, which was established in 2011 with the sole aim of being at the forefront of cutting-edge research in all aspects of legislative research and development, particularly as they pertain to emerging democracies and legislatures.

It provides a forum for publication of timely, rigorous, technically sound, and scientific research manuscripts that focus on the legislature. Despite its global perspective, the DG said, specific attention is given to the African context. Therefore, the journal strives to disseminate knowledge and bring together the scientific and professional communities.

Articles, original research papers, synthesis papers and editorials are welcomed from scholars and practitioners. On how the data bank works to aid the activities and functions of the National Assembly she said;

“As an organ of the National Assembly the NILS is mandated to run and maintain quality and world-class libraries and database on the legislative system and democratic governance.

To do service to this mandate, the Databank was launched with the objective of providing comprehensive access to national, regional and international legal information. Thus, the laws are systematically classified under Nigerian Laws, the Laws of African Countries and Global Laws.

Each of these categories has detailed contents that ensure both comprehensiveness and simplicity of access. Three websites serve as online storefront, providing rich information on all works of the Institute. Operationally, NILS’ faculty members comprise in-house expert trainers, consultants and partner international institutions.

It is accredited by the Nigerian National Universities Commission (NUC) to conduct Master’s and PGD programmes. NILS has experienced professionals who are very good on topics relating to the legislature, economics, social and political developments, and development management.

The in-house experts are also well schooled, professional in their own rights, ready to take on any task there are given in the course of dispensing their duties. Additionally, at least 17 experienced external resource persons and consultants are also available to the institute.

According to records made available to The Guardian, the NILs team has since inception worked to deliver on the promise to ensure optimum performance of the legislature in order to meet with the challenge of nurturing the nation’s democracy, by bequeathing confidence to citizens in order to restore democratic confidence.

It is with the same hope and expectation that NILS welcomed the inducted members of the 8th Assembly last week. On how the courses impact on the work of legislators Dr. Hamalai said when they come in fresh, the interaction gives them confidence to understand the system, their work and to be able to perform their function well. “They are also able to develop the confidence to represent their communities better.”

On the institute’s permanent site, the DG said; “The rational was to ensure that the institute of such world class also has a befitting world class headquarters, which will have the necessary office space, training space and research facilities. All these are very necessary in any institute of such caliber.

Basically, the headquarters has what is called the core building. Within the core building is the library, which is unique. It is a three-floor building that has 20 offices for researchers.

These offices will also be extended to international institutions that are interested in collaborating with the institute. She explained that the John Hopkins University Baltimore, Maryland, visited the National Assembly recently to introduce themselves and express their interest in collaborating with the Assembly in running training programmes here in Abuja.

“This is just the beginning of a situation where you have international interests working with us. The Headquarters also has the administrative block and the 1000-seater facility auditorium, as well as the lecture complex.

There are four lecture rooms of 50, 100, 150 and 200 sitting capacity, respectively. These are the core buildings. There is also the reception hall. Apart from this, there is also the 100-room hostel, which would be more or less a three star hotel that will support participants with their various training programmes.”

Futuristically, she observed that some of the benefits of having such a world-class structure in Abuja for the use of the legislature, Nigeria and Nigerians would be quite monumental, considering the fact that bringing the best international training institutes like the John Hopkins and one or two others with the view of collaborating with them in the areas of training and research cannot be quantified.

As the nation awaits the convocation of the next legislative Assembly, and with the NILS assuring of good institutional memory for those who are coming in, it is hoped that the experience and output will be commensurate with the very high expectations.