By Jide Ojo
Last Thursday, October 3, 2019, in Abuja, the Centre for Legislative Engagement of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement better known as YIAGA Africa, a non-governmental organisation, publicly presented the “Scorecard of the 8th National Assembly”. I was privileged to be among the august gathering. The immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, led the team of researchers to understudy the performance of the Bukola Saraki-led Senate and Yakubu Dogara-led House of Representatives. The 117-page report was an eye-opener to the operations of the Eighth National Assembly.
The study drew its data from secondary and primary sources. Secondary data were sourced from books, journals, committee reports (sessional and legacy reports), records of proceedings, Hansards and other official documents of the National Assembly. Primary data were generated through in-depth interviews, survey using structured questionnaires, and Focus Group Discussions. A total of 2,910 questionnaires were reportedly administered in 12 randomly selected states, two per geopolitical zones (one Senatorial District and one federal constituency per state). In-depth interviews were conducted with the leadership of the National Assembly and chairmen of the 12 selected committees (five Senate and seven House). The survey questionnaire was also administered to clerks of the 12 committees and senior legislative aides to the committee chairmen and other legislative bureaucrats.
With respect to lawmaking, the report observed that there was a significant increase in the number of bills handled by the 8th National Assembly. Specifically, 2,166 bills were introduced, out of which 515 pieces of legislation were passed, including 21 constitution alteration bills – five of which received presidential assent. The Senate passed a total of 172 bills while the House of Representatives passed 343 bills within the same period.
Of all those bills, 53 were declined presidential assent and only about 80 received assent although several bills were still awaiting assent as of the time of the study. Regrettably, data on the number of bills transmitted to the President for assent were not available. Over the same period, 15 bills were withdrawn while 33 were ‘negatived’, that is, killed. In terms of the gestation period, some of these bills took long to be passed. According to the report, a bill should, on average, take less than six months to pass. But out of the 515 bills passed in the 8th National Assembly, only 47 (9.1%) were passed within 50 days, while a whopping 271 (52.6%) took over 351 days. Furthermore, 14 bills were passed within 100 days, 12 within 150 days, 80 within 200 days, 41 within 250 days, 23 within 300 days and 27 within 350 days. Notably, most of the bills passed within 50 days were either executive bills or, of emergency nature.
In terms of oversight, the 8th National Assembly was found to have excelled in some areas, but performed below expectations in many others. It was reported that, “the ratings are not as encouraging with respect to core components of representation such as visits and meetings with constituents, establishment and management of constituency offices, responses to constituents’ demands, attraction and execution of constituency projects, and communication with constituents.”
The report identified some of the general challenges that hampered the performance of the 8th National Assembly to include inadequacy of resources, especially finance, high rate of legislative turnover, which affects legislative capacity and tensions in legislative/executive relations. Specific challenges of legislation include a moribund bills processing system/procedure that sometimes allowed bills to be passed into law without adequate scrutiny; a flawed system of reconciling differences between chambers (Constitution Alteration Bills passed with differences between chambers of the 8th National Assembly were never reconciled); undue delays in considering major legislation; introduction of huge number of bills, coupled with an abysmally low rate of passage; and a public hearing system that is still not robust enough to input public views into legislation.
For oversight, notable challenges include poor funding, which not only undermines public hearings and oversight visits, but also tends to encourage reliance on the MDAs for financial assistance for oversight. The multiplicity of committees, purely for political exigencies and often with overlapping jurisdictions, also results in conflict and inefficiency. The large number of committees ultimately affects funds available to individual committees. Yet, the question of corruption was also an issue.
The identified challenges of effective representation include the inability to effectively manage the weight of rising constituents’ expectations and demand on the legislators, abiding stereotypes and misconceptions about legislative emoluments, including widespread perceptions that Nigerian legislators are the highest paid the world over; managing tensions between collective legislative interests and constituents’ interest; quality of staff (legislative aides); and poor level of citizen participation in the legislative process.
According to Jega, who gave a synopsis of the scorecard, 17 recommendations were put forward for consideration of the federal parliament. Some of them include: The National Assembly was advised to entrench Pre-Legislative Scrutiny as a norm for all proposed legislation; It should consider creating a Legislative Standards Committee to oversee the pre-legislative scrutiny process; there should be a clear monitoring mechanism of implementation of legislation, including mid-term review/evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the legislation in accomplishing their stipulated objectives.
Other recommendations include, the National Assembly should adopt electronic voting on bills and motions. Voting records should be available to members of the public on all NASS online and offline channels; the National Assembly should maintain an updated open and accessible Bills Progression Chart to enable legislators, legislative aides and other stakeholders track or monitor progress of bills passage. It was also suggested that the federal lawmakers should maintain an accessible database of assented and gazetted legislation passed by the legislature.
The scorecard recommended improvement in the quality of legislative oversight by establishing minimum benchmarks/targets for committee meetings oversight work in line with the assembly’s legislative agenda. Failure to meet those targets should attract sanctions; Legislative committees should uphold the principles of integrity, professionalism, transparency and mutual respect in the performance of oversight functions; parliamentary committees should work closely with civil society groups in performing their oversight functions; the National Assembly should prioritise adequate funding for committees, which is pivotal to effective legislation and oversight. Further to this, the National Assembly should ensure transparency and accountability for funds allocated to committees.
Nigerian legislators are advised to establish functional constituency offices that are not only accessible, but also well-staffed and equipped. The leadership should compel legislators to provide periodic reports on constituents’ engagement and constituency office management. NASS needs to improve the quality and capacity of legislators and legislative aides. No doubt, the National Assembly does not have control over the kind of people who get elected into it; but political parties and Nigerians do.
Lastly, it was noted that the prevailing high rate of legislative turnover in successive elections affects the quality of representation. Political parties, senatorial districts and federal constituencies were counselled to promote continuity of representatives who perform well.
YIAGA’s effort in coming up with this scorecard is laudable. Ordinarily, this study should have been conducted by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies which is an organ of the National Assembly. However, as the saying goes, “None so deaf as those who will not hear”. Many of the findings and recommendations in this report are not new. They have been highlighted in many seminal papers, conferences and workshops. However, I do hope the current leadership of the National Assembly and indeed those of the state Houses of Assembly will have the political will to implement some of these noble recommendations.
Jide Ojo is a Public Affairs Analyst.