“Delivering On Our Contract With Nigerians: Implementing The Legislative Agenda Of The 9th House Of Representatives – Progress, Challenges And The Way Forward.”
1. I am delighted to be here today and honoured to deliver this lecture on the second edition of the distinguished parliamentarian series organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).
2. One of the peculiarities of our democracy in Nigeria is that much of our population does not understand the legislature’s role in our democratic arrangement. At best, there is a recognition that parliament has a responsibility to make laws for the good governance of the nation. However, the realities of resource availability and the imperatives of policy and politics, culture and tradition that impose limitations on parliament are not recognised and understood by most. The distinguished parliamentarians’ lecture series is a worthy innovation. It is an opportunity to provide information and context to help our fellow Nigerians better understand the democracy we practice. Ultimately, it will help ensure political accountability based on a collective understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all of us citizens, in government and outside of it.
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA OF THE 9TH HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
3. When we resumed in the 9th House of Representatives, and my colleagues graciously elected me to lead, I made a commitment that the 9th House would be a reform assembly. I envisioned a centre of policy innovation and an agent of transformation in the administration of the affairs of the Nigerian state. My colleagues and I recognised that keeping that promise required a structured approach to legislative policymaking. That structured process, by necessity, had to begin with articulating our policy goals, development ambitions and the priorities to which we would devote scarce resources. This is how we came to the idea of a Legislative Agenda designed for the House of Representatives, with input from stakeholders.
4. Subsequently, I appointed a special committee led by Professor Julius Ihonvbere, a distinguished parliamentarian and vastly experienced policy expert, to lead the process of developing the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House. The committee began its assignment by engaging first with members of the House and then with people from all works of life. They identified and articulated a set of priorities that, if addressed responsibly, will change the face of our nation, and improve the lives of millions of people. From this effort emerged an ambitious agenda that cut across fifteen policy areas beginning with the reform of the House of Representatives.
5. We proposed reforms to how the House of Representatives manages its affairs, from financial administration to committee operations and the process of vote-taking and recording. We recognised that to advance reform proposals across government, we needed first to make sure that the House itself was in good shape to deliver on our goals. But just as importantly, we needed to make sure our own House was in the best order so we could have the credibility to drive change and call others to task when the need arose.
6. Other areas of intervention in the Legislative Agenda included national budget reform, national security, economic growth and job creation, education reform, gender equity and public health, amongst others. When the committee concluded its assignment, the draft Legislative Agenda was presented to the House of Representatives for consideration, debate, and adoption. This was necessary to ensure ownership of the Legislative Agenda by all members of the House of Representatives, regardless of partisan affiliation or other such considerations. We presented the Legislative Agenda to the Nigerian people in October 2019 as a public record of our commitments to allow fellow citizens to assess the House’s performance by our fidelity to those commitments.
7. We were immediately successful in implementing the Legislative Agenda when we passed, and Mr President signed the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law by December 2019. This allowed us to begin and maintain, thus far, the tradition of a January to December national budget cycle. Now three years after, the dysfunction of the process that existed before has been largely forgotten. This is what progress does; it allows us to leave the past behind as we march forward to a better tomorrow. However, it is essential to remember from whence we came. This way, we can appreciate the road travelled and be reminded of what we can achieve when we work together with purpose and dedication.
8. We resumed in the new year, motivated, and energised to continue with the implementation efforts. Our priorities included the Petroleum Industry Bill, reforms of the Electoral Act, the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act, the Companies and Allied Matters Act, the Police Act, and other vital legislations. We also began efforts to reform the statutory framework of public health emergency response and management in Nigeria, improve the policy and legislative process and the general administration of the House of Representatives alongside robust efforts to ensure full compliance with the Appropriations Act by ministries, departments, and agencies of the government. Unbeknownst to us, our world was about to change profoundly in ways we did not anticipate and were wholly unprepared for.
9. I am speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the world with the fury of a thousand storms leaving devastation from which we are yet to recover. By March 2020, Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun states and many others had been locked down to prevent the spreading of the deadly virus. In April, lockdowns extended across the country. Almost all governing efforts focused on ensuring the welfare of the Nigerian people through those unprecedented times. However, the measures we initiated to improve how we operated in the House of Representatives proved prescient and allowed parliament to play an important role in the pandemic response.
