Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, on Friday gave assurance that the National Assembly would ever be committed to make democracy work, saying that Nigeria and Nigerians would be better served under democracy.
This is coming just as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said that state Houses of Assembly which are excessively dependent on governors cannot deliver dividends of democracy to the people.
The duo spoke at the ninth meeting of clerks of the National Assembly and state legislatures in Abuja.
According to Saraki, “Let me assure you that we are committed to making this legislative democracy work, not only because we have the opportunity and the people’s mandate to be here, but more importantly because our people and the country will be better off for it.
“It is quite impressive that between 1999 to date, the National Assembly has recorded remarkable achievements, not only in performing its legislative responsibilities but also in the administration of parliament and managing political representatives. It is my expectation that we can build upon these achievements by replicating the best practices – the things that have been done well – in the State Houses of Assembly.
“Ater 17 years of legislative democracy, we ought to have started organising a National Conference of Nigerian Legislatures (NCNL) akin to the National Conference of State Assemblies (NCSA) in the United States of America. This would be a platform for senior administrative and legislative Officers of Nigerian parliaments to come together to share experience, and deliberate on ways of improving support services rendered to legislators.
“While this might seem new in the Nigerian political terrain, I assure you that it is a fairly common practice in developed democracies. It would be perfectly in order, therefore, for us to aspire to that level of democratic leverage in our environment.
“I am aware that there are serious complaints of political intrusion in administrative matters. This is an anomaly that we as politicians discuss continually during legislative workshops and seminars, including meetings of Presiding Officers.
“I believe that with time, such distractions will be a thing of the past. Let me assure you that we are committed to making this legislative democracy work, not only because we have the opportunity and the people’s mandate to be here, but more importantly because our people and the country will be better off for it.
“I should not fail to mention that, in as much as we are striving to achieve independence for Nigerian legislatures, there is compelling and complementary need for the independence of the administrative structure of the legislature.
“All the more reason why the bureaucracy will have to develop its own resource centres manned by professionals from divergent fields, who would be able to provide reliable information and data as may be required by parliament and parliamentarians, in order to adequately and effectively perform their legislative responsibilities”, he hinted.
The Speaker on his part pledged the commitment of the National Assembly to deepening democracy and stressed the importance of capacity building for parliamentary staff, especially due to the high turn over rate of legislators.
He added that “The National Assembly is more than committed to deepening our democracy and the independence of the Legislature at the State level is key to this effort. Although negative responses from State Legislatures on this subject in the past have been a source of disappointment, it must be understood that even this is a consequence of the dependency virus.
“You cannot have an effective Legislature without an informed, experienced and strong bureaucracy more so that the turn-over rate of members of the Legislature in Nigeria is too high while the same cannot be said of the bureaucracy. As a corollary, an underperforming parliament must necessarily have an underperforming bureaucracy at its base. That is why it is absolutely important to regularly bring yourselves together in this kind of atmosphere to help sharpen each other, push the frontiers and invent new vistas of Legislative governance.”, he maintained.
Speaking further, he described excessive dependence on the Executive as a “cancerous tumour on our democracy” and said that this has adverse effects on the people.
“A dependent Legislature, one that relies on the Executive for crumbs cannot do the work of democracy. No wonder democracy has been the casualty of the over-dependence of State Parliaments on the Executive. Anywhere in the world where democracy suffers, it’s always the people that ultimately pay the price.”
“Until State Legislature possesses the capacity to effective oversight and make the Executives at State levels accountable to the people, the mass of our people will continue to totter on the hinges of the promise of democracy”, the Speaker said, calling for better oversight at a state level.
He added that prolonged exposure to military rule had led to the role of the Legislature is greatly misunderstood.
“I had noted on previous occasions that the Legislature as an arm of government is grossly misunderstood in the polity owing to the near mortal casualties it suffered in the era of systemic disruption arising from relentless military interregnum.”
He commended the efforts of parliamentary staff and urged them to make good use of the opportunity to compare notes on areas of common interest as managers of the Legislature in Nigeria.