- The National Assembly has been commended for resuming amid the COVID-19 pandemic
- The commendation was by the Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement
- The civil society organisation, however, offered its advice on an improved legislative response to COVID-19
The Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement has commended the decision of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, to resume plenary after a one-month recess following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The resumption of legislative work will no doubt strengthen Nigeria’s response to the pandemic, deepen accountability and transparency and protect citizens' socio-economic and political rights,” Yiaga said in a statement signed by its executive director, Samson Itodo.
Itodo stated that the resumption is coming against the background of increased cases of coronavirus “and its determination to wreak havoc on the nation’s economy and annihilate our population.”
He said the case progression calls for urgent action by all arms of government to prevent further transmission of the virus and mitigate its harsh effects on livelihoods.
As the National Assembly resumes, the Yiaga Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement (CLE) has recommended the following pathways for an improved legislative response to COVID-19.
1. Adopt e-parliament in legislative work: Given the shutdown of the National Assembly to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus, it has become imperative for the NASS to integrate e-parliament into legislative action fully. Yiaga Africa calls on the NASS to amend its rules to incorporate videoconferencing and teleconferencing to facilitate remote legislative work like committee meetings, public hearings, public petitions etc
2. Subject executive actions on COVID-19 to legislative scrutiny: Yiaga Africa calls on the National Assembly to mandate its committees to subject all executive actions taken during the recess to legislative review especially enforcement of the COVID-19 regulations, distribution of palliatives to indigent Nigerians, management of COVID-19 funding and coordination and containment of the health crisis.
3. Accelerate the amendment of the 2020 Appropriation Act and passage of an emergency economic stimulus package: The Senate should expeditiously consider the Emergency Economic Stimulus bill as passed by the House and transmit to the President for assent. The NASS should harmonize the bill with the proposed N500 billion fiscal Stimulus package of the executive, as both proposals seek to provide the required resources to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy and citizens.
4. Increased Appropriation for Health: The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the fragility of the nation's healthcare infrastructure and facilities. The National Assembly should use its power of appropriation to increase budgetary allocation to the health sector and deploy necessary legislative oversight to ensure that the country's health infrastructure is prepared to manage health crises like the one posed by COVID-19.
5. Legislative framework for pandemic management in Nigeria: Considering the limitations and anachronistic nature of the Quarantine Act of 2004, the NASS, through legislation, should provide a framework for managing public health crises in Nigeria. Such legislation should also address the legal implications of the force majeure on the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
6. Investigate and respond to reports of human rights violations and gender-based violence: Nigeria has witnessed an increase in the abuse of citizens' rights by security personnel deployed to enforce lockdown measures across the country. This resulted in killings of innocent citizens.
7. Improve citizens' engagement and communication: The National Assembly continues to be negatively perceived by Nigerians ostensibly due to poor communication and image perception management. The negative perception arises from the opaque nature in which activities and information relating to the parliament are handled. The negative perception often gives credence to misinformation. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the NASS should to improve its communication and engagement with citizens to build trust and mobilize the necessary support to win the battle against COVID-19
8. Prioritize the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB): The PIGB is one of four parts of the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which seeks to update and replace the outdated Nigerian Petroleum industry governance structure with a more comprehensive and current petroleum industry law that aligns with global standards. This bill seeks to provide for the governance and institutional framework for the petroleum industry and other related matters. The bill is considered critical to the reforms of the petroleum industry in Nigeria and, indeed, the stability of the Nigerian economy, given that the oil represents the largest source of revenue for the country.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has urged the federal government to urgently evacuate all Nigerians willing to return, who have tested negative to COVID-19 and are with valid passports and visas in China.
Spokesman of the green chambers, Honourable Benjamin Kalu and nine others moved the motion, at the resumed plenary of the lower house on Tuesday, April 28.
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