10. Just before the lockdowns, the House of Representatives, in an unprecedented effort, proposed and passed in one day the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill to provide for relief on corporate tax liability, suspend import duties on selected goods and defer residential mortgage obligations to the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria for a fixed term to protect jobs and alleviate the financial burden on citizens in response to the economic downturn occasioned by the outbreak of covid-19 disease. That Bill never became law. However, the policy proposals contained therein were implemented mainly through executive action by the President, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR and subsequent legislation thereafter.
11. Despite the lockdowns that prevented the House from sitting in plenary, we intervened to ensure the welfare of doctors and medical professionals at the fore of the public health response. We supported the provision of hazard pay and maintained lines of communication and collaboration with the National Association of Resident Doctors. Members of the House contributed their salaries to the pandemic response and ensured that interventions by the Federal Government got to the people most in need. As quickly as possible, we returned to plenary, albeit under restricted conditions and set to the task of considering improvements to the statutory framework of public health emergency response and management in the country. All of these were possible because of efforts to change how the House operates, including improving civil service and political personnel capacity.
12. It is clear to us that the quality of our response could have been much better if some of the proposed reforms had already been implemented at the time. For example, we proposed in the Legislative Agenda to strengthen the use of information and communications technology in the conduct of legislative activities. We especially intended to put technology systems for interaction between the legislature and citizens to improve citizen participation in the legislative process. This would have been a beneficial tool to monitor the implementation of the government’s intervention policies and prevent some of the lapses later discovered in the distribution of food aid, medical supplies, and financial support across the country. Also, for the period when the parliament could not sit in plenary due to the lockdown restrictions, coordination between legislators and legislative personnel to allow for the continuation of critical oversight efforts would have been greatly enhanced with the right technology tools. We took these lessons on board and have continued to prepare better for the future.
UPDATED LEGISLATIVE AGENDA, PRIORITISED LEGISLATIVE INTERVENTIONS, AND IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK
13. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the politics and economy of Nigeria and the world. Its consequences have unsettled international relations and caused us to re-examine our assumptions about the world and our place in it. Our national challenges remain the same, but the pandemic put things in sharper focus and concentrated our minds on the dire and imminent consequences of a failure to act quickly across multiple sectors. At the same time, the contraction in the global economy triggered by the pandemic meant that there were new questions about resource availability and allocation. It was immediately clear to us in the House of Representatives that the fundamentals upon which we had based our Legislative Agenda had shifted so dramatically as to necessitate a review of that document.
14. I reconstituted and expanded the special committee on the Legislative Agenda to lead this review. And they did, with the support of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Nigeria and the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL). The updated Legislative Agenda of the 9th House of Representatives is a streamlined version of the earlier document. Whereas its predecessor was broadly ambitious, the new document went for depth. We went from fifteen priority areas to ten. This did not mean the other areas where we had previously proposed interventions had suddenly become less important, far from it. In the updated Legislative Agenda, we adopted a consolidation approach to address the same challenges, recognising the more significant constraints imposed by the new realities.
15. Let me explain the consolidation approach. Government is ultimately a series of interconnected and overlapping priorities. Improvements in one area, or failures, for that matter, will often have a cascading effect in other areas. The new strategy we adopted required us to emphasise the interconnectedness of policy actions and consequences. For example, if you fix the power supply in Nigeria, the cascading effects will spread through the national economy, with impact on job creation and employment, national security, agriculture, and food security at the very least. In the same way, interventions such as the school feeding programme ultimately help reduce the number of out-of-school children while simultaneously improving healthcare and social welfare outcomes.
16. In addition to the new approach, the updated Legislative Agenda also included an Implementation Framework that outlined specific actions, the individuals responsible for those actions and the timeline for implementation. We called this updated Legislative Agenda “Our Contract with Nigerians” to reflect the revised content, the latest strategy, and the new implementation approach. But most importantly, we called this document a contract because that is what it is; a written account of what we owe the people and how we intend to meet our obligations within the shortest possible time. In July 2020, we again presented our Legislative Agenda to the Nigerian people. At the public presentation, I called on my colleagues to remember that although the Legislative Agenda had changed, our mission remained the same; to protect those who need us to shield them, to empower through opportunity, to decide what future we want and then to build it.
