The NASS Open Week is a platform which attempts to widen the public understanding of legislative gatherings and procedures as well as interface with legislators and legislative aides; the event seeks to highlight the good work being done by The National Assembly to Advance Legislative Openness. Also, the event aspires to create an Avenue for interaction between legislators and key stakeholders (legislative monitoring civil society organizations, media, traditional rulers and socio-cultural groups from the six geo-political zones) to bridge the gap and address the perennial negative public perception of legislators; In addition, NASS Open Week hopes to improve public confidence in democratic institutions, particularly the legislature.
Senator Ahmad Lawan, the Senate Leader and Chairman, Open Week Planning Committee of the National Assembly, iterated during the NASS Open Week held between 16th - 19th July 2018, the aim of the Open Week is to improve public confidence in democratic institutions, particularly the legislature and to broaden public understanding of legislative functions and processes of the National Assembly.
Sen. Lawan believes public engagement has become a key role for parliaments. According to him, three key principles of public engagement of the Nigerian National Assembly are to inform, to involve the public in its work, and to empower the public to help shape and set the agenda. “Transparency strengthens democracy, promotes efficiency and effectiveness in governance. Despite these efforts, a lot more can be done by the National Assembly to improve public confidence in the institution of the legislature and encourage public engagement because very few citizens understand the nature of the work of the National Assembly and the breadth of its activities.” He added.
Public perception has largely been shaped by what the media covers, particularly relating to plenary. The Open Week therefore open up the National Assembly to the public and the inner workings of the legislature. More importantly, there are no fora that bring the general public close to legislators, this week long event is meant to bridge that gap. The week serve as a platform to showcase the work of NASS to a broader audience, raise awareness of NASS initiatives, and generate momentum towards legislative openness.
Similarly, the Director General, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Prof, Ladi Hamalai while making his remarks, said the NASS Open Week helps facilitate good interaction between legislators and key stakeholders in a series of events including interactive sessions, exhibitions, tours as well as questions and answer sessions over the 4-day period to raise awareness on NASS initiatives and activities.
Some of the activities held during the week included several interactive sessions for different days as follows: Interactive session with the Executive arm of Government on The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP); interaction with the Judiciary on pre-and post-elections adjudication and constitutional Separation of powers; interaction with State Assemblies on constitutional separation of powers; interaction with trade unions on economic growth and industrial relations; interaction with traditional rulers and pressure groups and interaction with civil society organisations on accountability and service delivery in governance. And interaction with women groups, youth groups and student bodies among others.
The participants included Committees of the National Assembly, MDAs, the Judiciary and State Assemblies and CSOs and NGOs. Others are Members of the private sector, media groups and organizations, researchers/academia, traditional representatives, religious leaders, development partners, trade unions and pressure groups. Others are socio-cultural organizations, pressure groups, students and students groups, Nigerians in the Diaspora and lobby groups.
In Nigeria, there is a major disconnect between the elected representatives and the general voting population outside of the electoral process. This is seriously hampering the strength of our democracy because officials make decisions and vote on issues with limited information from their constituents, and with little oversight from these same constituents. Legislators should vote in line with their constituencies’ priorities, and should also be held accountable by these same constituents based on their voting record, particularly as it pertains to the National Assembly’s role regarding:
• Appropriations – they pass the country’s annual budget. • Lawmaking – they make laws that promote peace, order and good government. • Oversight – ensure the executive arm of government is delivering on the projects monies had been appropriated for.
Most Nigerian Citizens lack the basic understanding of the Nigeria Parliament and how it works. In a statement made by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Abubakar Saraki, which reads “We hope that through this process, more Nigerians will be able to understand our role and responsibilities — the work that we do; the bills that we pass; the process that it takes; and the procedures that are required in the legislative system.”
It is high time citizens leveraged on this Open NASS week platform not only to know about the inner workings of the National Assembly but to also relate the societal burdens, and remind them of the Open NASS demands that are yet to be cleared. It is also imperative for both arms of government to better understand one another through compromise, consultation and engagement.