National Assembly and the demands for #OpenNASS: Matters Arising!

March 22, 2019

Lack of accountability in the National Assembly is very dangerous for our democracy because those who are elected to provide oversight over the executive arm’s implementation of our budget cannot be expected to provide leadership and ensure accountability when they have refused to be accountable with resources allocated to them.

OpenNASS demands has the under listed basic goals which are: 1. Make public details of the National Assembly’s budget. 2. Replace voice voting with electronic voting so citizens can track their representatives. 3. Maintain a functional website and make public the attendance records at plenary. 4. Work with the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to review and reduce allowances of legislators.

The demands explained further: Goal 1: As a one-line statutory transfer of Nigeria’s yearly budget, the National Assembly’s budget cannot be cut, slashed, reduced or reviewed by the Presidency. In 2017 the breakdown of National Assembly’s ₦125bn budget was made public for the 1st time in 7 years as a result of the #OpenNASS campaign and sustained pressure.

Goal 2: The chambers of the National Assembly has the e-voting component installed. It is rarely used and when it is, results of the voting are not known. An example is the 2017 Constitution review bills. Making use of e-voting will ensure constituents engage their representatives on the laws made. This will improve the quality of representation.

Goal 3: National Assembly’s website contains information about members and parliamentary documents. However, the information is either obsolete or inaccessible. The website should contain details about every member (phone number, email, constituency office address, town hall meeting dates etc) and their daily activities including attendance records of plenary.

Many Nigerians consider NASS’s ₦125 billion budget for 2019 as a case of ‘daylight robbery’, particularly because the budgeting process lacks details on how the vast sum is disbursed. NASS has since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999 received a total of approximately N1.2 trillion. Nigerians have information about how half of this amount (N600 billion) was spent (the other half is estimated to go towards basic salary/personnel costs).

More disappointing is the fact that, despite Nigeria’s membership in Open Government Partnership and tons of pledges by Senate President Bukola Saraki to run an “open NASS,” the National Assembly immediately relapsed into its default setting after a breakdown of the budget was made public in 2017, thanks to public pressure.

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.

We have a Senate with 109 Senators with each of the 36 states represented by 3 senators and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) with 1 senator. The House of Representatives has 360 members with the number of representatives from each state dependent on land size and population. However, most Nigerian Citizens still lack the basic understanding of the Nigeria Parliament and how it works.

As we all know, this is a critical time for us as a nation. We are going through difficult times, fluctuations in the economy, security issues, widespread hunger, unemployment, incessant rises in inflation, dwindling opportunities. The nation looks up to the National Assembly for direction and to provide opportunities for the citizens.

It is high time citizens leveraged on this Open NASS campaign not only to know about the inner workings of the National Assembly but to also relate the societal burdens, and remind them of the key 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.