Legislative Performance Is Dependent on Adequacy of Resources
By Yakubu Dogara
I wish to welcome you all to this ceremony and to congratulate all graduating and matriculating students, the entire academic staff of National Institute for Legislative Studies and the University of Benin on this epoch making event.
This ceremony is in fulfillment of the Institute’s mandate for legislative capacity development at a higher level of delivery of postgraduate education which is perhaps the only such platform in Nigeria. This is also in line with the law setting up the Institute.
The National Institute Legislative Studies Act 2011, authorises the Institute to:
conduct periodic short and refresher courses for National and State legislators, staff, committee secretaries and political
aides on democracy and good governance;
initiate and encourage legislative drafting courses in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and abroad;
engage visiting scholars and fellows to participate in its academic research programmes;
award appropriate professional certificates and testimonials according to the training and teaching offered to its clients.
Consequently, it is thus clear that the initiative to undertake the courses and programmes leading to this matriculation is not only well founded legally, but is major contribution to democracy and legislative practice in Nigeria.
For the legislature to perform its representative, legislative and oversight functions, it must be adequately resourced.
Writing about the US Congress more than two decades ago, Frantzich noted that: the legislature needs four basic types of resources to better perform its role. The legislature as a whole and individual legislators need resources to coordinate and plan their work schedule and that of their staff. As a decision making body, the legislature needs to track legislative activity and record aggregate and individual voting behaviour; track constituent demands; and monitor the success of on-going programs of government and to identify areas of weakness.
Although legislators are the essential human resource of a legislature, the work of individual legislators is chanelled and enabled by the institutional structures and support that the legislature provides. Key in this regard is the quality and numbers of administrative and expert parliamentary personnel. In view of the complex and challenging responsibilities of legislators, they are supported by aides with varying technical expertise and experience. Like most of the emerging parliaments in Africa, the National Assembly requires better equipped and resourced aides with the requisite competences and expertise in order to compare favourably with parliaments in established democracies.
Whereas the Nigerian lawmaker has five personal staff, their counterparts in the US House of Representatives are entitled to 18 permanent employees for their congressional and district offices while US Senators do not have a limit to the number of staff they can hire. Also, the educational and career requirements for legislative aides is very high in these democracies.
For instance, the US congress hires some of the best graduating students from top universities in the US. This is because congressional aides perform a variety of tasks to support members of Congress and congressional committees. This include researching legislation and in some cases, these aides even act on behalf of a congressperson. Furthermore, legislative aides are also expected to have strong communication skills, research skills as well as analytical skills given the significance and complexity of the duties they undertake.
In Nigeria, the legislature needs reliable information to understand the choices, decisions and policies of the Executive Branch. The legislative arm require increased resource competence to keep the government accountable for its actions.
It cannot do all these in the absence of independent information or ability to process available information. This implies that Members of the House of Representatives and Senators as well as State Legislators require the capacity to acquire and process information that is complete, accurate, timely, relevant and at times confidential.
In a recent capacity needs assessment study of the National Assembly by the Institute for Legislative Studies, it was shown that resources, including competent staff and consultants, financial resources and institutional facilities, needed by the National Assembly to perform optimally are either unavailable or if available, are inadequate.
For instance, findings from the report indicate that like most of the emerging parliaments in Africa, the National Assembly does not seem to have legislative aides with the requisite competencies and expertise compared to parliaments in established democracies even though they are educated. Also, despite having sufficient number of permanent support staff, there are concerns as to their competence, quality and productivity.
In the area of oversight, continuous and systematic capacity building programmes in various aspects of legislative work for both legislators and support staff/aides, effective support services, training, and role appreciation, and improvement in the quality of induction programmes is strongly recommended.
The dearth of aides with high-level technical capacity in African parliaments implies that some legislators would not have the benefit of good briefs from their aides on issues to be debated in the legislatures. Capacity building is therefore critical to institutional strengthening. From a democratic perspective, almost all contemporary institutions of governance can be strengthened by enlarging their capacity to make constructive contributions to democracy.
In the face of weak research/analytic capacity, poor staffing, low competence and poor facilities of research units, NILS was conceived to be a world class research and training institution that ably facilitates the sustenance of dynamic and effective legislatures in Nigeria and the West Africa sub-region.As a Legislative think tank, this Institute of highly professional staff and policy experts in a variety of disciplines, provide the Legislature, the necessary resources and services to meet its goals.
I am personally elated at the growth of the NILS postgraduate programme from its rather humble beginnings. Despite initial misgivings from different quarters, the programme has risen against all odds to meet the challenge of providing postgraduate training to legislators and staff of the National and State Assemblies and is already graduating its first students.
The content of the NILS’ Postgraduate Programme is unique in many ways. It provides students with a detailed knowledge of how the Legislature works in both theory and practice. It is delivered through a partnership between the Institute and the University of Benin; the courses provide academic and theoretical content, and the Institute’s proximity to the National Assembly provides practical teaching about the work, processes and business of the Legislature.
I congratulate both the National Institute for Legislative Studies and the University of Benin for the successes recorded so far. Going forward, it is my expectation that the collaboration of both institutions in providing continuing education for legislators and legislative staff will continue to flourish and expand. With hindsight, if this programme had started earlier, the professionalism of legislative staff, Clerks of Committees, legislative aides and even legislators would have been greatly enhanced.
I call on all interested in improving their individual and institutional performance to take advantage of this programme to strengthen their capacities and improve their competence. I have been informed that the Institute has commenced registration of students for the online postgraduate programme in legislative drafting. We should also take advantage of this very important development.
There is also the need for greater focus on such in-depth training than the piecemeal approaches through short-term workshops and training programmes that have become the norm. Intensive postgraduate programmes have the potential to enhance our collective legislative capacity and effectiveness in carrying out our responsibilities as lawmakers.
To the graduating students, I warmly congratulate you on your achievement and challenge you to use the knowledge acquired to improve your work in the legislature and bring about value addition. You should make the best use of the opportunities provided by the Institute and the University of Benin. To the matriculating students, I equally commend you for taking this bold step to further specialize and diversify your training. I encourage you to exert yourselves in learning.
I wish to thank you for finding time to join us today at this matriculation. I wish to assure you of the deep commitment of all principal officers of the National Assembly and indeed, my humble self to propel this postgraduate programme and indeed NILS to the highest level of professional attainment. I wish to also congratulate our new Fellows of the Institute, who are our former leaders. They laid a strong foundation which we are following.
.Being extracts from the remarks by Federal House of Representatives Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara at the 2nd matriculation ceremony of the NILS-UniBen post-graduate programme held at the National Assembly, Abuja