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Democracy in Nigeria: civil society and the Legislature

A COMMUNIQUÉ ISSUED AT THE END OF A ONE-DAY CAPACITY BUILDING WORKSHOP FOR CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS (CSOs) ON ENGAGEMENT WITH THE LEGISLATURE, HELD ON MARCH 5, 2009 AT ELIM TOP SUITES, RAYFIELD, JOS, PLATEAU STATE.
 
 
A one-day capacity building workshop for CSOs on parliamentary skills was organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF), Nigeria at Elim-Top Suites, Jos, Plateau State on 5th of March 2009.
 
Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of CISLAC, represented by Mr. Boniface Kassam, Senior Programme Officer and Mr Wale Agbojo, Programme Manager of HBF delivered speeches at the opening of the programme.
 
After a “Historical Overview of the Legislature´´ by Rima Shawulu, two other papers were presented: “Building the Capacity of CSOs for Successful Legislative Engagement´´ by Hon. Idris Yakubu Yahuza, a lawyer and former member of the Federal House of Representatives, and “How CBOs and CSOs can interface with the Legislature´´ by Mr.Y. Z. Ya´u, Executive Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Kano.
 
Not less than 42 CSO activists drawn from five states of Plateau, Gombe, Kebbi, Kogi and Benue states attended the programme.
 
Observations:
After extensive deliberations, participants observed the following

1.        That the present electoral system does not produce elected representatives who are accountable to the electorate.

2.       That most Nigerian citizens do not bother about the budgetary provisions for developmental activities, so they do not stand up to anything or hold elected representatives accountable   

3.       That CSOs have struggled and installed democracy, but were yet to make democracy translate into good governance

4.           That instead of the electorate engaging elected representatives on developmental issues; they indulge in seeking personal and frivolous things like assistance for marriages, birthdays and burial ceremonies etc.

5.       That some states´ Houses of Assembly do not conduct Public Hearings before laws are passed,  especially on budgeting which is the most important economic policy document of government.

6.         Most CSOs are yet to tap into opportunities available to engage the legislature on issues affecting their communities.

7.        Most legislators see CSO activists as antagonists rather than partners in the development process.
 
 
Recommendations
At the end of the plenary, participants agreed and recommended as follows:
·        That CSOs and NGOs should be more concerned with understanding budgetary provisions and making them known to the public while mobilising community members to monitor implementation and insist on proper oversight for good governance.
·        CSOs should improve on their data gathering and remain reliable so as to be able to influence legislation and policy implementation.
·        That CSOs should hold government accountable to the people so as to contribute meaningfully to the development of their communities.
·        That CSOs should insist on constituency fora by elected representatives where stakeholders can ask questions and interact with the legislators.
·         That CSOs can on their own organise constituency fora or town hall meetings and invite elected representatives to give account of their stewardship.
·        That CSOs should endeavour to monitor bills, even from the gallery, listen to contributions of their representatives and know their areas of interest for the purpose of collaboration where necessary.
·        CSOs should insist that States´ Houses of Assembly organise Public Hearings on key issues of governance and endeavour to attend such Public Hearings when organised.
·        That CSOs should develop advocacy strategy to engage legislators each time there is need for such.
·        That media and communication strategy should be developed to engage legislators, especially on the attitude of the lawmakers and the demands of the electorate.
·        That CSOs must sharpen their ability to build capacity and gather accurate data so as to build credibility in their work.
·        CSOs must also endeavour to build credible organisations so they can engage constructively the legislative process towards achieving good governance and shun single member organisations.
·        States´ Houses of Assembly should post approved budgets on the website for the public to access.

 
Conclusion
Participants commended CISLAC and HBF for the engagement, and urged other development partners to collaborate with the civil society in raising the democratic profile of the country. They also assured the organisers of a step-down process on the workshop´s outcome so that more community based organisations could be mobilised to embrace the ongoing struggle to ensure transparency, accountability and openness in governance.
 
 
Boniface Kassam                         
Senior Programme Officer             
CISLAC                                                      

Hauwa Abdullahi     

Executive Director                

Women Advancement and Child  Protection Initiative,

Birnin Kebbi