The National Assembly in Nigeria should improve its public image from that of where members are for material gains and political relevance without much concern for the needs of the ordinary citizens, says Abuja based Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). To achieve this, the communication strategy of the National Assembly must change in favour of pro-poor legislation that works for the betterment of the generality of the citizens.
Although CISLAC acknowledges what it calls various initiatives by the legislature in its first year such as the return of budget cycle to January-December; Finance Bill, 2019 (now Finance Act); Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act Amendment Bill (the Act); the passage of Emergency Stimulus Bill, 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is, however, of the opinion that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a total disconnect between representation and people’s expectations with weak feedback mechanisms to the government at all levels.
“Twelve months after its inauguration, we are concerned that the 9th Assembly has not devised an all-inclusive strategy for effective oversight duty to cover the implementation of projects, compliance to laws, orders, and policies; and identify specific legislative oversight to block financial leakages in government, given the recent unaccounted inflows and outflows of foreign and domestic assistance on Covid-19 pandemic – including domestic and international loans, donated and borrowed funds by the government of Nigeria”, argues the NGO in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mallam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani
CISLAC also urges the National Assembly to improve its oversight function on revenues accruing to the government from other revenue streams apart from the oil and gas sector. While declaring its encouragement of formalisation of a holistic Monitoring and Evaluation system to evaluate implementation and the impact of laws in ensuring they are in tandem with societal expectation, it insists on what it calls sincere legislative effort to strengthen the Accountant General’s Office to ensure compliance with the various recommendations by the Office and promote accountability in the allocation and utilization of public funds intended to counter COVID-19 and to provide economic stimulus packages; analyze and review the annual reports of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (OAGF) and take an action against MDAs that did/do not submit their audited accounts as mandated by the Law.
Moving to security challenges, CISLAC contends that “the level of insecurity in the form of armed robbery, kidnapping, killings, even during the lockdown, shows an urgent need for the re-organisation of Nigeria’s security architecture to deal with these issues”, adding its voice to calls for reforms in the security sector to guarantee a more accountable and professional security outfit that will ensure the protection of lives and properties of Nigerian citizens with competence and clarity of roles and responsibilities to avoid overlapping of assignments.
Equally worrisome to the NGO is what it sees as the delay in introduction of appropriate legislative framework to improve coordination and result-oriented approach in the anti-corruption fight through full domestication and activation of pending Global and Regional Anti-Corruption Instruments. This, it says would improve coordination and ensure a result-oriented approach in the anti-corruption fight. “We observe that for us to win the war against corruption in the country, a comprehensive legislation on Asset Recovery and Proceeds of Crime to provide legal and institutional frameworks for confiscation, seizure, recovery and management of assets or proceeds derived from unlawful activities, must be in place”. CISLAC argues that Nigerians expected the National Assembly to consider the introduction of legislation that will provide legal backing to the establishment of special courts or strengthen existing courts to expedite justice on corruption cases through legislative amendments, including cases of suspected mismanagement, misappropriation and diversion of COVID-19 expenditures. Additionally, it thinks of the passage of Whistle-blower Protection Bill so that mismanagement and misappropriation of governmental funds, including COVID-19 palliatives, are disclosed with the guarantee of anonymity to insiders.
Just as democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to a large extent, on effective citizen participation, and on what it delivers, argues CISLAC, so also is the quality of democratic politics diminished if citizens are ignorant about their representatives and their role. It, therefore, calls for open legislature to ensure Members’ Constituency offices are functional and accessible to their constituents with legislators reporting back to them on what is happening in the Assembly and also seek their opinion on legislative issues. It is thus encouraging the National Assembly to develop a framework for constituency engagement and consultation to ensure full participation of electorates in legislative activities.