Did The Nigerian Senate Make Us Proud? By Carl Ndukwe

As the year 2017 winds down, it is imperative to assess the contributions of the eighth Nigerian Senate against the backdrop of this aphorism by poet, Mary Oliver, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” We have a very “good” habit in these parts by focusing on the negatives in a way that blinds us to some of the good work that may have been done.
To many times, we often remember the Senate for the frequent face-offs that they have with members of the Executive arm, invitations to public office holders, motions of national importance and resolutions, however, there are also many times when they do make the people proud. This piece intends to interrogate some of those memorable bills through which our senators have demonstrated that their service and fealty do indeed rest on the interests and wishes of the people.

In the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, the Senate demonstrated that not only does it listen but also has it fingers on the pulse of the people. The Senate has via this bill, which reduces the required ages for seeking political offices, ignited greater participation of the youth, not just in politics but also in political leadership. For a country with over 70 per cent of its population under 35, this is a wonderful development that holds a lot of promise especially for young people going into 2018 when political realignments will gain momentum ahead of the general elections.

The #OpenNASS was another pivotal movement that made the transition from online advocacy to fruitful offline engagement just like the #theNotTooYoungToRun campaign. The decision to open the Budget of the National Assembly to the general public showcased an exemplary commitment to transparency and accountability which the institution hasn’t always been known for. For the first time, since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule 17 years ago, anyone could google up and see, in fine print every dime that the Senate did intend to spend and how it planned to spend it. Such move has raised the level of confidence and trust that ordinary Nigerians have in the Nigerian Senate and the important work that they do there.

No single issue has, over the past decade, caused so much economic and social destruction to our country as the extremist insurgency in the North East of the country. It has been a thing of great pride to see how citizens all over the country contributed their best to this painful road of recovery. Here again, the Senate chimed in with commitment and focus, passing the North East Development Commission Bill (signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari), which among other things establishes a commission tasked with the responsibility of rebuilding and rehabilitating the North East whilst ensuring the resettlement of the internally displaced persons into their homes. Surely rebuilding the North east is the most definitive way to defeat the insurgents, and it’s great to see the Senate playing its part in the fight.

In November, the World Bank released its Ease of Doing Business Report for 2018 with the joyful news that Nigeria had moved up 24 places to be ranked in the 145th position out of 190 countries against the backdrop of a decade of decline in the global rankings. While the Executive arm received tonnes of plaudits for this great feat, many commentators forget that the Senate had helped to lay the groundwork with the Ease of Doing Business Bills – the Credit Bureau Services Bill and the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets.

The Credit Bureau Services Bill passed in May 2017 helps reduce the risk of lending or engaging in business with individuals or companies with a financial history of not paying back while the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets, enables ordinary Nigerians use invoices and receipts to access loans and working capital. Together, both laws smoothen the rough edges of doing business in Nigeria by securing lenders from working with people who have questionable financial history and also enabling more Nigerians to borrow towards growing their businesses. This, no doubt, would translate in unlocking more growth potential for our economy.

Lastly, as a nation we have always paid lip service when it comes to leveraging technology to make life easier for the people. What better way to side with the people than to show understanding that the viability of our whole democracy lies in the integrity of our electoral system with the passage of the INEC Reform Bill which will shore up and safeguard our voting process.

Thanks to the bill, there shall now be full biometric accreditation of voters with Smart Card Readers, INEC Officers must now instantly transmit accreditation data and results from Polling Units to various collation centers in a manner that determines final results on real time basis. INEC is also now mandated to keep a National Electronic Register of Election Results as a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling unit results for all elections conducted by INEC. Collation of election result is also now mainly electronic, as transmitted unit results will help to determine final results on real time basis. But the best part of the bill is that it kick-starts, in earnest, the technological evolution of our voting system. Such adoption of technology to drive our political system as piloted by the Senate would make our elections more free, fair and transparent.

The Whistleblower Protection Bill, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill all passed this year are aimed that giving fillip to the fight against corruption. This somewhat deals a lie to the notion that the Legislative arm of government is not interested in killing corruption before it kills the nation.

The eighth Senate seems not to be as tone-deaf as a lot of critics make them out. A wise man once said, looking back and looking forward is the only way to make progress. In looking backward, we have seen the grounds covered by our legislators in the eighth Senate and that they can deliver progress. In looking forward, we can challenge our law makers to always place service before and above self whilst delivering a future that we all can be proud of.
Ndukwe is an Abuja based communications professional.

#OpenNASS: National Assembly Opens Its Budget For The First Time In History

Nigeria’s National Assembly for the first time in recent history has made public, its yearly budget.

This was revealed during the passing of the 2017 appropriation bill by the Nigerian Senate.

Recall a special assistant on New Media to the Senate President, Bankole Omisore has stated penultimate last week that he would resign his job if the national assembly fails to open its budget in 2017.

Recall the National Assembly had budgeted N125,000,000,000 for 2017, but failed to reveal details of its spending to the public.

See a copy of the line by line distribution of the 2017 national assembly budget below:

 

National Assembly 2017 budget
2017 National Assembly budget

In a copy of the proposed budget seen by this paper, the House of Representatives got the largest chunk with a personnel cost of 4,923,743,127, an overhead cost of 39,635,756,179 and capital budget of 4,493,244,677.

The total budget of the House of Representative led by Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara equals 49billion naira.

In a similar vein, the Nigerian Senate which got the second largest vote, had a personnel cost of 1,856,510,517, an overhead cost of 25,111,332,147 and capital budget of 4,430,923,222 making a total of 31,398,765,886 budget for 2017.

