A paper titled “Subnational Legislatures and National Governing Institutions in Nigeria, 1999-2013” presented by Dr. Joseph Yinka Fashagba, revealed the fact that both at the constituent states and rural/local levels, most new democracies in Africa are coming to term with the reality of the necessity to bring government close to the people.
In his analysis, “this development has spurred the widening acceptance of decentralization of government, governmental institutions and administration to cater to the local needs, services and to the decision-making imperative of the subnational units. The popular acceptance of decentralization of governance has been largely influenced by various factors, among which are the need for the protection of minority groups’ rights, for the protection of the distinct cultural and linguistic identities of groups, for enhancing unity and stabilizing the polity under a negotiated term occasionally following a severe conflict, and the imperative to create dual (in a unitary system) or trio (in a federal system) outlets for non-centralized public service delivery.
“In spite of the varying factors, the trend towards dispersing political administration and levels of governance in Africa has intensified and taken various forms in the different states, especially following the re-emergence of multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.”
Dr. Fashagba observed that one very important implication of the transformation in administrative structure, institutional framework and political arrangement is the change in power configuration and the emergence of a new pattern of inter-tier (inter-level) relations. Although depending on whether a unitary or a federal arrangement is adopted, the extent of power wielded by each level or tier of government and the nature of responsibilities thereby conferred on them have varied from state to state.
“In most federal systems, emphasis is placed on constitutional sharing of power between the national and the subnational governments. Rather than centralizing power, effective power sharing resulting in political and administrative decentralization is adopted to give the national and subnational units and governmental institutions some measure of operational and functional independence”, he noted.
Dr. Fashagba furthertheorized three dimensions of decentralization: the fiscal, administrative and political. In his analysis, Political decentralization refers to the degree to which central governments allow non-central government entities to undertake the political functions of governance, such as representation; Fiscal decentralization seeks to make the subnational units enjoy a significant measure of spending/expenditure and revenue-generation autonomy; and Administrative decentralization refers to the extent to which subnational units engage and achieve modern bureaucracy that is efficient, effective and rational.
In a paper titled “Politexting: Using Mobile Technology to Connect the Unconnected and Expanding the Scope of Constituency Relations”, Dr. Deji Olaore highlighted the fact Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has changed the face of the world, and its impact which has manifested in every facet of our lives. He said, “In African countries, both citizens and parliamentarians place a much high emphasis on representation and constituency service than on legislating and oversight.”
Dr. Olaore lamented listed several challenges such as cost, access, time constraint, resources, and lack of human capacity among others that hinder legislators from performing their representation roles effectively. He however, observed that the advent of ICT, particularly the use of SMS has increased representative contact with constituents by lowering information cost, provides real time contact with legislators, gives voice to the voiceless, thereby representatives in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia to communicate with their constituents. He cited Nigeria as an important case study where SMS has changes the face of constituency relations both at the national legislature, and in State House of Assemblies.
He illustrated that using ICT, legislators explain their decisions to their constituents and try to generate support from them constituents input into current public policy; using constituent input and their knowledge and judgment; and legislators deliberate among themselves and make decision about law and public policy.
Another paper titled “Ethiopia: Strategies of Power, Regional Government Institutions and the Discourse of the People” presented by Dr. Solomon Gofie, disclosed that a political structure centered on the discourse of self-determination of nations, nationalities and peoples became a new political strategy towards reconfiguring the relations between the state and society.
Speaking on the executive power structure in Ethiopia, he noted, “the leader of political organisations with majority in the legislature, none other form than the Ethiopia People’ Revolutionary Democracy Front (EPRDF) forms the government at the federal level. Following the end of the transitional period (1991-1994), the head of the executive became the noterm limit.” He observed that in theory, the Constitution provides for judiciary independence, however, it has always been gripped by tensions between serving the interest of those in state power and the judiciary as an independent and imperial institution.
According to him, “thus the status of the judiciary in the scheme of Ethiopia government is critical precarious, characterized by political intervention of state officials on matters deemed important to them, lingering of cases, corruption and erosion of public trust in the institution both at the federal as well as the regional levels.” Dr. Gofie decried lack of credibility of electoral institutions, harassment, intimidation, detention, allegations of killings and exiles of opposition politicians and supporters being the hallmark of the democratization dispensation that has not given rise to meaningful development of the country’s politics towards multi-partism.”
He said, “Fiscal theories of federalism provide another important dimension in studies on subnational institutions. The manner in which subnational level governments are financed by the centre and how this factors into the nature of its interaction with various sub-national entities has been an important theme of perspectives in fiscal theories.”
In order for constitutionalism to be feature of sub-national institutions, he reiterated that sub-national units must be conceived to have an independent role and that sub-national units are not mere political sub-divisions of the nation. Dr. Gofie further recommended that sub-national would be must be perceived as having a degree of autonomy sufficient to make them efficacious representative and agents of subnational populations.
A paper titled “Provincial Path to Accountability in the New South Africa: The Case of Limpopo Province” presented by Dr. Mamogale J. Majuta, noted that in spite of its repressive past, the new South Africa is a liberal democracy characterized by high quality of democracy systems such as regular free and fair elections both at national and sub-national levels, competitive party politics, the respect for the rule of law, and separation of power and check and balance between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
He recalled that “The South African Constitution guarantees other features of high quality democracy which include popular citizen participation in the lawmaking process, free press, strong civil society, an independent and impartial judicial system.
“In South Africa, the legislature shares some of these constitutional functions of lawmaking, public representation with the executive but the manner in which the exercise this differs.”
According to Dr. Majuta, in South Africa, the executive balances and aggregates diverse socio-economic and political interests of different groups in society into the national and implements a single national public policy.
“In contrast, the legislatures are designed to represent differences within society hence members of the legislature act on behalf of specific geographic, ethnic, political, gender or other groups and seeks to ensure that those diverse group’s interest are represented at national and sub-national levels”, he highlighted.
He said in Africa, many legislatures, with few exceptions such as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria, have been found to be weak due to their less or limited independence to exercise their formal powers od especially oversight over the execitives.
Just like in Nigeria, Dr. Majuta did not hid the fact that although, South African legislature is considered one few exceptions in exercising its formal powers enshrined in the Constitution, there are variations between the legislatures at national and sub-national levels in terms of institutional capacity; however, legislative lawmaking process in South Africa has been observed to be dominated by the executives who often initiate policy proposals or amendments rather than the legislature itself.