UN bodies seek improved legislature in Nigeria
Established by an Act of the Parliament in 2011 as an organ of the National Assembly, the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) in Abuja has the mandate to run and maintain quality and world-class libraries and database on legislative systems and democratic governance.
The institute is the first of its kind in the African continent. In carrying out its mandate, the institute launched a data bank with the objective of providing comprehensive access to national, regional and international legal information.
Only recently, the institute got approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC) to run postgraduate programmes at both diploma and Master’s levels in affiliation with the University of Benin.
Also, as part of its capacity building efforts, the institute recently got a grant of $1.1 million from the United Nations Development Programme and Democratic Governance for Development (UNDP/DGD) to implement developmental programmes on institutional processes in the parliament. The efforts also saw the signing of a grant agreement with the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) in Abuja.
This, some lawmakers believe, would go a long way in enhancing legislative performance of lawmakers in African so they can compete favourably with their counterparts from other continents. During the signing event, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is the chairman of NILS’s governing board, said the actualisation grant agreement was a step in the right direction which would boost legislative activities among parliamentarians.
Ekweremadu who is also the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament said: “This noble effort seeks to further enrich and strengthen democratic process in the ECOWAS parliament and National Parliaments in the West African sub-region. The current two years NILS-CAP is anchored on training for parliamentarians and support staff, research, networking and industrial strengthening.”
On the $1.1 million UNDP/ DGD grant, he said “The 10-item activities between UNDP/DGD and NILS include development of a model for oversight guides with necessary templates for the two chambers of the National Assembly; review of the rules and business of the National Assembly based on international best practices; preparation of induction kit for members of the 8th Assembly.
“NILS is not only vigorously pursuing full actualization for its mandate to provide support to the legislature in Nigeria and the West African region but has also become an academic institution,” he said.
Ekweremadu however pointed out some challenges facing the institute, saying “despite the progress made so far, the work of capacity building in Nigeria’s legislatures remain daunting. The challenges range from disturbing trends of high attrition rate among legislators after general elections across the West African countries and weak resource base of the legislatures to support effectiveness.
“The implications of high attrition rate among legislators include drawback arising from loss of institutional memory and loss of capacity as 70 percent of incoming legislators are new and will require training from the basics. The consequence is loss of confidence in dealing with other arms of government which will have to be built afresh over a few years again.
“In addition, there is the initial low productivity arising from the newness of members, thus the need for intensive initial training. It should be noted that some parliamentarians engage in international, continental and regional parliaments and parliamentary organisations, thus acquiring technical experience or expertise in specific areas and networks. All these are lost when they lose their seats at home,” he said.
For his part, Deputy Speaker and alternate chairman of NILS board, Emeka Ihedioha said the grant signing came at a right time signifying that NILS is growing tremendously and living up to the objectives for which is was set up.
He said “the institute is gradually becoming a reference point for research and capacity building for legislature not just in Nigeria but in Africa and beyond. This is indeed gladdening.
“This even is also historic in the sense that it represents another phase of highlevel collaboration between the institute, development partners and capacity building institutions of repute that it relates with.
“In another sense, the significance of this occasion testifies of the vibrant commitment, determination and purposeful focus of the National Assembly leadership to steer the institute on the path of a world-class intellectual think-tank and research organisation that can compete favourably among its peers anywhere in the world,” he said.
Also, ACBF Executive Secretary, Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie, said the grant would go a long way in boosting the institute’s core mandate of enhancing legislative performance among parliamentarians.
He said: “NILS-CAP is designed on the premise that as key governance institutions the role of effective legislatures is critical and fundamental as Africa evolves to consolidate democratic gains and resolve pockets of instability in parts of the continent.”
Giving a breakdown of the grant objectives, Nnadozie said it was for training for parliamentarians and staff, research, networking and institutional strengthening of NILS, noting that the training programs will benefit both legislators and staff from the National and State Assemblies.
Director General of the institute, Dr Ladi Hamalai, expressed appreciation to both ACBF and UNDP/DGD for the agreement and the $1.1 million grant saying the grant would enable the institute to implement programmes that target the development of institutional processes in the National Assembly.
She said the grant enables the institute to source international and national consultants to assist in the implementation of the programmes that range from development of oversight tools to preparations for materials for the induction of new legislators in 2015.
“2014 to the first quarter of 2015 will be very busy for the institute. Apart from over 100 in its 2014 work plan, the institute is committed to programmes in state assemblies and now NILS-CAP as well as 10 projects supported by UNDP grant,” she added.
Also, the project is important as the Pan-African Parliament is now headed by Member representing Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Federal Constituency of Imo State Mr. Bethel Amadi Nnaemeka. With this position it would be out of place if Nigerian legislators do not have the grasp of legislative proceedings.
However, it is only hoped that the institute will take full advantage of these grants provided by these international bodies to further enrich its activities and boost the capacity of lawmakers in both Nigerian and other African countries.
Senator Ekweremadu is Speaker ECOWAS Parliament