By Yusuf Goje
Happy 59th Anniversary to Nigerians!!!
The fundamental difference between dictatorship and a liberal democracy is the existence of the legislative arm in the latter. The legislative arm empowers the people via direct representation of their elected legislators to amplify and reflect their voices (needs) in decision-making process; such as in law-making, appropriation and other national or state issues. It is envisaged that the legislative arm either at the Federal or State level should be the closest link between the people and government. As the legislators are expected to regularly consult their constituents on legislative issues to be tabled and provide feedback on the resolutions reached at the Assembly.
In view of the foregoing, Nigeria which practice a Federating system with the States as component units has seen section 90 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria establish the House of Assembly of a State; while section 100 provides for the mode of exercising legislative powers of a state Assembly. The unicameral Kaduna State House of Assembly is one of such creation of the constitution, which is presently having its 6th Assembly with 34 State constituencies represented through their elected legislators.
At this juncture, it is worthy of note to single out the 5th Assembly for being the first nationally to pass an unprecedented 82 bills out of a total of 86 that were considered within four years. This surpasses the number of bills passed across the country, with 79 bills from the executive arm and only 7 as private members bill. However, even though worthy of commendation, this has gotten tongues wagging.
With 34 legislators contributing only 8.5% (private member bills) and the State government having 91.5% of the total bills passed within four years, one is compelled to reflect on the openness of the Assembly as regards their engagement with constituents and civil society. Does this means that there is more engagement with and openness to the executive arm than their constituents and civil society?
However, the 5th Assembly had its high and low moments especially in the area of citizen’s engagement with a number of contentious and reform driven bills. Starting on a positive note, the Assembly was commended by the civil society on a number of occasions for opening its doors for citizen’s engagement and inputs. This happened especially during the Committee public hearings on the Kaduna State Planning and Budget Law 2017 and the Peace Commission Law 2017.
Furthermore, the civil society had the opportunity to submit our budget analysis to the Assembly for consideration during the 2018 appropriation process, even though it did not reflect in the final approved budget. The civil society also had a sympathetic partner in the former House Committee on Information and later Deputy Speaker, Honorable Nuhu Shadalafiya, who was always willing to engage with us on legislative issues.
On the flipside, the Assembly carried out proceedings and passed bills that the civil society felt that adequate citizen’s consultations and engagements were not carried out. For instance, on the 27 December 2017, there was accelerated passage of the second and third supplementary budgets of 1.5 billion for the State’s Commercial Agricultural Development projects and 17.7 billion for road construction and water project totaling 19.2billion.
The passage of this supplementary budget (in a day, some say in less than an hour) should probably go into the Guinness Book of record as the fastest; more so, that it was passed only a few (approximately four) days to the end of the year and without adequate citizen’s engagement. So also, the passage of the Religious Preaching Regulation bill, in June 2019, into law by the Assembly on the last day of the 5th Assembly, which had sparked debates since it was submitted as a bill to the Assembly in 2016.
Now that the 6th Assembly has been fully constituted and the Honorable Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Abdullahi Shagali, has retained his seat, the expectations of the citizens have gone higher. Even though, the civil society has observed that some of the approach of restricted-engagement with the civil society has continued. For instance, the Kaduna State House of Assembly passed 81.68 billion naira supplementary budget necessitated by the injection of funds received by the Planning & Budget Commission. In passing the supplementary budget, the Assembly set aside rule 3(1) and 7 of their Standing Order to fast track the process without citizen’s engagement or input.
It is this trend that has necessitated my write up so as to deepen the conversation #OpenKDSHoA by setting a civil society agenda for the 6th Assembly. It is no longer news that Kaduna state has joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) both at the National and Global level (first sub-national in Nigeria to do so). This means that the government has committed to governance reforms that promote transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizen’s engagement and needs. There is no doubt the assembly has a critical role to play in the areas of appropriation and passing relevant laws that will strengthen the implementation of the principles of OGP.
The key agenda to be set here for the Assembly are majorly in line with three out of the five commitments of the Kaduna State Action Plan (2018-2020) on OGP. They include: Open Budget, Access to Information and Citizen’s Engagement; just for the sake of information the others are: Open Contracting and Ease of Doing Business. Nonetheless, I must commend the 5th Assembly under the leadership of the incumbent Speaker, who had already passed a number of key laws in this regards. Therefore, the areas that the 6th Assembly needs to focus on now are improving citizen’s engagement in the appropriation process, speedy consideration of Audit reports and domesticating the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act – which has been lying in the Assembly for years now.
On appropriation, which falls under the OGP commitment on Open Budget (ensure more effective citizen’s participation in the entire budget cycle), the Assembly since 2015 to date is yet to hold an Appropriation Committee or Sectorial Committee Public Hearing to consider citizens input into the budget. The 2020 budget process, however, presents another opportunity for the Assembly to open up its doors to citizen’s engagement through public hearing, just like it is happening at the National Assembly. While on Audit Report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) needs to fast track the consideration of the backlog of reports, hold public hearings and present her key recommendations to the executive arm for necessary and immediate action.
As regards the domestication of the Freedom of Information, the quality of citizen’s engagement is largely determined by the timely access to usable information, not just does the government proactively discloses. This is already a performance indicator in the OGP commitment on Access to Information; which states that, ‘FoI bill passed by State House of Assembly before the end of 2020’. Presently, while some MDAs are responding to the FoI Act (2011, as passed by the National Assembly), others have ignored the requests by the civil society. However, with the domestication, the powers of enforcing the FoI law will be transferred to the Attorney-General of the State as against that of the Federation in the Act.
Another key performance indicator, which the Assembly is expected to play a key role in the OGP commitment on Open Budget, ‘is a bill on Community Development Charter (CDC) drafted and tabled before the Assembly’. Last but not the least, the Assembly needs a fully functional and interactive website that provides up-to-date information on its activities and feedback to citizen’s engagement.
The time is now to #OpenKDSHoA!
Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Head – Leadership, Governance & Advocacy
Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED)