10th National Assembly: Setting agenda for presiding officers

Mon-Charles Egbo

From every perspective, what shaped the events and activities leading to the 2023 general elections was a massive agitation for a regenerated Nigeria where everything is working for the good of all. The political parties, candidates and the electorate were unanimous that Nigeria must work “now or never”. The level of the expressed desperation, justifiably borne out of deep-rooted frustrations, suggested that Nigeria’s predicament must be addressed, especially now that it has mattered the most. By all standards today, Nigeria manifests substantially, every index of a failing state.

Though sharply divided along ethnic, partisan and religious lines, the Nigerian masses today are closely united by humongous hardship and suffering. No one is spared because insecurity and hunger as descendants of poverty do not recognize tribe, race, status and faith. Yes, in Nigeria today, “the rich also cry”.

But, as the only organ of government endowed with the mandate of ensuring that good governance is sustainably delivered to the people, a legislature that is alive to its obligations to the people is what Nigeria desperately needs now.

This explains why every attention is today on the quality of leadership as well as the policy direction of the legislative agenda of the 10th National Assembly. Equally, there is a growing consciousness that tends to take away from the lawmakers-elect, their exclusive rights and priviledges about electing their presiding officers without external influence. Most Nigerians now want to have a say in the process just to achieve an expected outcome.

Similarly, political parties and lawmakers-elect have since been strategizing on how to have their ways, the same manner the number of those aspiring to lead is increasing by the day. The campaigns and horse trading have since shifted away from the conventional precincts of the national assembly to sundry places for critical decisions. The media expectedly is awash with reports and editorials, even advertorials, on who is who and who gets what relative to the 10th assembly.

Yet in all these, the big question is: what is in it for the country, especially the already impoverished masses?

There is a need for truthful and direct answers because the country is bleeding. Nigeria is in dire need of a legislature that truly embodies the ideals and aspirations of the people. There is a conscious yearning for a national assembly that indeed reflects the desires and wishes of the Nigerian masses for a government that protects and supports its citizens. The expectation of every well-meaning Nigerian is a country where poverty, hunger, insecurity and all divisive tendencies would be remembered only when our history is written.

Of course, this might sound utopian but it is as realizable as it is achievable. All that is required are strategic thinking, leadership creativity and sincerity of purpose. And herein lies the greatest challenge for the 10th national assembly.

If it truly wishes to offer itself as a legislature that Nigerians can proudly embrace and own, then it is no longer about the traditional detailed and appealing legislative agenda that prove too vague and ambiguous to implement in the long run. Rather, the occasion calls for a pragmatic and concise blueprint that has the inert capacity to frontally tackle the issues of poverty and hunger in the land. It is no longer about political expediency but about patriotism and nationalism. It is about making a positive difference for the benefit of posterity.

Thankfully, the incoming government won on the party’s manifesto which highlights these issues, albeit elaborately. So it will not be difficult to secure the buy-in of the executive arm and other stakeholders. Again, the Ahmad Lawan-led 9th national assembly has graciously provided a veritable platform for the attainment of a Nigeria that works for the good of the people.

Hence, the 10th national assembly already has its job cut out for them. The leadership already has the direction and focus. The legislators-elect already have all the necessary resources for excellence in delivering good governance to the people. Once again, it requires the right mix of strategic thinking, leadership creativity and sincerity of purpose.

To begin with and by way of consolidating on some of the successes of the 9th Senate, it becomes imperative to focus primarily on sets of legislation that directly address the growing hunger, poverty and insecurity in the land, rather than seeking to churn out numerous bills that in the end make little or no difference on the daunting challenges on ground. Succinctly put, any motion or bill that is not speaking directly to the prevailing hunger, poverty and insecurity in the land should not be entertained except in peculiar circumstances. Even the all-important 1999 constitution alteration should be driven by the desires for national economic revitalization.

In the same vein and using the archives, there is a need to identify and isolate relevant reports of past legislative interventions that have direct bearings on the economy, for outright implementations. Some of them border on the power sector, NDDC, education, national social investments programme, insecurity, institutional reforms, etc.

And then towards plugging every form of economic leakage, all the revenue-generating bodies should be brought under intensive and extensive legislative spotlight until sustainable transparency and accountability are attained, possibly in collaboration with technocrats and experts as consultants.

