Towards robust and vibrant legislative culture
Despite hiccups in the activities of the legislature and the rancorous interface of the lawmaking body with the executive arm here at home, the parliament still plays a critical role in democratic systems and remains the nucleus of democratic systems across the world.
The National Assembly’s roles in the democratic space is mainly to legislate for good governance, peace and welfare of the people while also serving as a check on the executive arm of government.
The performance of these constitutional roles of both the Senate and the legislatures in the states see to it that successes are recorded in fast-tracking development and building stronger institutions.
Proper synergy between the legislature and other arms helps to strengthen representative governance and democratic development.
In that light, the Eighth Assembly has remained audacious and visible in the discharge of its constitutional duties, with attendant face-off with the Executive, which many perceive to be controversial and confrontational.
From onset, this NASS was bogged by leadership challenges, allegations of non-disclosures of emoluments of members, incessant probes, surmons and public appearances of public officials, and continued graft charges on the necks of principal leaders.
But all that did not stop the legislature from holding itself together and making noticeable improvements in its key role of stabilizing the polity with relevant laws, especially appropriation processes.
The NAA took the allegation of non-disclosure of its expenditure profile very seriously, thus providing details in the 2017 budget proposal, giving a line-by-line detail of expenditure.
That was applauded as a radical departure from previous experiences when the public only had knowledge of the total sum as one line item in the whole national budget.
This has no doubt assisted in its perception index in the eyes of the public.
The suspicion and rancour within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that has produced the kind of bitterness is enough to frustrate a parliament controlled by the ruling party.
Yet, the leadership rolls back the acrimonious politics to connect with the essential role of stabilizing the polity.
Speaking on the challenges of the eighth Assembly, Saraki said, despite the hiccups the legislative intervention led to the passing of 224 Bills, the passing of 1, 458 Motions and the passing of 21 Constitution Amendment Bills.
Some of the major Economic Reform Bills include the Bills on Economic Intervention; Employment Generation; Ease of Doing Business and the Demutualization of the Nigerian Stock Exchange Bill; the Currency Conversion Freezing.
Other notable ones are the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief); the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill; the Stamp Duties Act Amendment Bill the Minimum Wage Act Amendment Bill; the Avoidance of Double Taxation Bill and the Nigeria Immigration Act Amendment Bill; the Electronic Transaction Bill, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Establishment Bill and the Local Content bill.
These bills were designed to represent a watershed in economic and business legislations in the country.
On the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, which seeks to reform the country’s oil and gas industry that has been bogged down by decades of lack of transparency and corruption, the Senate leadership described it as another serious issue that engaged the legislature.
On performance by the 8th Assembly, Speaker Yakubu Dogara said it has achieved many firsts as far as the business of lawmaking in the nation’s history is concerned.
“We have made considerable efforts at promoting parliamentary openness and greater publication participation in governance and decision making.”
He noted that there was a gap in public perception of the legislature and the reality of their functions as an arm of government.
“Like with most parliaments around the world, public perception of the National Assembly has largely been negative based on misinformation about the function of parliament, emoluments of members, scandals, etc.
He agreed that the NASS should do more to open up its affairs to public scrutiny.
To deepen the walk of the legislature is the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Abuja, the organ responsible for promoting best practices in legislative activities in Nigeria and for other countries in the sub-region.
It acts as a multi-disciplinary institution providing capacity building, research, policy analysis and extension services for the National Assembly.
It is charged with promoting a dynamic and effective Legislature in Nigeria and in the sub-region.
The executive Director of NILDS, Professor Ladi Hamalai, said NILDS has systematically improved the technical capacity of legislative staff, committee secretaries and political aides to process appropriation bills and assist in policy oversight of the executive among others.
Its programmes cover training for legislators and their staff, researches, bill drafting, analysis and scrutiny as well as information services.
She said: “As a world class facility, NILDS has improved the capacity of Legislators and promotes best practices in legislative activities.
This has served as a unique opportunity to drafters, legal officers, policy makers and those interested in the process of law making in Nigeria and the sub-region.”
The Institute engages notable experts as consultants, university scholars and top-notch resource persons, thereby setting the pace for relevant exchanges and collaborations within the sub-region.
To further assist the works of the Legislature is the ongoing world-class permanent site of NILDS located in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and is expected to be a training hub in the sub-region when completed.
The complex has administrative buildings, convention centres, libraries, main reception/entrance lobby, hostels with recreational centres, external infrastructure, generating power-house, among others.
There are four lecture rooms of 50, 100, 150 and 200 sitting capacity, respectively.
The Project Manager and Development Consultant, Mr. Zingak Gomwalk, said the complex is 90percent completed. He said: “The first phase is going through various stages of completion.
The final roofing elements for the convention center, the library, the inside buildings, seelers and the infrastructure are at the finishing stage.
The nation can look forward to the commissioning of the complex come January 2019.
As far as best practice is concerned, what we have done so far is to creatively give attention to details in achieving a befitting work environment.”
According to Gomwalk, the towering maze at the pinnacle of the complex, was given an orange colour and style in a bid to ensure that end users would feel the character of a world-class complex, as a global training hub when completed.
Otuo Writes from Abuja