17. With the new updated Legislative Agenda and the Implementation Framework in place, we also considered and decided on a different approach to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. With the original document, we had largely left implementation to the standing committees of the House of Representatives, recognising their pre-eminence as the primary mechanisms of legislative action. This time around, whilst the committees still held their standing and played their roles, a special committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda was created to coordinate efforts across the multiple committees. This was an effort to give full effect to the consolidation approach adopted in the updated Legislative Agenda and prevent the sort of policy isolation that happens when policymaking happens in silos. Alongside the special committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda, I appointed a Policy Innovation and Monitoring Unit in the Office of the Speaker to coordinate policy within the office as a delivery unit focused on legislative process management and driving collaborations with outside stakeholder groups.
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA ACHIEVEMENTS
The 9th House of Representatives has been an unusually productive parliament despite the limitations imposed by a global pandemic. We have taken legislative action to address longstanding challenges of governance and economics in our country. We have passed landmark legislation to fix our oil and gas industry, reform the police and reorganise the corporate administration system in our country. We have considered and passed meaningful legislation impacting all areas of our national life. Some of these bills are the Police Service Commission Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act (Amendment) Bill, amongst others. We passed a slate of bills to reform the aviation sector and clean up our airports so that these critical national assets can be properly administered to the best expectations of the Nigerian people. We have reformed the annual budget process of the Federal Government. We have used the appropriations process and the power of parliament over the public purse to pursue community and constituency development across the country. We have invested in primary, secondary, and tertiary education infrastructure. We have provided ICT training centres to facilitate learning and enhance educational outcomes. There is virtually no constituency in the country that hasn’t benefited from significant investment to improve primary healthcare, rehabilitate classrooms and schools, and provide community roads.
19. We intervened to help resolve outstanding issues between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government so our young people could return to their academic pursuits after an extended period of industrial action by the union. Since then, the House of Representatives has worked to address the issues that led to the strike. We are currently working on the 2023 Appropriation Bill, which includes the sum of one hundred and seventy billion naira (N170,000,000,000.00) to provide a level of increment in the welfare package of university lecturers. The Bill also includes an additional three hundred billion naira (N300,000,000,000.00) in revitalisation funds to improve the infrastructure and operations of federal universities. Furthermore, the House of Representatives has convened the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of elements of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). This effort is being supervised by the Chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education, Rep. Aminu Suleiman. Now, these issues are the fundamentals that have been at the heart of the perennial agitation by the union.
Having addressed those, we are now motivated to focus on addressing the issues of funding, education standard, and student and staff welfare that are necessary to build twenty-first century tertiary institutions worthy of their name.
20. This is the reason why just a few weeks ago, we convened a National Summit on Tertiary Education Reform (NSTER) that brought stakeholders together for two days to conduct a holistic review of the tertiary education sector in the country and make recommendations for necessary action to improve the sector. This and other interventions in the education sector are a critical component of our Legislative Agenda commitments to strengthening human capital development by providing access to quality education opportunities across the country. Education is one of the most impactful areas of public policy in any society. When you get the education policy right, it is the gift that keeps giving through generations. A university degree, or tertiary qualification of some other kind, can be the spark that changes the trajectory of an entire family. Evidence abounds of the transformations that can happen when ambition and diligence are amplified by access to quality education and training. For this reason, education is central to the consolidation approach adopted in the updated Legislative Agenda.
21. By outlining some of the many achievements of the 9th House of Representatives, it is not my intention to take a victory lap of any kind. Our system of policing and the judiciary, our infrastructure and public services, and so many areas of our national life still fall far short of our best aspirations. We have made improvements to our electoral laws to enable far-reaching reforms to improve the process through which we elect political leaders. Yet, we still need to improve the internal process of nominations within the political parties. The amendment of the Police Act 2020 put in place a new system for reporting, investigating and sanctioning abuses of police power, yet such incidents persist across the country. Though much has been done, much yet remains to do to deliver our people from the degradations of poverty and lack, protect them from the machinations of criminals and terrorists, and reform our politics and government to better reflect the best of who we are and be more responsive to the obligation to be a catalyst of national development. However, the last four years have been a period of consequential interventions and essential reforms that lay the foundation for future growth and prosperity. We must acknowledge this and draw lessons to guide us in the future.
