By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Christiana Ekpa
Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki has urged Clerks to the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly to be transparent and accountable in order to strengthen the legislature and restore confidence in the institution.
Saraki who gave the charge in his remarks while declaring open the 9th Meeting of Clerks to National and State Houses of Assembly in Abuja, also reiterated that the strength of the nation’s democracy lies in the legislature.
He stated that for the legislature to live up to its mandate, its administrators and staff must be fearless, accountable and transparent. He pledged that the leadership of the 8th National Assembly will continue to ensure that adequate funding is made available to train and build the capacity of staff.
“I strongly believe that the strength of democracy lies in the legislature, if we all agree with that, it then means that to strengthen our democracy as a country, we must strengthen the legislature. The question is: Where is the strength of the legislature? I strongly believe that that strength is not in us that are elected per se but more in you the administrators of the legislature. I have no doubt at all that we must strengthen your capacity. We must invest in you. We must invest in the administration.
More importantly, the truth is it is a job that you must be fearless”, he said.
In his welcome address, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said the meeting will create opportunity for the clerks as managers of their various parliaments, to compare notes on areas of common interest to promote and strengthen the unique position that the legislature occupies in governance at both the national and sub national terms.
He lamented that at no previous occasion has the legislature as an arm of government is grossly misunderstood in polity owing to the near mortal casualty suffered by the arm in the area of systemic disruption arriving from relentless military interjections.
He said one important lesson that the clerks must take away from the meeting is the difference between an independent and independent legislature, adding that the National Assembly is committed to deepening of Nigeria democracy, adding that the independence of the legislature at the state level is key to achieving this.
Dogara warned that a dependent legislature that relies on the executive for the crumb will not be able to do the work of deepening the Nigeria’s democracy, saying that this explains why democracy has become the casualty of the’ over dependence state parliaments on the executive.
“Anywhere in the world where democracy suffered or suffers, it is the people that pay the price. Over dependence of the legislature on the executive is like a cancerous tumour on our democracy. This cancer reveals itself in the massive hemorrhage of humongous resources accruing to states and local governments in most states of the federation.
“Until the state legislatures possess the capacity to oversight and make the executives at state levels accountable to the people, the mass of the people will continue to totter on the hinges of promise of democracy”, he said.
This he pointed out is anchored on an experienced bureaucracy, adding that while the turnover rate of members of the legislature in Nigeria is too high, the same cannot be said of the bureaucracy. The Speaker said that an underperforming parliament in Nigeria must have an underperforming bureaucracy.
The Clark of National Assembly, Sani Omolori, in his remarks said the clerks have a big role to play as bureaucrats to direct their information machinery in educating the citizens on the purpose of the legislature. He said despite challenges, the Clerks are playing commendable roles in professional conduct of legislative businesses.
According to him, as chief administrative officers responsible for the day to day running of their various legislatures, the clerks should be mindful of the fact that their roles are not limited to advising their political bosses, but also provide guidance and leadership to the management of the legislature.
While urging them to sharpen their management and leadership skills,
Omolori said this will help them to provide direction to the staff under them, so as to run effective legislature and make the parliaments more credible, adding that the recommendations on the agenda would be given to the various presiding officers both at national and state levels for implementation.
Former Clerk of National Assembly, Ibrahim Sally, in his goodwill message, reminded the clerks that they have huge responsibilities on their shoulders to ensure that democracy is strong and entrenched in Nigeria and to ensure that the parliament is peoples with legislators that are proud to be in the first arm of government.
Sally who spoke on behalf of former clerks to the National Assembly, charged the clerks to fiercely defend the first arm of government, adding that this can only be done if they coordinate and work in tandem with their bosses to further consolidate the independence the legislature as an institution.
“Ws have no other institution except this one, the executive has their own, the judiciary has their own, but this is our own, and I expect you to defend it fiercely. You should also be responsible enough to advice your presiding officers honestly and fearlessly. You should be fearless, and you can only be fearless if you. Know what you are doing and they will respect your opinions and your guidance”, he said.
He charged them to know their onion, saying the legislature should not be a rubber stamp, even as the staff should not rubber stamp plaque also. He enjoined to be people who will be witnesses to power, and those who will look power in the face and tell power the truth.
Speaking further, he tasked the clerks to be impartial and non partisan, saying they must deal with members as members and with the presiding officer as a presiding officer irrespective of the political party they come from.
He in addition advised the clerks not to be tempted by money, saying if they concern themselves with the finances of the members it means they do not know what they are doing as clerks whether at the state or national level, expressing confidence that they have the capacity to deliver hence they should go ahead and deliver, soon.