Furthermore, there should be a forensic sectoral review of the federal bureaucracy to determine certain ministerial departments and agencies that actually deserve zero budgetary allocations beyond personnel costs. This is to eliminate the perennial complacency in governance which has become the bane of national development. Also, there should be periodic legislative roundtables on employment generation and wealth creation. Again and without being confrontational or compromising the relative independence of the legislature, the 10th national assembly will indeed become a reference point in legislative excellence if it gets the president to demonstrate profound political will in inaugurating the public procurement council and also resolving the petroleum subsidy debacle in a dispassionate manner that the masses are not further impoverished. These two thorny subjects are both critical and strategic to Nigeria’s quest for a vibrant economy. Among others, they constitute the two major channels for the propagation of economic sabotage, of which the Lawan-led 9th assembly in all fairness slated them for attention which unfortunately could not materialize.

Meanwhile, it is instructive that to easily track progress in all these, there has to be in place, a dynamic framework highlighting the established goals with plans and timelines as well as the key performance indicators (KPIs) for achieving them. This will certainly engender sustainable unity of purpose and commitment to a shared vision among the lawmakers.

Also of paramount importance, nothing meaningful can be achieved if the 10th national assembly is not in harmony with its internal and external environments. As such, there shall be a deliberate policy towards institutional rebranding or repositioning aimed at repairing and or, improving the image and reputation of the national assembly.

It does not require formal research to agree that the national assembly is presently being poorly perceived by the public. Sequel to limited knowledge of the workings and roles of the legislature and also the actions and inactions of the past assemblies in addition to elitist orchestrations in most cases, this institution is currently overshadowed by the combined effects of ignorance, apathy, prejudice and hostility, despite landmark accomplishments over time. Hence towards this dimension equally, there has to be in place a robust strategic public communication framework ensuring that every legislative output is publicised highlighting its inherent good governance implications, and especially in alignment with the constitutional roles and responsibilities of the legislature.

And also to earn public acceptance and goodwill for optimal performance, there has to be a quarterly specialized publication and an audio-visual documentaries for public enlightenment and reorientation on the core duties of the legislature as well as accounts of stewardship. And to facilitate the campaign, the presiding officers should be accessible to the media through regular no-holds-barred interviews with practitioners. These are necessary because if you don’t tell your own story, others will do it for you the way it suits them, and also, people judge you based on what they know about you. It thus means that the 10th national assembly should seek to make transparency its watchword. It should not leave the public to resort to unnecessary assumptions concerning the workings of the legislature. All the misrepresentations, either deliberate or ignorantly, have to be corrected. This is what reputation management entails. Lawmakers do not award contracts. They do not generate employment. They do not share money among themselves. They do not control the national budget or have access to the national vault. They do not earn outrageous salaries. They are the representatives who guide the people to good governance. They should not be compared with the governors, ministers and council chairmen. There could be corrupt individuals but as an institution, the national assembly does not condone but expose corruption.

Again, there should be a mechanism to ensure that every legislator maintains a functional constituency office and also will be presenting a quarterly report of their regular interface with the constituents. This is to ensure that the streamlined views and needs of the constituents are accorded national attention for integrated and ordered development.

Then above all, the 10th national assembly cannot deliver any good or add meaningful value to governance if it is being undermined internally. Certainly, the narratives cannot change in an absence of a highly-skilled and motivated workforce. Elsewhere, legislative staff do not complain for any reason. They are recognized and treated as critical stakeholders in the legislative business. There is always for them, an environment for operational efficiency. They are regularly trained, equipped with the right tools and adequately remunerated. But sadly, the Nigerian story is utterly discouraging. Is it not the height of national embarrassment for the workers of Nigeria’s bastion of democracy to openly protest and embark on strike actions consistently over poor working conditions? It is even more disappointing when the specialized support staff otherwise known as legislative aides, grumble and groan.

The ultimate effect is always poor output that hurts corporate image and reputation.

For example, each time there is a presidential decline of assent on bills from the national assembly, the reason is mostly cited as “poor legislative drafting”.

As such, workers’ welfare and well-being deserve topmost priority if legislative excellence is the ultimate goal. After all, charity as we say, begins at home.

From the foregoing, therefore, it is expected that anyone aspiring to become a presiding officer in the 10th national assembly should demonstrate a proven commitment to benchmarked performance in directly confronting the escalating poverty, hunger and insecurity in the land. In this regard, they should present to the Nigerian public their service charter or social contract with the masses, accompanied by plans and timelines for their actualization within the life of the assembly. They should show a willingness to be accountable always. It is no longer about political correctness. It is not about tribe and religion. It is not even about gender. It is about sincere leadership and service. It is about empathy. It is about antecedence. It is about conscience. Even if the choice is informed by consensus, it is about capacity, character and competence. It is about our common prosperity as a people, towards a Nigeria “where peace and justice shall reign”. So, may we not bungle this opportunity!

Egbo is the print media aide to the president of the senate

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