Why National Assembly Must Engage Civil Society – DG Nils

By Uchechukwu Ugboaja

The Director General of the National Institute for Legislative Studies, Dr. Ladi Hamalai has reiterated the need to engage the Nigerian public especially through Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) on the workings and internal governance operations of the National Assembly. In her statement of purpose she claimed that CSO’s especially those involved in electoral or democratic processes have a key role to play in nation building and must be constantly engaged for the Nigerian people to become more aware of how government works at all levels. Citing the legislature as the bedrock of democracy it has become imperative or the people to understand how it operates by making its operations more transparent.

This development is coming on the heels of a proposed workshop/symposium being planned by the House of Representative Committee on Civil Society Organizations chaired by Hon. Akpatason on April 25th at the National Assembly. According to Hon. Akpatason, the National Assembly have often been an object of political attacks and mudslinging by some individuals in recent times who take advantage of the perceived inadequate information on how the National Assembly operates basically for political gains; a trend which must not be allowed to continue, he said.

We will recall that the National Assembly has been heavily criticized for appropriating as much as N115 billion to itself as some Nigerians are worried over the justification for such budget in a time of recession. However, Hon. Akpatason insists that a critical look into how that money is spent will show that it is actually not enough to run the NASS for one year. In his words “When you consider the fact that each Representative Member and Senator has at least five staff that is to be captured under the same budget then you will agree with me that that money is actually insufficient to run the legislature”.

The National Assembly has over 3,000 permanent staff in addition to legislative aides including committee clerks who are directors, and of course there is the NILS, the National Assembly Service Commission staff with their directors, personnel cost, maintenance department, power and generators, capital and overhead costs, in fact everything you can think of that should make an institution run effectively inside the same 115billion naira per annum, then somebody because he/she wants to attract public attention or sympathy will go to the public to say that the Senators are receiving N36 million per annum just to simply incite the public against the legislature, it is unfair. I can tell you that even though the speaker had been magnanimous to reveal what he receives per month, I will beg that you don’t ask me to reveal what I earn because my speaker is a very generous man, but we will do more of that in the future and that is exactly what we hope to achieve through this engagement process. But unfortunately most Nigerians don’t want to hear these details but will prefer to hear huge figures as that is more of news to them in the time we are in today.”

Members of the various Civil Society Organizations represented however insisted that there must be constant engagement between the Legislature and the CSO’s for the public to be better aware of the internal workings of legislature which will promote good governance at all levels of government. In the course of the discussion it was noted that one of the offices in the National Assembly dedicated for the Civil Societies liaison office had been occupied indiscriminately and has hindered proper flow of information between the legislature and CSO’s. However with respect to that the Chairman promised that it will be immediately looked into by his committee to return that dedicated office to its appropriate use.

Hon. Akpatason further described the NILS as one of the most robust faculties in the country presently host to several PhD lecturers you can think of within the discipline. He also confirmed that some of these seasoned professionals will be resource persons who would speak during the various sessions scheduled to hold in the proposed workshop/symposium with the CSO’s. Part of what the symposium seeks to achieve is creating an interactive session on what SDG’s are about and the roles of CSO’s. It is also important to note how CSO’s can interact effectively with the legislature for better governance.

The symposium will also attempt to expose the CSO’s on the need for a more cohesive relationship with the media towards nation building as they both have pivotal roles in the course of creating a better society for all. The DG NILS further assured that this workshop/symposium will become a periodic event which will be held at least at the end of each quarter to effectively keep the Nigerian public intimated on how the legislature works as she also promises to carry the media along.