Setting the Agenda for the 9th Senate
Nigeria’s National Assembly is a critical part of the tripod upon which our democracy stands. Together with the Executive and judicial arms, it signposts true democracy with separation of power, checks and balances and collective responsibility for good governance. Today, Nigeria is facing perhaps the worst challenge of making governance work for all Nigerians.
For far too long, governance has been reduced to personal enrichment and distribution of state resources to build private estates and service cronies. The result is the widespread poverty, illiteracy, dilapidated infrastructures, large number of out of school children, derelict health care facilities worse than 1970 standards with consequent avoidable and needless deaths.
Nigeria is today fast becoming unliveable and difficult place on earth for the majority. It is driving our young ones and critical labour needs for development out of the country in droves. Those who manage to stay back faces the horrors of neglect and near complete absence of governance. Many are daily hoarded below poverty in their thousands and millions. Many eventually become the cannon fodder in the hands of thriving evil entrepreneurs scattered across the length and breadth of the nation.
That Nigeria is in a dire state is never in doubt. Even President Buhari acknowledged this. However, the responsibility to transform Nigeria cannot be left to one arm or leg in the tripod. Nigeria, and the effort to revive it is likely to fail unless the tripod – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, come to the common understanding about the urgent need to work together and find the temperament for doing so sustainably. If not for the benefits of today, then for the coming generation, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary must immediately evolve a common vision for Nigeria, and join hands together to realize it. Nigerians are hungry. Too many are jobless and near-hopeless. Too many women die while trying to give birth. Far more Nigerians die for treatable diseases; even for something as simple as a headache. Nigeria is unsafe for the majority- kidnapping, ritual killings, terrorism, banditry, armed robbery have become the order of the day. Nigerians are forced to pay for darkness. Our roads are unpassable. They are death traps and continue to take our bests and most promising heads in avoidable road accidents. Governance in our country seems totally bereft of empathy for the governed. The result is the dearth of public trust for government and everything that stands for or represent government across board.
The role of the National Assembly is clearly defined in the Nigeria constitution; making laws for the well-being and development of the people and our democracy, oversighting the Executive arm, among other things. The biggest threat to these roles is first “the attitude of the lawmakers”; followed by the general apathy and distrust for this important arm of government. Without immediately rethinking the culture and temperament of law-making and its contributions to the living conditions of the Nigerian people, the federal parliament stand the risk of remaining the weakest link in the critical tripod of our democracy. Nigerians will continue to despise the National Assembly. Therefore, the 9th Assembly must put as its primary target for the next foreseeable years, the primacy of recovering and restoring popular confidence in the National Assembly as its most important and overarching priority and urgently find creative ways of making this a cross-cutting target throughout law making responsibilities, oversight and every other duty. Those responsible for making this happen are first the leadership, the office of the Senate President, and the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives; followed by all Committee chairwoman and chairmen and all office holders; elective and appointive.
Basis for prioritization and agenda setting
In our considered opinion, the following key considerations must define the priorities of the 9th Assembly:
- The constitutional role of the National Assembly,
- Immediate and pressing development challenges facing Nigeria’s democracy and the people;
- Long term development needs and vision for Nigeria
- Need for congruence of direction among the three arms of government
- The urgent need to reverse the low public confidence and trust deficit facing government across board, including the national Assembly.
Consequently, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre wishes to propose the following for consideration in the construction of priorities for the 9th Assembly. The recommendations are based on our understanding of the role of the NASS, the challenges facing Nigeria and Nigerians and the need to revitalize the National Assembly for more positive role in governance and democratic development.
Having partnered with the National Assembly the past 19 years, we are convinced that the 9th National Assembly is capable of confronting the huge challenges facing this important arm of government and charting a new direction that would finally rewrite the history and contributions of the legislative arm in the revival and transformation of Nigeria to a democracy that upholds role of law, respects rights of all and works for all Nigerians.
- Law making and ensuring compliance: everywhere, the days are gone when legislations are made for their sake. The essence of law-making is to improve society and people. This is impossible when laws are made and not complied with. Nigeria has too many laws that are vagrantly ignored, sidestepped and violated for political and selfish interests while the NASS looks on. The 9th Assembly must prioritize the need to make laws for the wellbeing of Nigeria and all Nigerians. Fundamentally however, it must prioritize oversight to ensure compliance with its laws. Listed below are critical legislations that we suggest receive the priority attention of the 9th Assembly.
- Legislations for the wellbeing of Nigerians: the 9th NASS must focus its attention on the implementation and compliance with the following major legislations which are capable of solving major developmental challenges facing Nigeria and Nigerians; The National Health Act, Violence Against Persons Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, and relevant Acts in the water, housing, agriculture, and education sectors, among others. For too long, our annual budgets are poorly implemented with very little evidence of impact on the living conditions and critical development index. The poor budget implementation has been blamed for the worsening inequality and widespread poverty. Annual appropriations must be seen to make and record actual impact in the lives of Nigerians. The National Assembly must rethink its oversight and put well-being and concrete development index at the centre of its oversight functions.
