If the members of the Kaduna State House of Assembly and indeed members of the National Assembly and members of the other State Houses of Assembly read the Global Parliamentary Report,they will be comforted that they are not alone, in the “hatred ” of legislators.Because the poor perception in which they are held, is a world wide problem,that is not limited to Nigeria. Their other source of comfort,will be that in spite of the condemnation, there is an upward increase in the number of parliaments, rather than a reduction,as nearly all countries today have some form of parliamentary assembly,an indication that the much abused parliaments are after all indispensable.
Faced with these challenges,the choice before the legislature,if they are to remain relevant,is that they must continue to engage with the people,rather than adapting to the demands of the people,which most times ranges from the serious to the outlandish.The Global Parliamentary Report(GPR),in the “Changing Nature of Parliamentary Representation” argues “that parliaments must stay closely attuned to public needs and expectations of the institution and ensure sustained and strategic efforts are made to meet them if they are to help address the very low-levels of trust they currently hold”. In Namibia, customised buses tour the country enabling citizens to submit their views to parliament on legislation.Other countries are working on other initiatives like inter-active websites, introducing ‘open’ visiting days for people to appreciate the work of the legisture.The efforts are welcome,but man,like Obasanjo would say, the Animal Called Man is difficult to predict.
According to a joint Report issued by the Inter – Parliamentary Union(IPU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “parliaments are today facing greater public scrutiny and pressure than ever before with fundamental questions on their ability to hold governments to account,but they have never been more essential to the political life of a country”. Studies by Christian Aid, further supports the conclusions that the IPU and the UNDP reported,that accountability,transparency durability of projects, and resource management are high on the expectations of the people.According to Abdelwahad Radi, President of the IPU “It is clear that casting a ballot every few years is no longer enough for an electorate. It wants more democratic engagement between it and the political institution it elects.” Radi,like the GPR calls for constant engagements between the legislators and their constituents,so as to be attuned to their needs and make efforts to meet them.
But the stark reality is that such understanding can never be reached,for while legislators rate legislation as their most important job,a good number of the public, sees solving of their personal problems as the main job of the legislators.So the problem will not abate.It is always going to be a difficult relationship between the people and the legislators. For instance, how will a legistor react to pressure from a constituent who will only be satisfied, if the member insults the governor or the president? Though the legislator will be a hero,but he definitely won’t be in any position to attract government project to his area.He won’t be effective,but he would have made the day of his constituent.
Those who believe that the Kaduna State House of Assembly and most especially the National Assembly, are “useless” institutions,that can be done away with, will be hugely surprised that while admittedly there is waning support for parliaments in both the established and newer democracies,with the trust levels for countries like Lithuania,the Arab world,East Asia and the United States at below 10 percent,that the only region with a comparatively high level of trust according to the IPU report, is Sub-Saharan Africa, with 56% level of trust across the continent.So the reality doesn’t really match the perception.
The Kaduna State House of Assembly,has been tagged a rubber stamp,a lap dog of the Executive,led by Governor Nasir El-Rufai. That El- Rufai wouldn’t even get the level of subservience from his wives,like he gets from the House. But is this a perception problem or the reality? Is the problem politics? The indications that it’s all calculated politics is there, because while these same opponents of the Kaduna State House of Assembly, see absolutely nothing good about the House,at the slightest “crisis ” between the presidency and the National Assembly,they will be up in arms against the National Assembly members for daring to question President Muhammadu Buhari, the same questions they think the members of the State House of Assembly should ask and with vehemence. In fact to these same group of people, the National Assembly members are the cog in the wheel of development, the sole reason why president Buhari hasn’t turned Nigeria into Eldorado,a land flowing with milk and honey.
The allegation that the Kaduna State House of Assembly is a lap dog, has been a very consistent one. Since 1999, no Assembly has escaped that charge. The only time the House receives kudos is when it threatens impeachment or rejects nominees,even over flimsy reasons.The question is why have voters continued electing those they turn round to describe as “spineless”, and incapable of holding the Executive accountable? The other surprise is that some of those who are strident in their condemnation of the House as “no good”, see absolutely nothing wrong in a Senator, sleeping more than he has spoken in the Red Chamber. The nature of man,the unpredictability of man is where the answers can be found, when allegations like these are made, because the facts – the number of laws passed and their oversight functions shows a legislature that is vibrant.
If the Kaduna State House of Assembly is indeed in the pocket of the Governor like the opponents of the House allege,the Bill for a Law to substitute the Kaduna State Religious Preaching Law, 1984″ (Regulation of Religious Preaching( Amendment ) Act,should have long been passed into law,especially as it is a bill that the governor believes is necessary to check the intolerable religious crisis facing the state.Rather than control, mutual respect between the Executive and the House,seems to be the magic.That the bill is technically still alive in spite of the initial uproar it generated,shows independence.Its good to know that the House has wisely been holding wide ranging “consultations” with critical stakeholders, due to its sensitivity.