CHALLENGES OF IMPLEMENTATION
22. For us in the House of Representatives, the Legislative Agenda, the implementation framework and the model for monitoring and implementation we instituted in the 9th House of Representatives is evidently a significant improvement on what came before. It sets a new template that will continue to be revised and improved by succeeding parliaments to the ultimate benefit of the Nigerian people. Ensuring this happens is particularly important because the most significant benefits of this new approach will only be achieved through sustained action. The way to make this happen is by critically appraising the successes, failures, and challenges thus far and adopting changes where necessary to ensure improved outcomes. The biggest challenge of implementation we have encountered with the Legislative Agenda is one that often imperils reform efforts worldwide: the refusal to embrace change. Both consciously and otherwise, there usually is institutional resistance to fundamental changes in policy and processes in the public sector. This is compounded by the number of constituencies whose interests, concerns and expectations must be factored in and managed. We have three hundred and sixty members in the House of Representatives from nearly a dozen political parties. We have the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) as the parliamentary civil service with thousands of personnel, a multitude of political and policy aides, and so many other interested parties, many of whom may be used to doing things differently. Time and careful management are indispensable components of successful reform in arenas like this.
23. Then you have the issue of competing objectives. How do you set a Legislative Agenda that adequately captures the priorities of constituents in Surulere, Nnewi, Daura, Gubio, Ogoja and Wase at the same time? How do you assure the members representing these diverse constituencies that the priorities of their constituents won’t get lost in a streamlined, collaborative, and coordinated approach to legislative policymaking? How do you bring the Senate and the Executive along when you have managed to ensure that the House is committed to the same priorities and rowing in one accord to the same destination? These institutions have their preferences, as they should. And they are just as obliged to pursue those objectives as they see fit. Yet the reality remains that our system of democratic checks and balances imposes limitations on each institution’s ability to exercise power and authority in service of its objectives and priorities.
24. Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced a policy to redesign the Nigerian Naira and impose restrictions on cash transactions across the economy. The National Assembly has been inundated with petitions from citizens worried about the impact of the new policies on their businesses and concerned that the policy approach will not deliver its stated policy objectives. Many have pointed to the fact that in India where a similar policy was implemented beginning in 2016, the expected benefits haven’t materialised, yet there has been a pronounced contraction in the economy probably linked to the policy. Now, whatever the concerns about the policy may be, it should not be the normal course of things for such a profoundly impactful policy program to be designed, approved, and announced without any engagement with the legislature, or any attempt to seek the perspectives of the people’s representatives. Keep in mind, these are the very same people who will have to explain and answer for these policies in communities across the country. While each arm of government has its prerogatives and guards them jealously, our country cannot afford actions that set the stage for the competing objectives of different arms of government to descend into governance dysfunction and paralysing conflict.
25. The success or failure of every significant governance initiative depends on the extent to which the objective is a shared priority of the different arms of government and, in some cases, of the state governments. Consider, for example, the vexing issue of constitutional reforms. Several of the commitments in the Legislative Agenda require amendments to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to achieve them. If you took a poll in this room now about the importance and need for substantive reforms to our nation’s constitution, I am sure the poll would return an overwhelming majority in favour. The National Assembly passed a raft of amendments to the constitution and advanced them to the states as required. That process now seems to have stalled in the State Assemblies. As it is today, it is doubtful that the current constitutional amendment effort will conclude before the expiration of this legislative term. Despite broad national agreement on the need for reform, the potential for achievement can rise or fall based on differences in expectations of the context, pace, and direction of the specific proposals.
26. Two other challenging areas are that the Legislative Agenda of the House of Representatives is a policy document, a statement of intent and an articulation of shared priorities. It is not a rule book. There are no mechanisms in it or elsewhere to compel legislative action, even within the House of Representatives. This is why we needed to develop a system to drive its implementation through the Policy Innovation and Monitoring Unit (PIMU) in the Office of the Speaker and the Special Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda. The infrastructure in place to drive implementation has been helpful. It is also limited by the fact that both the Unit and the Committee are new creations, still developing the institutional capacity, expertise and memory required to achieve more effectively. Second, and related to the first, is the issue of resource availability. Effective policymaking requires resources for research and data analysis, policy review and assessment, monitoring and implementation. You need to be able to convene people, sample expert opinions from across the board and subject policy proposals to broad scrutiny. All of these require resources that are too often unavailable. It’s not easy to build consensus around allocating scarce resources to process and planning activities, the benefits of which are not immediately quantifiable. Nonetheless, despite inadequate resources and myriad competing priorities, we must find a way to improve the resource allocation to these functions, as the quality of our governance efforts depends in no small measure on the process of decision-making that leads to government actions.