- Promotion of good governance: the greatest power of a democracy is the emphasis on rule-base. This is what makes the legislature crucial. Consequently, it is our recommendation to the NASS to prioritise legislations and policies capable of deepening rule of law, transparency and accountability and the rights of Nigerians throughout the foreseeable future. The last 19 years, Nigeria made significant progress putting in place accountability laws and critical legislative infrastructures for the advancement and promotion of an egalitarian society. These laws have however failed to yield their full potentials. It is our recommendation to the NASS to immediately begin to prioritise compliance with existing transparency and accountability legislations for the public and private sectors. Relatedly, international instruments and continental commitments of the country must be adhered with. In our opinion, the NASS must puts its full weight behind efforts to ensure compliance with the Public procurement Act, Freedom of Information Act, Fiscal Responsibility Act, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Act, and all other relevant legislations capable of promoting good governance in the oil, gas and mining sectors and improve the management of the Nigeria economy. The 9th Assembly must learn to work collaboratively with trusted civil society organisations to cascade the accountability campaign downwards; beyond the Presidency and appointed political office holders. Senior civil servants such as Permanent Secretaries, Directors and others with approving authorities and influence in public expenditure budgeting and spending must be held accountable. For too long, these categories have hidden away from sunshine; often finding cover behind political appointees. It is time to change this practice and let everyone that manage public funds, at all level become accountable.
- Screening of political appointees: the first oversight responsibility for the 9th assembly will likely start with the consideration of public appointees of the president. Given the torrent of challenges facing the nation, only the ‘best eleven’ is good enough for this administration. The 9th National Assembly must rethink the way it considers and screens political appointees to involve the Nigerian voices. It is more than 30 days since the swearing in of the new administration. It is our recommendation that the NASS is thorough in its screening process and position itself as a “critical friend” to the Executive arm. You owe Nigerian masses a responsibility to ensure the Executive appoints people with the experience, commitment and energy to confront the many challenges facing our country. You must learn to put politics aside and stand on the side of the people as a check against the massive “politicization” that is threatening our collective wellbeing and corporate future.
Others, we recommend that the NASS and relevant Senate and House committees prioritize the reforms in following critical fields:
Judicial Reform: An effective judiciary guarantees fairness in legal processes. It remains a powerful weapon against corruption and laundering activities. The judiciary has a great role to play in the efforts to save the nation from imminent collapse under the weight of unbridled money laundering. Without doubt, judges symbolize the judicial powers of the state; they stand out as the central figures in the judicial system and the administration of justice. The extent of judges frustrating justice for compensations or enticement of various kinds has been reported to sabotage efforts in the fight against corruption. Endemic corruption in judicial system has resulted in loss of public confidence and hopelessness in the system. Consequently, the CISLAC advocates for:
- Strict adherence to the rules of law by the judicial arm of government to avoid all forms of prejudicial activities;
- For review of the controversial quota system and legislation passed as related to its application to the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court and to a lesser extent the Court of Appeal by reviewing the Federal Character Commission Act;
- Ensuring Constitutional review for the Separation of the Attorney General Position from that of the Minister of Justice;
- Ensuring a Constitutional Review for the Appointment of an independent individual or person who is not in the system, such as a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, a retired President of the Court of Appeal or a respectable and experienced legal practitioner as Chairman of the National Judicial Council;
Educational Reform: To ensure adequate and effective funding for the public education system in Nigeria, and improve legislature to eliminate of out of school children.
Whistle-blower protection Regime: to ensure protection for whistle-blowers and improve anti-corruption.
Electoral Reforms: to improve transparency, accountability and probity in the elections and boost public confidence; as well reduce the culture of impunity in our electoral processes.
Land Reform: Land corruption has prevailed in West Africa because on one hand, citizens have limited access to information, the laws and procedures regulating land ownership are complex and there is insufficient access to justice, while the lack in capacity of local land offices and traditional institutions has hindered good governance practices. Rapid urbanization has also led to unaccountable land management and urban planning in many of our cities and poor oversight by independent bodies has relegated land corruption to a “petty offence.” Land ensures have also created severe insecurity in the land. The 9th Senate must be proactive in addressing land issues to the extent of its constitutional powers to ensure that land becomes a positive and a contributor to national wealth than being as source of agitation and conflict.
Security Sector Reform: Corruption in the defence and security sector contributes significantly to the human despair and economic stagnation across Nigeria. While the Nigerian defence budget has soared more than 500% in the last 10 years, insecurity and breakdown of the rule of law in some parts of the country continue unabated. The recent revelation by the Inspector General of Police that 1,071 persons were killed, while 685 were kidnapped in the first quarter of 2019, is alarming. This is an average of eight persons being killed and five persons kidnapped daily.
