| By Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) felicitates with the 9th National Assembly (NASS) on its first year in steering the wheel of the national legislative affairs.
We acknowledge various initiatives by the legislature like the return of budget cycle to January-December to ensure timely release of funds and cash-backing for the development of the ailing critical sector; Finance Bill, 2019 (now Finance Act) assented by President Muhammadu Buhari to support the implementation of the 2020 National Budget and to create an enabling environment for businesses; Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act Amendment Bill (the Act) to ensure that the Production Sharing Contract is economically beneficial to the government of the federation; the passage of Emergency Stimulus Bill, 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate impact on businesses and individuals in Nigeria.
We commend the sustained open-door policy by the legislature for Civil Society legislative engagement, just as we applaud the recent mainstreaming of information technology in technical proceedings in the legislative rules and protocols to enhance the legislative process, citizen participation in legislative activities in the face of Covid-19 pandemic era.
We also note the oversight activities by various Legislative Committees of the National Assembly, including those targeted at appropriations and blocking of financial leakages across Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as persistent probes of alleged fraud and mismanagement of funds and flouting of Federal Character Act across MDAs.
In the spirit of commendations, we would like to draw the attention of the legislature to the following areas of priority awaiting significant improvement, as it steps into another legislative year.
While we commend the desire for Members to come up with Bills and attend to the Executive Bills, we note that, despite its articulation in the 9th Legislative Agenda, there is still lack of substantial effort by the National Assembly towards amendment to the Electoral Reforms Act to address current trends and challenges, promote credibility and transparency in the electoral process.
We are worried over continuous 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 to improve coordination and ensure a result-oriented approach in the anti-corruption fight; review of Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB) to promote transparency, accountability, and governance, as well as curtail monumental financial losses in our nation’s oil and gas sector; back disclosure of beneficial owners of licenses in the oil sector and the publicizing of oil and mining contracts, as recommended by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership Commitments.
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.
Nigerians expect 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; as well as 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.
CISLAC wants a comprehensive National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Act that will cover all citizens of Nigeria, not just civil servants; increased budgetary allocation to the health sector to fulfil the Abuja Declaration of at least 15%; increased priority for the Basic Health Care Provision fund in the health budget with thorough oversight of relevant MDAs to ensure compliance in the implementation of various provisions.
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 – to ensure that the emergency funding serves the intended purpose of preserving the health and livelihood of the nation.
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 we encourage formalisation of a holistic Monitoring and Evaluation system to evaluate implementation and the impact of laws in ensuring laws are in tandem with societal expectation, we also call for 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; ensure that procurement processes conducted by the respective MDAs are transparent and in line with existing legal and policy frameworks.
The COVID pandemic has also brought to light the need for legislative intervention in the plight of Almajiris and street children. Even though the Child Rights Act is in place, there has been continuous negligence of the Almajiri and street children. We therefore call on the National Assembly to intensify efforts to provide education and protection of these vulnerable children and ensure that no child is left behind in the benefits that accrue to the Nigerian child as stipulated in the Child Rights Act.
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. CISLAC advocates 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.
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.
We recommend adequate representation through constructive consultation to efficiently capture the needs and priorities of the constituents with full operationalization of Constituency Offices, which constitutes the centre of legislative accountability at NASS.
Just as democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to a large extent, on effective citizen participation, and on what it delivers, the quality of democratic politics diminishes if citizens are ignorant about their representatives and their role.
Many Nigerians are worried that functional Constituency offices have not been mainstreamed as a major legislative priority despite its importance to promote inclusive process and harmonize constructive inputs into legislative process as it affect the people.
To strengthen its relation with the constituency, we call 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. This will guarantee that Members are accountable to the electorate. In addition, we encourage the National Assembly to develop a framework for constituency engagement and consultation to ensure full participation of electorates in legislative activities.
In conclusion, we urge the National Assembly to intensify partnership with non-state actors, especially key non-governmental organisations that are impacting on legislative enhancement and capacity building.
The National Assembly should also improve its public image. Nigerians, rightly or wrongly, perceive the National Assembly as a place where members are there for material gains and to seek political relevance without much concern for the needs of the ordinary citizens. The communication approach and strategy of the National Assembly must change in this direction, especially if the National Assembly engages in pro-poor legislation that works for the betterment of the generality of the citizens.
While we continue to urge and appreciate the need of the National Assembly to work with other arms of government (Executive and Judiciary), the relationship should not be to the extent of undermining the effectiveness of the Legislature by surrendering its constitutional role and powers at the altar of being subservient to any other arm of government. Finally, the National Assembly should ensure the operationalization of its Legislative Agenda as the Agenda is its contract with the Nigerian people.
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)
Executive Director, CISLAC