By Bisola Animashaun
The growing frequency of the practical failure of democracy in some nations is an unpleasant outcome that is capable of damaging the jealously-guarded image of the so-called government of the people. Responding to the ‘how’ question, it is discovered that the inadequacies of the legislature have contributed immensely to this awful development. This is because the legislature is the carrier of democracy, which champions its values by the unique power of law enactment, and the prerogative of ensuring that those laws are carried out efficiently through oversight functions.
These vital roles make the legislature a pendulum that regulates the activities of a democratic government.
Identifying the diverse nature of the business of governance, it would be a rightful step to make the legislature an institution that is solely meant for people with multi-disciplinary backgrounds who are well informed about its multifaceted obligations and its peculiar role in the pursuance of dividends of democracy.
The above standard, however, may not be feasible as the real approach to democracy (from the corridor of the legislature in most countries) comes in an entirely different picture. This may be due to the nature of life where everyone can never be political scientists or democrats at the same time, or when intending and incumbent occupants of the legislature can never be encyclopedias.
Meanwhile, the expansive aspiration of most people to being key players in a democracy, particularly the parliaments where the people are directly represented, can never be said unworthy. What would be crucial, in making them more fit for the job, is the establishment of legislative institutions where they are equipped with problem-oriented studies and systematic training in the various disciplines of the legislature’s processes and procedures, as a required additional skill to their primary disciplines.
Coming down to Nigeria, there exists this institution –The National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS). It is an organ of the National Assembly established by an Act of Parliament (the National Institute for Legislative Studies Act 2011), which was signed into law on March 2nd, 2011. The mandate of this institute is to help strengthen the capacities of legislators and ensure that the positions and proposals advanced by the Assembly are informed by requisite research and analytical support.
The functions of the institute include: improving the capacity of legislators to sustain and consolidate democratic governance through deliberation and policy formulation; providing training, capacity building, research, policy analysis and extension services for the legislature at the Federal, State and Local government levels; and improving the technical capacity of legislative staff, committee secretaries and legislative aides to process appropriation bills and policy oversight of the executive.
One cannot disagree that Democracy has stabilised in Nigeria, and a well-functioning legislative institution is now a prerequisite to our nation’s existence. Issues of budget analysis, gauging of the implementation rate of appropriation bills and provision of insights into the constitutional needs of the country are a number of reasons why legislative institutions must be made to run effectively. Additionally, to upgrade the Nigerian parliament to global standards, standardising this institute will not only be necessary; it would be a requisite to strengthening the democratic processes and structures of the country.
The Chief Whip of the eighth Senate, Prof. Olusola Adeyeye made a fantastic remark while making contributions on the 2016 budget debate where he said: “the United States has up to three research departments that independently conduct researches on Budget with the Congressional Budget Office being the most respected. This is what we hope to achieve in the 8th assembly with the National Assembly Budget and Research Office NABRO.” The erudite Senator made a strong case for the empowerment of the Institute of Legislative Studies to assist the Assembly in the areas of achieving its ever-growing objectives.
In the past, the abandonment of projects has been the termination point of all good ideas that would have taken this country to loftier heights. Going by this, the 8th National Assembly should be tasked on complimenting the effort of its predecessors. President Jonathan signed the Institute into law in 2011; the Buhari-government has a task on its shoulder as far as this matter is concerned.
Although there are renewed pledges by the leadership of the National Assembly under its Chairman and the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, that the construction of the multi-billion Naira National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) complex would be completed during this dispensation, availability of funds and the level of priority given to the project would be the action that shall eventually speak louder than words, or vice versa, in this scenario.
What is required in terms of a functional legislative institute does not end at the completion of a befitting edifice; an international standard library is another need that must be considered as an indispensible requirement for the purpose of research enhancement and legislative versatility. It would be recalled that the United States Embassy of Nigeria recently partnered a Nigerian youth organization, Youth Initiative For Advocacy Growth and Advancement, YIAGA, on equipping the National Assembly Library purposely to give adequate training to the legislative aides of the Assembly. If things were taken seriously, Nigeria is due to have attained a competitive height that would be far from being fed all the time.
All what the above analysis represents is a call for a better approach to the practice of Democracy in Nigeria. It recommends that for the dividends of democracy to be fully earned, Nigerian politics must depart from all forms of mediocrity; democracy must be fully institutionalized as it’s supposed to be.
The Legislature is the navigator of Democracy, for a better Nigeria to be achieved through it; efforts to strengthen the legislative institutions must remain at front burner.