The Immediate past 8th National Assembly has been rated high with regards to the number of legislations passed during its legislative period while being 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. This was contained in a comprehensive Performance Assessment Score Card of the 8th National Assembly released by YIAGA AFRICA Centre of Legislative Engagement (YIAGA AFRICA CLE) on Friday 4th October 2019.
According to the report presented by the Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega said, the 8th Assembly introduced a total of 2,166 bills, out of which 515 pieces of legislation were passed. Out of the 515 bills passed, 80 (15.5%) received presidential assent while 53 were rejected as others awaiting assent even though there was no figure regarding the number of bills transmitted to the President for assent. The Senate passed a total of 172 bills while the House of Representatives passed 343 bills within the same period. The report also revealed that, over the same period, 15 Bills were withdrawn while 33 were ‘negatived’- killed. However, compared to the 7th National Assembly, which passed a total of 205 Bills out of a total of 1367 introduced, the 8th National Assembly was far better, the report suggests.
With 21 Constitutional Amendment bills passed and five assented to including landmark bills including the North East Development Commission Bill and Not Too Young to Run Bill, among others. This according to Jega who is also the lead researcher of the initiative is far better than any other National Assembly considering the antagonistic relationship between the Assembly and the Executive during the period.
The report also reveals a high level of increase in the number of private members bill, which accounted for 95.8% of all Bills introduced during the 8th National Assembly. The House of Representatives accounted for 65% of this category of Bills, albeit due to its numerical strength over the Senate. However, some of these Bills generally classified as Private Member Bills, though sponsored by legislators, were actually initiated by Professional Associations and Civil Society Organisations, including the Not Too Young To Run Bill. This not only shows that civil society organisations have a significant impact on law-making efficiency in the 8th National Assembly, but also underscores its positive disposition to participatory law making.
However, report suggested that, the ratings are not as encouraging 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. The 8th National Assembly reportedly performed poorly and below expectations in these areas as there was generally poor knowledge about the existence of constituency offices. But for the few who expressed awareness of such offices, their perception of functionality was damning.
“Access to these offices was rated to be poor. Performance in terms of attraction and execution of constituency projects was also poorly rated and generally considered to be below average in both chambers. It is either much was not done in this regard or limited or no awareness/publicity was created by the legislators about such interventions. But, the 8th National Assembly was rated to be responsive to constituents’ demands in multiple forms either directly or indirectly through their aides or party leaders.”, the report says.
Meanwhile, in terms of oversight, the 8th National Assembly was found to have excelled in some areas but performed below expectations in some others. Whereas some Committees were found to be very active (as indicated by the number of meetings, oversight activities undertaken and Bills/Motions considered), a few others were moderately active, while the rest were relatively inactive. Among the active committees were Senate Committee on Appropriation, which held over 79 meetings (ranging between 9 and 36 per session), considered four (4) Bills and four (4) Motions. Its counterpart in the House of Representatives held over 300 regular hearings with MDAs.
In this vein, YIAGA AFRICA CLE recommend that, as a lesson to the current 9th Assembly, the National Assembly should improve the quality of legislative oversight by establishing minimum benchmarks/ targets for committee meetings and oversight work in line with the assembly’s legislative agenda. Failure to meet those targets should attract sanctions. The report also urged Legislative committees to uphold the principles of integrity, professionalism, transparency and mutual respect in the performance of oversight functions.
It also recommends that 9th Assembly committees should work closely with civil society groups in performing their oversight functions as Civil society groups provide valuable resources and evidence for improving the quality of legislative oversight. Amongst other recommendations, it urged National Assembly should prioritise adequate funding for committees, which is pivotal to effective legislation and oversight. Further to this, the NASS should ensure transparency and accountability for funds allocated to committees, the report warned.
The National Assembly have also been urged to improve the quality of bills passed by the National Assembly, the NASS should entrench Pre-Legislative Scrutiny as a norm for all proposed legislations (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 as a result 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 in order to progress to first reading.
There is need for the 9th National Assembly along with subsequent assemblies to be more open and transparent in its relations with the citizens. This according to the report can be achieved via collaborations with citizens 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 is not only accessible, but also well-staffed and equipped. The NASS leadership should compel legislators to provide periodic reports on constituents’ engagement and constituency office management. Legislators need to do more in terms of visits, meetings and communication with their constituents. Legislators should take advantage of technology and social media to give an account of their stewardship, the report says.
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