Credit: The Paradigm

Ibrahim Olalekan Paul: Policy-Making By Those Affected By Policies

In March 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law the Act establishing the National institute for Legislative Studies (NILS). NILS, an organ of the National Assembly, is involved in active research on the dynamics of parliamentary process, current and emerging key issues, legislation and policy reviews. The institute – through its training programmes – enhances capacities of parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to become more effective in carrying out their mandate.

Quality conversation and citizen engagement are crucial for legislative success. The modern method of connecting with people has become so important that NILS recently declared open a two-day National Assembly dialogue on Economy, Security and Development, which yielded some key policy recommendations. A follow up to this was the gathering of young social media users at the Institute where these policies were discussed and more inputs were made.

The dialogue focuses on four key areas – economy, unemployment, extensive and efficient infrastructure, and security. Further paragraphs will highlight brief examples of cited recommendations.

Management of the Economy

To absorb the teeming unemployed youth, it was recommended that: “Youth entrepreneurial villages can be developed at pilot level (one in each geo-political zone). In addition to this is the establishment of a pilot agricultural village which will have: (a) a number of agricultural science graduates; (b) cleared farms; (c) solar power infrastructure for lighting; (d) tents or simple hostel and general bathrooms for housing; (e) bank loans guaranteed by government; basic farming equipment; and (f) assistance with marketing intelligence.

Two success stories on Korea’s economy were recommended to be implemented in Nigeria and are – “The National Investment Fund” with capital from National Investment Bonds, banks and insurance companies, and the implementation of a phased “Economic Development Plan.”

 

Wealth Generation and Inclusive Growth

Again, citing the Korean example, policy makers recommended investment in research and development as this is pivotal to a country’s industrial revolution. A decentralised and integrated approach to poverty reduction was also strongly recommended to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth, and social protection.

Education, Youth and the Girl Child

Here, it was recommended that there should be structural reform of the education sector, increased focus on the role of science and technology in Nigeria, and revaluation of investment promotion agencies for active facilitation of community based development.

The Budget Process

It was suggested that a selective targeting approach be adopted to concentrate resources on a few targeted sectors on medium term basis. Additionally, strong legislative oversight should be cultivated to track use of resources and the implementation of projects/programmes.

Infrastructure Development

As one of the most crucial sectors, it was recommended that government should focus on public investments and utilise objective criteria in project approval to cut down on “white elephant” projects. Government should also ensure stricter control and support for low-income earners, provide an adequate legal regulatory framework for a more efficient and effective housing delivery system that will attract private sector investors, and promote use of alterative and inexpensive but durable building materials and new technologies in housing.

Reconstruction in North Eastern Nigeria

Just as we are getting over the insurgency with no territory reportedly in control of the insurgents, the government can draw from the Malaysian experience by creating development agencies to mobilise resources and attract investment.

Recommendations here further include reconciliation through traditional means, understanding and addressing “root causes” of the various conflicts in the Niger Delta and the North East, undertaking security and justice reforms, employing intelligent and creative management of the conflict to overcome the strands of fragility that haunt Nigeria, and ensuring that a significant majority of the citizens reap the dividends of revised growth to generate and sustain a sense of economic inclusivism.

The full list of recommendations can be viewed here. (http://nils.gov.ng/docs/key_policy_recommendations.pdf)

In addition to these, however, the National Institute of Legislative Studies (NILS) continues to seek inputs from the general public, as the Director-General, Dr. Ladi Hamalai, believes that just as we are part of the nation, we must be part of finding solutions to its numerous problems. “Let’s have more citizen engagements”, she advocates.

Please do join the conversation on twitter by tweeting at @nilsnigeria and by using the #NASSDialogue hashtag.

Bukola Saraki Reiterates Commitment To OpenNass

…Says that Anti-Social Media Bill is ‘Dead on Arrival’

…Announces that CSOs will be part of 2017 Budget Hearing

Today, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, delivered the keynote address at the StateCraft Masterclass series at Social Media Week, Lagos (#SMWLagos).

Speaking at the event, the Senate President emphasised the growing influence of social media users in Nigeria’s political environment, and encouraged the audience to continue contributing to the development of Nigeria through their dialogue and debate on social media.

The Senate President stated that:“Without the involvement of social media, there is no way that we would have moved from a non-performing government — because now everything is out in the open unlike years ago.”

Saraki went on to commend the online community, calling them the real ‘Chairmen of INEC,’ citing that their crowdsourced election results from polling stations during the general elections, ensured that the manipulation of vote counts was kept to the barest minimum.

“Though we had the numbers,” Saraki said, “It is really thanks to social media that votes counted because you shared the results as they happened.”

Bukola Saraki at te social Media Week Lagos1
Bukola Saraki at the Social Media Week, Lagos on Friday 26th February, 2016

The Senate President also announced that the controversial aspects of the ‘Frivolous Petition Bill,’ which is the section 4 of the Anti-frivolous petition Bill now popularly known as ‘Anti-Social Media Bill’ would not see the light of day at the Senate.

Saraki went on to assure the audience at #SMWLagos that in the next few weeks, the calls for an Open National Assembly (#OpenNASS) would be actualised, and Nigerians would get to see the line-item allocations of the National Assembly.

The Senate President called for continued cooperation and conversation between the government and the public via social media, and mentioned that following the recent National Assembly Interactive Session with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) called #NASSEngages, starting in 2017, CSOs would be a part of the budget hearing process.

The Senate President who is the 1st public official in office to personally attend  social media week which is in its 4th year assured participant that his presence at the event shows how serious National Assembly takes social media