Increased public awareness and participation in activities of the Legislature in Nigeria, has been identified as key in consolidating democracy and good governance at all levels.
This was the thrust of discussion at a workshop on the role of the state assembly clerks in state and public engagement, organised by the National Institute for Legislative studies, (NILDS), in Abuja.
The two-day workshop which was organized in partnership with YIAGA Africa with support from European Union, gathered State Assembly clerks across the country to Abuja, because of their role as bridges between the state legislative and the public.
The Director General of NILDS, Professor Ladi Hamalai is confident that better legislative openness will foster greater understanding of the roles of parliamentarians and increase public ownership of development projects embarked on by the legislature.
Citing the gains in other Africa countries with stronger public involvement in their legislative processes, she said creating state assembly websites with up to date information about the parliament is the way to go, especially in the era of E-governance, which is a pointer to transparency in government.
“States and National Assemblies have to interact and engage more with the public and critical stakeholders on the activities of the legislative arm of government for greater accountability.
“Better engagement will lead to more accountability, it will lead to more targeted policies, the more you interact, the more you understand the needs of the people,” she said.
Prof. Hamalai said the state assembly clerks were selected for this workshop to expose them to the roles they can play in enhancing citizen participation.
“They can initiate and prepare memos to the state speakers, and allow the decision makers to take action from there.
“Once they get back to their states, they should be more proactive, they are now well equipped to think and plan and seek endorsement of the leadership, this is the first step; the second step will be to involve the speakers,” she added.
National Assembly Clerk, Muhammed Omolori, stressed the need for a symbiotic relationship between civil society organisations and the legislature as a key component of legislative openness and public engagement.
He said often times civil society organisations see the legislature as enemy and that is not so, stressing that both parties have a lot to benefit from each other because they are fighting for the same cause.
Muhammed stated that the National Assembly has taken active measures to relate more with the public, listing some of the measures to include live coverage of plenary sessions, open committee meetings to the press, etc.
“The National Assembly is also hosting the first National Assembly open week from 16th to 19th of July, to foster public interaction and deepen public understanding of the workings of the assembly,”.
The workshop has been described as apt especially as the 8th National Assembly is faced with declining levels of public trust.
“States and National Assemblies have to interact and engage more with the public and critical stakeholders on the activities of the legislative arm of government for greater accountability”. – Director General of NILDS, Professor Ladi Hamalai