Editor's note: YIAGA AFRICA's media officer, Moshood Isah, writes on the performance of the 8th National Assembly between 2015 and 2019, with emphasis on a new research study on the assembly, conducted by an independent body, Centre for Legislative Engagement released recently.
There were mixed reactions concerning the ability of the 8th National Assembly to perform at an optimum level when it emerged in 2015. In fact, during its four-year tenure between 2015 and 2019, there was some level of antagonism between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government. The consequence of such reported negative alliance between these core arms of government no doubt left a significant impression that the 8th National Assembly was a “clog to the wheel of progress” all through its period in office. However, political analysts in other quarters believed that having the three arms of government with varying ideas on how the nation should progress is good for democracy as opposed to a “rubber-stamp” National Assembly.
However, when the 8th National Assembly finally concluded its tenure this year, there were more mixed reviews on the outcome of its performance. To put things into more perspective for criticism and verdict, a new research study on the assembly, conducted by an independent body, Centre for Legislative Engagement (an initiative of YIAGA AFRICA) was released last week; and the research has been making the rounds in the media and civil society space. The comprehensive report basically laid bare how the immediate past National Assembly performed in its core mandates of legislation, representation and oversight. From the records available, this is the first and only comprehensive research that has been able to analyse the performance of any legislature since the emergence of Nigeria’s democracy in 1999.
While the Saraki-Dogara led National Assembly might have been judged by its toxic relationship with the executive in some quarters, this new research drew a verdict on the 8th National assembly through the quality of legislation it passed in the span of its time in office. In addition, the research also utilized key yardsticks such as legislations, constituency representation, and oversight functions of the legislature on the executive and judiciary. The study also utilized a very key measuring tool of assessment, which has no doubt been relegated to the background in recent times - “constituency activities and the implementation of projects by lawmakers.”
The research, led by the former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, credited the 8th NASS to have introduced 2,166 bills while passing 515 pieces of legislations - this in itself is a record in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. Although many of the legislations are yet to be assented to by the president, the 8th Assembly has nonetheless been hailed for this feat.
It is also noteworthy that although landmark bills like the age reduction bill - now popularly called the Not Too Young To Run Act - was passed and assented to during the four-year period, the age running limit for senatorial and gubernatorial offices were sustained for reasons best known to the leaders of the 8th Assembly. This is no doubt a major dent on a legislation that was so revolutionary and worthy of praise, it was deemed historic and even spurred other African youths on, to begin a similar ‘Not Too Young To Run’ political movement in their own country.
Furthermore, despite the feat of the highest number of bills passed, the research study noted that poor quality of bills resulted from a lack of legislative proficiency and pre-legislative scrutiny. In addition, lawmakers remained notorious for abandoning their constituents until another election circle comes around. It is for this reason that the 8th NASS was rated poorly in terms of providing quality representation especially 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.
It is imperative that the current National Assembly learns from its predecessors especially in the area passing better bills with quality and impact. There is a need for the 9th NASS to entrench pre-legislative scrutiny as a norm for all proposed legislation (whether executive or private member bills) except in circumstances where the legislation needs to be fast-tracked because of a national emergency or some other exceptional urgency.
This way, legislative proposals will be enriched because of consultations with practitioners, experts, and all other stakeholders, before they are introduced in the legislature. The National Assembly as recommended should consider creating a legislative standards committee to oversee the pre-legislative scrutiny process. The committee will serve as a gateway through which all bills would have to pass for quality control to progress to the first reading.
There is also a need for the 9th National Assembly, and subsequent assemblies, to be more open and transparent as regards relations with the Nigerian citizens. This, according to the report, can be achieved through collaborations with citizen-groups to develop a framework for the conduct of public hearings in the National Assembly.
Importantly, the report advised legislators to establish functional constituency offices that are not only accessible but also well-staffed and equipped. The NASS-leadership should compel legislators to provide periodic reports on constituency engagement and constituency office management. Legislators need to do more in terms of visits, meetings, and communication with their constituents. Legislators should also take advantage of technology and social media to give an account of their stewardship.
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