By Sufuyan Ojeifo
President Muhammadu Buhari on January 24, 2018, assented to a clean copy of an amendment bill that rechristened the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS). The bill, which has now become the 2018 Amendment Act, provides the legal basis upon which the institute is now described and referred to as National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).
The Act has also legally expanded the mandate of the institute to include the complete critical subject area of democracy in its curriculum. In essence, the institute has been repositioned to effectively cover the entire field of legislative and democratic studies in order to forge a vibrant and knowledgeable crop of political actors and political office holders who administer the nation’s political economy.
The institute is attuned to the provision of the precise environment to drive a utilitarian learning process that conduces to a better understanding of the theory and praxis of the legislature, election observation and management as well as political party administration within the larger framework of democratic governance.
Before now, the institute had operated restrictively within the narrow purview of deploying its manpower in the conduct of periodic short and refresher courses for federal and state legislators, staff, committee clerks and political aides on legislative practice and procedure, democracy and good governance; and, in the promotion and dissemination among legislative aides in Nigeria of the practice of science-based methodologies of law-making, among others. However, with the expanded mandate, it now has the locus to focus its training packages or modules on a much wider audience within and outside the governmental circle.
With a sharply-focused management under a sedate but highly fecund director general, Professor Ladi Hamalai, the institute has witnessed two critical transformational epochs in about a decade. It is noteworthy that it began as an initiative that was firmly rooted in a grant agreement that the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) entered into with the National Assembly in 2002 for the establishment of Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP), the intellectual wing of the National Assembly. PARP actually transformed in 2011 to an institute by virtue of the NILS Establishment Act; and, almost seven years after, its mandate has now been expanded via the 2018 Amendment Act.
The specifics of the expanded mandate, aside the name change, as provided in section 2 (2) (n) (o) (p) and section 3 (i) of the Amendment Act, are that the institute will, henceforth, operate as the centre for continuing education and advocacy on democratic processes and institutions; and, will provide training courses and degrees on democracy, party politics, electoral process, legislative practice and procedures, political culture and development, respectively.
The expectation in the National Assembly is that with the name change the institute will gain more acceptability by the wider political class. Similarly, with the slight adjustments to the original objectives of the institute, it would become the authoritative core centre for capacity building in democratic governance. Coming at the threshold of the 2019 general elections, it is believed that the institute will be deployed to play far-reaching roles in preparing political actors and public office holders for an engaging process of deepening the nation’s democratic process and governance.
At a recent engagement in Abuja where the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, Honourable Aminu Shagari and Professor Hamalai jointly addressed the media on the institute’s expanded mandate, she (Hamalai) was confident that if the NILDS programmes were properly focused, they would impact positively on the on-going democratic processes and ultimately culminate in the building of virile democratic structures and institutions that would advance party politics and electoral process in the country through sustainable manpower training and/or capacity building.
This is the kind of trainings that Nigerian political actors and public office holders require to provoke national re-orientation and rebirth. There must be a revolutionary way of running all aspects of the nation’s political economy. It must take deliberate inculcation of values in a target audience to precipitate desired changes. One expects that the NILDS should operate in a writ-large fashion in the appreciation of the Nigerian public in the same way they appreciate the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, as the intellectual mill for policy makers and strategists.
While NIPSS, for instance, conducts courses for top-level policy makers and executors drawn from different sectors of the country, with a view to widening their outlook and perspectives on issues and improving their conceptual capacity, quality of analysis and decision making, among others, NILDS is equipped to promote critical research materials and policy insights as background materials for committees of the National Assembly; improve the capacity of legislators to sustain and consolidate democratic governance through deliberation and policy formulation; and, improve the technical capacity of legislative staff, committee secretaries and political aides to process appropriation bills and policy oversight of the executive.
Interestingly, the NILDS is also empowered to conduct periodic training on democratic principles for members of the Armed Forces; document and publish for public use the history and politics of the legislature in governance in Nigeria from colonial period to the present; monitor elections; provide interface between democratic institutions and the civil societies; sensitise the Nigerian public to imbibe, support and defend democratic and legislative ethics; undertake such other incidental responsibilities relating to the development, consolidation and advancement of legislative independence; and, engage visiting scholars and fellows to participate in its academic programmes.
Whereas, it is a piece of good news that the NILDS is working with the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the University of Benin to start Masters and Post Graduate Diploma programmes in Election Management and Party Politics in the third quarter of 2018, perhaps what is of greater significance is the entire gamut of programmes that the institute has developed towards deepening democratic governance before and beyond 2019. Kudos must be given to the NILDS Steering Committee, comprising former Senate President, Ken Nnamdi and former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, among others, that developed a two-year strategic plan to define, for instance, the mission of a new Department of Democratic Studies (DDS) and identify some of the key programmes that should be implemented.
The NILDS also deserves commendation for developing programmes that are strictly tailored towards deepening democratic governance with specific emphasis on such engaging topics as election observation, election management, institution building of political parties and effective party management; the role of security agencies in the forthcoming general elections; high turnover of members in the legislature; alternative funding sources for political parties; and the question of internal democracy; independent candidature; a revisit of card reader and electronic report of elections; and, Diaspora voting, among others.
It is understandable that Hon. Shagari, who is also chairman of the Steering Committee that developed NILDS’ strategic plan for engaging political actors and political office holders, was full of commendation for the committee. The wisdom in scheduling stakeholders’ discussions around these pertinent topics is obvious. For a better home grown democratic practice, stakeholders’ intellectual exertion in these areas should be activated now.
Mr. Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch magazine contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org