NEXT STEPS AND WAY FORWARD
27. I have already spoken about the need to ensure that the House of Representatives, in its future iterations, continues the agenda-setting, prioritisation, monitoring and evaluation model of legislative policymaking embodied in the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House. This cannot be overemphasised. Government is a continuum; it is most effective when we learn from experience, adapt lessons from history and build on past successes. The Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda should become, in the new parliament, a standing committee of the House of Representatives, fully funded to serve as the in-house think tank, policy coordinator and delivery unit of the House of Representatives. We need to adopt a new system of vetting legislative proposals for quality control and compliance with legislative agenda priorities. Amendments to the Standing Orders of the House will be required to achieve this.
28. The design of future Legislative Agendas needs to be more collaborative to aid implementation. Efforts must be made ab-initio to harmonise competing priorities of the various interests and stakeholder groups and align the different arms of government towards the same goals. Whatever the political settlement that emerges after the 2023 general elections, all concerned must recognise that government cannot afford to be at cross-purposes with itself. This doesn’t mean that we must all agree on what needs to be done and the process of getting things done. But we must make concerted efforts to identify areas of agreement and work on those together whilst seeking accommodations in other areas that allow us to advance little by little. The consolidation strategy of policy development and implementation can be a helpful tool by directing attention towards the areas of overlap where competing interests may align.
29. One effective tool we have used in the 9th House of Representatives is the Public Policy Dialogues (PPD). These dialogues are highly structured engagements between stakeholders designed to build a shared understanding of issues and advance policy recommendations that address those issues in a manner the parties can agree on or live with. These dialogues have helped us to advance national security legislations that might otherwise have proved difficult to scale. It is a model of stakeholder management that should be fully embraced in parliament and across government. We have also significantly benefitted from the value of collaborations with civil society organisations, the private sector, academia, and international development partners. These collaborations should become a matter of course, with a structured system and procedures to enable these partnerships and ensure they happen within limits to prevent abuse.
30. I began my lecture this morning by discussing the public’s misconceptions about the legislature’s role in our democracy. This is a hugely significant problem. It is even more disturbing when you realise that these misunderstandings are not segregated by class or education; they are widely held even by those you will expect to know better. As a result, there is a dangerous disconnect between the actual role of the legislature and the expectations by which the individual legislator is assessed and adjudged by the media and constituents. The collapse of the system of local government administration in the country has created a situation where legislators are expected to fill in the gap, providing municipal public services. The legislature is primarily a policy-making institution. The legislator’s job is to work within that process to advance ideas, recommendations, and proposals that define the structure of the state and society, set spending priorities, and oversee government expenditure to ensure compliance with Appropriation laws. The legislator is a representative and an advocate, elected to make laws and design public policy for the good governance of the country. These should be the primary basis for assessing a legislator’s capacity, competence, and quality of service. By every means necessary, we must endeavour to educate our citizens to understand this so that they can make the right electoral decisions to ensure the men and women they send to parliament are the right fit.
31. Ladies and gentlemen, the promise of democracy is not perfection. The promise of democracy is accommodation and dedication to service in the best interest of the collective. The driving spirit of every thriving democracy is the shared commitment of its citizens to a covenant of public service and the pursuit of the common good rather than narrow objectives. Democracy requires active participation by an informed citizenry; it demands competence, capacity, and integrity from those who oversee the affairs of the state. The success of our democracy and the progress and prosperity of our nation depends on each of us knowing and operating in the knowledge that Nigeria belongs to us all, and we each have a responsibility to build a nation and leave a legacy we can be proud of. This is our greatest test and our most defining task. And it can only be achieved by our joint efforts as citizens, brothers and sisters dedicated to a cause greater than ourselves. Our destiny is not set; it is ours to choose. I believe in Nigeria, and I have faith in her people. Though we may travel a hard road, we will get to the promised land. Of that, I am sure.
32. I thank the Director General of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), all the staff and fellows of the institutes for the vision and implementation of these lecture series. I thank all of you who have taken the time to be here today. God bless and keep you all, and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.