The bill Bill is intended to substitute the 1984 Edict,which the then Military Governor of Kaduna State, Air-Commodore Usman Muazu, had promulgated on 17th July, 1984 in reaction to the Maitatsine riots in some parts of Northern Nigeria. The Edict provided for the mandatory licensing of preachers and restricted the playing of religious cassettes to homes, banned the use of abusive language against any person or religious organisation or religious leader. Col. Abubakar Umar,after the religious riots of 1987,amended the Edict. Option of fine was expunged and terms of imprisonment upon conviction increased to five years. Col. Hamid Ali,also effected an amendment to the Edict. While the previous governor’s all got away with amending the Edict in the manner they like, because they were both the law making and implementing body,the only civilian administration to attempt an overhaul has been unsuccessful. And that’s the beauty of democracy. But it is appalling,when a law that is necessary,is not passed due to negative politics.
The Kaduna State House of Assembly has passed more than 19 Bills, that are very crucial to the states Socio – economic development,the promotion of Social Justice into Law since its Inauguration in June 2015. There are more Bills pending before the Assembly. The bills that have been passed include the Kaduna State Pension Reform Law of 2016, the Kaduna State Tax Codification and Consolidation Law of 2016, the Kaduna State Agricultural Development Agency Law,the Kaduna State Public Procurement Law,the Law to provide for the Control and Management of Public Finances of Kaduna State, the Law for the Development and Regulation of Water Sector,A Law to Establish Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA) and other Matters, the Law to establish Kaduna Facility Management Agency (KADFAMA) and other Matters therewith, the Law to Establish Kaduna Geographic Information Services (KADGIS) and other Related Matters therewith , the Law to establish Kaduna State Primary Healthcare Development Agency 2015,Law on Substance Abuse and Treatment and the Law Establishing Kaduna State Traffic and Environmental Law Enforcement Agency (KASTELEA) and several others,including the Appropriations Acts of 2016 and 2017.
Kaduna State House of Assembly in terms of the quality of legislations and responsiveness,deserves a pass mark. The Fiscal Responsibility Plan (Fiscal Framework for Sub- National Governments in Nigeria) that the Federal Government put in place to help enhance Fiscal prudence and Public Expenditure, is still a tall order for many states, but Kaduna State has largely met all the 22 Action Plan,whose strategic objectives include improving the internally generated revenue of States,so as to reduce dependence on the Federal Government, improving accountability and transparency,and public Financial management.Kaduna State publishes its Audited Statement of Accounts,its budgets are published online etc. The new law on revenue,has ensured increased revenue- from about 600 million naira monthly to about 1.7 billion naira,as leakages were blocked. It has also reduced its wage bill through the Biometric capture of civil servants. The House of Assembly definitely played its role in ensuring these outcomes.
The media must make blame in the poor perception of the National Assembly and indeed of the various States Houses of Assembly, due to its inaccurate and unfair reporting of this very important Arm of Government.Yes the parliament has rules,which it must follow,but these same rules gives it the latitude to dispense with them, to address matters of urgent importance. Last week,the Kaduna State House of Assembly did precisely that,when it dispensed with its rules to pass the Money Bill for the Education Commission, the Local Governments and for capital projects. The 23 Local Government Councils had for instance defended their budget,so all the House needed was to approve the disbursement. Same with the 4 billion naira UBEC counterpart funding which had been captured in the 2017 Appropriation Act. If Kaduna State hadn’t paid its share,UBEC wouldn’t have released the 4 billion naira that it did. And how would the State Government had paid if,if it wasn’t budgeted? But the media report that ” Kaduna State House of Assembly within minutes, passed an executive bill sent to them by the Kaduna state government headed by Malam Nasir el-Rufai seeking to spend N12 billion from the state coffers” made the House look incompetent. But the truth is that the media,with such reports makes itself ridiculous amongst informed people.
Only last week the Senate had to take urgent action to stop the expulsion of Nigeria from the EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Nigeria has been temporarily suspended, due to the absence of a legal framework that guarantees the Independence of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit,that helps to tackle money laundry and monitor financial flows. The media in reporting it,refused to put it in perspective,it painted a picture of a reckless legislature,when in fact they had to work extra hours to save Nigeria that mouths anti – corruption war,without the necessary laws from disgrace. The whole legislative process took just three days,but the rules had to be done away with to beat the deadline.
The National Assembly and the Kaduna State House of Assembly in spite of some short comings have largely given a good account of themselves,though they can definitely do much better.The IPU Report affirms that “Parliaments though not synonymous with democracy, appear to be essential to the idea of a State’s legitimacy and ability to represent the people”. Nigerians also have problem with the funding of the National Assembly and the various States Houses of Assembly. But Nigerians must realize that democracy is very expensive. The United States Congress has a budget of 5.2 billion dollars which can fund the entire budget of Nigeria.Infact funding still remains a real obstacle to the effective performance of their job.Nigerians must also realize that in the constantly evolving relationship,key is not the legislature adapting,but rather a continuous engagement with it, because only the parliament provides that critical link between the people and their governments.
For instance some fierce critics of the House, will do a summersault and hail the House as “the best ever”, even if to mimic them, it decides to announce that it has commenced impeachment proceedings against Governor El – Rufai. But in measuring performance of the Houses of Assembly,the number of threats shouldn’t be the yardstick.But unknown to many is that some ugly memories has and will continue to hunt and guide the future actions of the Kaduna State House of Assembly: One is the impeachment of Balarabe Musa,unarguably one of the best governors of Kaduna State.The other is its handling of the Sharia Bill which led to riots. This institutional memory can’t be written off as it carries out its functions.