• Thursday September 24, 2020 15:38 PM
  • NILS Press Corps

First, let me join other invited guests and participants in appreciating the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), for putting together this all-important and timely retreat targeted at discussing important issues that relate to the role of the legislature in the reform and oversight of security agencies. On that note, I wish to congratulate the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, for recently assenting to the Police Reform Bill. Credit must also go to the 9th National Assembly, under the leadership of the President of the Senate, Sen (Dr.) Ahmad Lawan, CFR, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for their unparalleled commitment and resolve in reforming the Nigeria Police to respond more adequately to contemporary security challenges in the country. Both chambers of the Assembly worked closely with civil society actors and other stakeholders to modernize the police and rid it of its colonial vestiges.

Indeed, one of the dominant objectives of any government is to provide security to its citizens. Equally, the legislature has an important responsibility to ensure that the government lives up to its mandate. Increasingly, there has been a growing involvement of parliaments in traditional security tasks as legislators are increasingly either debating or taking legislative actions on security-related issues. The oversight of security services is fundamental to ensuring that these institutions protect citizens and respect the rule of law and human rights in undertaking this task.

One of the most significant objectives and overriding principles aimed at promoting effective oversight of security services is democratic control. The “democratic” aspect of oversight is primarily achieved through the involvement of the legislature, including: ensuring that national laws provide for comprehensive oversight of security services; allocating the necessary budgetary resources to non-parliamentary oversight institutions; overseeing the work of expert oversight bodies. Others are keeping under review the efficacy of oversight institutions and conducting both ongoing scrutiny and ad hoc inquiries and investigations into security service activity.

Nigeria, like most emerging democracies in Africa have had a long history of military rule and authoritarianism. Similarly, as a country, we continue to grapple with rising insecurity despite government’s determination and investment in the security sector. There is no doubt that we are dealing with multifaceted security challenges and new threats, which require greater transparency and cooperation between the legislature, executive and indeed all citizens. Oversight of the security sector by the legislature can greatly enhance their legitimacy and result in democratic accountability, while ensuring that these agencies are serving the entire nation, rather than a narrow political or individual interest.

In the past few years, there have been several allegations of widespread and massive abuse in the security sector casting significant doubt on the capacity and willingness of national oversight systems, especially the legislature, to effectively perform their oversight role.

Yet, our research and studies at the Institute show that the capacity of the National Assembly, and in particular, its security and intelligence committees to exercise effective check and control, is usually limited. This has been due to a combination of factors that include poor appreciation by lawmakers of the scope of their constitutional roles and powers as well as limited capacity and understanding of the sector. Others are inadequate legislative research or advisory support capacity; insufficient incentives and resources required for effective legislative oversight and executive monopoly on security and defense matters.

In setting its legislative agenda, the 9th Assembly focused considerable attention on security and seeks to strengthen the effectiveness of the security in tackling emerging challenges as well as the oversight function of the National Assembly. Some of the strategies outlined in the Legislative Agenda include improved information sharing, operational cooperation and enhanced synergy between law enforcement agencies. There is also an emphasis on ensuring full compliance with fundamental human rights; accountability and democratic control and a better application and implementation of existing legal instruments. By ensuring coordination, the government is able to ensure that roles and mandates of the various security and intelligence agencies do not overlap, which can result in undue rivalries and ultimately limit the effectiveness of security operations and activities.

It is my hope that during this retreat, our discussions would focus on strengthening security sector reform in Nigeria, the role of the legislature in the reform process and strategies for eliminating overlapping mandates. For legislators to play any meaningful role, they must first understand the sector and the complexity of the security architecture, the intricacies of processing reform bills and their oversight powers and tools.

On our part at the Institute, we are dedicating a substantial part of our work plan in the coming year to building the capacity of legislative committees to improve their understanding of the sector and how best to exercise lawmaking and oversight mandates. The Institute and KAS are developing an Oversight Template for effective legislative engagement with the various security agencies and actors and together, we hope to train legislators on the use of the Guide.

May I conclude by assuring all participants that the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies is willing and eager to assist our stakeholders in providing technical input and other forms of support targeted at improving the legislative and democratic process.

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