The 9th Senate may make security a very important area of intervention if the country must remain united, vibrate and devoid of ethno-religious breakdown of law and order. Important Bills such as the Police Reform Bill may be given due diligence and accelerated passage by the Senate.
Budgeting and Budgetary Processes: The Nigeria budgetary process continues to face hiccups as budget passage and budget implementation has been become a very difficult exercise to accomplish. The absence of a focused budgetary institution for the legislature in form of a National Assembly Budget and Research Office as evident in other climes is not in place engendering the difficulty in quick budget scrutiny and passage.
Beneficial Ownership: The introduction of beneficial ownership of companies is important to know the extent of suspected ownership of politicians and civil servants of oil and gas companies, construction businesses and other public contractors. It is obvious that Nigeria cannot be held hostage through industrial empires and monopolised public and defence structures! Money-laundering crimes and tax evasion need to be stringently investigated and prosecuted by competent agencies and in line with Financial Action Task Force Standards. Frivolous and fraudulent tax wavers to multinational and Nigerian companies, especially in high net revenue sectors such as oil and gas, communication and construction, need to be stopped. They clearly do not benefit the Nigerian populace.
Reform in the Oil and Gas Sector: The reforms meant to address corruption in the extractive sector have fallen short of desired goals in the past four years. The recurrent lapses and loss to the nation in oil and gas revenue as revealed in report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), which indicate the poor attitude toward the implementation of previous report, the failure to pass into law the elusive Petroleum Industry Bill, exemplify this. We urge the 9th Senate, in the next one year, to ensure the passage of this and related legislations to entrench reforms in the sector. The 9th Senate may wish to work towards ensuring that the disclosure of beneficial owners of licenses in the oil sector and the publicizing of oil and mining contracts become a reality as envisaged by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership Commitments.
Asset Recovery: If Nigerian democracy and governance is to be preserved, the origins of huge assets of Nigerian real owners need be disclosed and, in case of Politically Exposed Persons, military and non-military personnel, religious leaders and other public figures, diligently explained to Nigerians. It is on record that out of the 110 Nigerian present in the infamous Panama Papers, precisely zero have been prosecuted. In other countries, individuals were held accountable while in Nigeria, they are even admired by blinded constituencies. The Proceeds of Crime Bill should be accelerated by the 9th Senate to ensure that all looted assets or assets acquired through corrupt practices are recovered.
Review of Tax Laws: This is to eliminate multiple taxation and the adoption of harmonized tax law across the three tiers of government as recommended by the Joint Tax Board.
International Treaties and Conventions: As we begin the 6th Government since 1999, the excuse of being a ‘nascent democracy’ is no longer tenable for the lapses in our democratic processes. In this regard, the National Assembly in general and the House of Representatives in particular must prioritize the domestication and implementation through oversight of all pending international treaties in the areas of human rights and good governance in keeping with out Constitution and other treaty obligations. Specifically, we must ensure that our health and agriculture budget allocations meet with the AU standard of 15% and 10% respectively. We must also prioritize the coming into law a bill that deals with the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the face of the large number of IDPs in the country.
Reduction of the Cost of Governance: The cost of governance in Nigeria is unnecessarily high. There is a multiplicity of agencies performing similar roles and with duplicating mandates. It has also caused a lot of inter-agency rivalry leading to poor performance and loss of time in delivering the required results.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important milestones to gauge Nigeria’s development in the next 10years. Nigeria currently lacks positive indices as far the SDGs are concerned. There is pervasive poverty in the country, the maternal mortality rate is high, school enrolment for children is low and many other important social concerns. Concerted and targeted efforts in addressing this may be important if Nigeria must achieve the SDGs and not left behind by other countries.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Engagement and Citizens’ Participation: CSOs engagement and citizens participation enhances legislative performance. CSO access to the national assembly and participation in public hearings is capable of bringing better information of issues that have traction among the citizenry. Creation of effective and functional constituency offices, holding of regular town hall meetings, focused group discussions, public outreach and participation in CSOs workshops among others could be enriching in ensuring that better laws and oversight activities are carried out.
e-Legislature, Monitoring and Evaluation: In a technological and Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) dominant world, the use of analogue and outdated systems would not provide the necessary impetus for good legislation. Effective communication among legislators and legislative and aides is a prerequisite for better and effective legislation. It not only important that laws are made the monitoring of the implementation of the law and evaluation of the law in ensuring that the law is in tandem with societal expectation is necessary.
In conclusion, the trust deficit facing the National Assembly is a major baggage and burden that has been inherited by the 9th Assembly. The leadership and entire members have the option of either pretending and ignoring these and continuing with business as usual or rallying its members for self-introspection. The latter represent a distinguished and honourable course. We have no doubt in our minds that you will let your good conscience and empathy for your constituencies and the people of Nigeria guide you in your assignment.
God bless Nigeria. God bless our democracy.
Mr. Auwal MUSA (Rafsanjani)
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)
Chair, Transparency International Nigeria