Workshop for Speakers of Partner State Houses of Assembly on 10th - 11th February 2021

  • Thursday February 11, 2021 13:41 PM
  • NILS Press Corps
The workshop commenced with an opening address by the Country Representative of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Dr. Vladmir Kreck who welcomed the participants and thanked them for honouring the invitation. He explained that the essence of the workshop is to discuss exhaustively and look into the possibility of strategically planning capacity building for the legislature in 2021.

He observed that previous series of training programmes were organized for the States’ Houses of Assembly in the country, but the process was encumbered by the deleterious consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic and the violent #ENDSARS protest in places like Lagos, Cross-River and Enugu.

Dr. Kreck said the workshop is very germane at this time so as to properly review what transpired last year, identify the gaps in the process and come up with fresh ideas as well as training requirements and needs of the various State Assemblies. He went on to thank the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) for its support, cooperation and collaboration.

In his welcome remark, DG, NILDS Professor Abubakar Sulaiman started by welcoming all the participants to Abuja and wished them a Happy New Year, especially since this is the first engagement for the year 2021, stressing that it is always a pleasure to be among fellow democrats to discuss important issues relating to the strengthening of democratic institutions in Nigeria, especially State Houses of Assembly.

He added that in 2020, the Institute and KAS collaborated to deliver several capacity building activities to the various partner states. The training programmes targeted various aspects of capacity gaps as identified by the respective speakers of the State Assemblies at a similar retreat held at about same time in 2020.
The widely successful interventions focused on operationalizing financial autonomy, an overview of legislative practice and procedure, committee systems and legislative ethics, among others. “As we commence the series of training activities for this year, this benchmarking exercise becomes even more important.
As leadership, we must review the performance of our Assemblies in the previous year with the view to identifying areas that we have made improvements and those that require more attention”, he noted.
Professor Sulaiman posited that the future of democracy in Nigeria lies with the legislature, particularly state houses of Assembly.
The National Assembly has made significant progress since 1999 in safeguarding its autonomy, asserting its independence and exercising its constitutionally granted powers. Suffice it to say that the journey has not been easy and the relationship between the executive and the legislature, even at the national level, is sometimes characterised by tension, infringements on powers of one arm by the other, executive overreach and occasionally outright hostility as seen in the 9th Assembly.

He is of the view that the problem is even more pronounced at the state level where state assemblies, in many cases, are mere appendages of the executive with the governors determining assembly budget, appointments to leadership positions, legislative agenda and on occasions which legislator gets re-elected.

Years of such dominance has seriously weakened the institutional capacity of State Assemblies to exercise effective control over the executive as required by the constitution which vests on the parliament powers of oversight. The control of the legislature by the executive has often been enabled or sustained by legislators themselves, many of whom feel they owe their loyalty to the governor rather than to the institution of the legislature and indeed democracy itself.
This attitude has been made manifest in past constitutional amendment processes where several state assemblies voted against their autonomy to the shock and bewilderment of the nation.

He emphasized that only recently, the drive my Conference of Speakers for a unified front to compel governors to implement full financial autonomy in line with the Fourth Constitutional Alteration has met several roadblocks that include resistance by the Governors Forum. Surprisingly, some cracks have emerged in the rank of Speakers with some taking sides with the governors and working at cross purposes with the Conference.

“In the absence of unity among Speakers, it is impossible to achieve success as governors can take advantage of splits and further destabilise State Assemblies. Our collective loyalty must always be to Nigeria rather than some personal and short term interest.
While appreciating the efforts of the Speakers around this table and your colleagues who have risked your positions and political future to ensure the full implementation of autonomy, I encourage you not to relent but to proceed resolutely, but with tact and diplomacy until full autonomy is achieved for State Assemblies and State Judiciaries, he stated.

Prof. Sulaiman points out that in the absence of such autonomy, much of what was discussed with regards to capacity building can only be described as an exercise in futility at best. “We cannot build strong and virile democratic institutions when one arm of government controls and bullies the other arms.
The 1999 constitution envisages a balance of power, where one arm does not dominate the others but where all arms can serve as counterweights on each other”. He stressed that with full independence, State Assemblies can better determine their agenda, build human and institutional capacity, develop efficient systems and processes, recruit competent staff, equip the Assembly with requisite tools and engage the services of consultants and experts on important technical issues.

“The achievements of the National Assembly in the last decade can be attributed, in part, to financial autonomy and the independence to develop a competent legislative bureaucracy as well robust support structures that include the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC), NILDS and the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO).
Together, these agencies provide technical support to NASS that includes budget analysis, bill drafting and analysis, policy and research outputs as well as capacity building”.
He, therefore, insisted that this should be the vision of State Assemblies, going forward. The engagement with KAS has revealed the significance of continuous training and re-training of sub-national legislatures.
Our interface last year has shown clearly that the operationalisation of autonomy is predicated on a well-trained workforce that is better able to implement the administrative aspects of autonomy. At the moment, many assemblies do not possess such capacity and may need to identify and train existing staff or hire new staff with the requisite competencies and skills.

In closing, he reasoned that the meeting, will identify other capacity gaps that are either general or specific to the assemblies. The DG maintained that the Institute, in partnership with KAS foundation, is committed to the capacity development of State Assemblies.
In addition to the training activities being organised for Members, the Institute is also available to provide technical support, especially in highly specialised areas like Bill Drafting and Official Reporting.

He informed that NILDS has fully developed postgraduate programmes (Master’s and HND) with accreditation from UNIBEN and NABTEB and encouraged Speakers to identify relevant staff and sponsor them to these programmes.
He further harped on the directive by the Institute’s Governing Council, chaired by the President of the Senate, Sen. (Dr.) Ahmad Lawan, Ph.D., CON and alternately chaired by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, that the Institute has commenced a capacity needs assessment of all state assemblies to determine areas of possible intervention.