Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen! In a democratic country such as Nigeria, where citizen’s political consciousness is on the rise, the oversight watchdog role of the Legislature is expected to be exercised in the protection of national resources and democracy itself, the democratic rights of citizens and the constitution. In the manner of a real life watchdog that barks when an intruder suddenly appears on the scene, this role involves raising an alarm and investigating when an anomaly is detected and this not only on the side of government. We expect the Legislature to exercise its critical oversight watch dog role in self-policing its Members too.
We expect that the Legislature will perform its oversight watch dog role through fact-checking, through interviewing public officials and challenging them with problems and concerns, through fact gathering, through observation of the things that are going on in the broader society and through its investigative powers.
The investigative responsibility of the Legislature must lead to the prevention of corrupt practices, to avoid all distortions and manipulations of budgets and the budgeting process. This responsibility is critical to providing the necessary conducive atmosphere for the successful delivery of the dividends of democracy to the electorate
How do we enhance the role of the Legislature in the promotion of participatory democracy? The Legislature must come to terms with their legislative agenda setting role. The people look up to the Members of the Legislature to show them how to participate, how to make their voice heard and how to make sure that their concerns are not overlooked and that when overlooked the right level of attention is brought to bear on their concerns.
The Legislature must rise up to its responsibility in insisting on government transparency, especially in the light of the fact that Nigeria has signed on to the open government partnership. The Legislature must push for high quality service delivery by encouraging citizens to ask questions and demand accountability. In the exercise of investigative powers, the Legislature should highlight policy failures, maladministration, corruption in governance and the democratic process.
I thank you all for sparing the time to grace this occasion with your Distinguished and Honourable presence. The 2020 edition of the National Legislative Conference is happening today in spite of the challenges occasioned by the COVID19 Pandemic which caught the entire world by surprise and sent us all into a learning curve as we retreated into lockdowns, prevention protocols and the new normal.
In a way, the pandemic has engendered in us all a sense of common humanity as it seems that all nations of the world were battling the same challenge at the same time. At some point, we actually wondered whether or not we would have a successful event today. To the glory of the Almighty and thanks to the organising committee, here we are today. Our presence at this event today gives me joy as it stands out as a testimony to the Nigerian resilient can do spirit. As a proud nation we are determined and undeterred no matter the obstacles we face.
Let me take advantage of this address to acquainting you with the mandate of the National Orientation Agency. The National Orientation Agency has an overarching mandate that spans the entire spectrum of government. Based on the objectives and functions of the Agency as stated in its enabling instrument, the mandate of the Agency is clearly broad, all encompassing, multi-sectorial and people-based. In summary, its functions can be categorized into the following key areas.
• Communicating government policies, programmes and activities to the people;
• Mobilizing public support for government policies, programmes and activities;
• Providing feedback to government on people’s reaction to its policies, programmes and activities;
• Promoting Nigeria’s Core values and positive attitudes through programmes of value re- orientation;
• Establishing social institutions and framework for deliberate exposure of Nigerians democratic norms and values for a virile, peaceful, united, progressive and disciplined society;
• Promoting a vibrant democratic culture and citizen’s responsibility through political and civic education;
• Promoting partnership with development Agencies, MDAs, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other strategic stakeholders for achieving national goals.
This context is provided to give insight as to why the National Orientation Agency is partnering with HALLOWMACE in the organization of the National Legislative Conference. Our mandate of sensitizing the public, promoting a vibrant democratic culture and citizens responsibility through political and civic education, coupled with our responsibility of communicating government policies, programs and activities, given the context that government includes the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature, makes it incumbent upon us to work towards enhancing better public understanding of the work that all arms of government are doing.
Evidently, the Legislature had always been the victim, each time there was an intervention by the military in our governance process. For this reason, the legislature is clearly the youngest of the three arms of government in terms of its evolution and experience.
In the course of our sensitization activities in various communities across Nigeria, we have discovered that there exists a serious inadequate understanding of the role of the Legislator in our democratic process. This inadequate understanding is prevalent in the rural areas where our infrastructure deficit is most predominant. As a result of this infrastructure deficit, rural dwellers often look up to individuals to provide basic necessities such as bore hole for portable water, Schools, Roads etc. the performance of Members of the Legislature are hardly ever measured by the number of bills sponsored or initiated neither are they judged by the number of motions moved. The rating is usually in terms of how many schools, hospitals, and roads he has put in place.
It has therefore become necessary to continue to beam the spotlight on the statutory roles expected to be played by the Legislature. It is in this regard that the National Legislative Conference has since 2018, selected conference themes that draw attention to the statutory roles of the legislature. In 2018 the conference theme was; “The Role of the Legislature in our Democratic Governance: Progress, Challenges and Prospects”
In 2019, the theme was; “Strengthening the Legislature for Effective Oversight Function”
For this year’s conference, we have chosen the theme; “Legislative Investigative Powers: Expectations, Challenges and the Way Forward”
There is a clear linkage between the powers of the legislature to investigate and the fight against corruption which is one of the cardinal policies of the present administration. It is therefore not out of place to expect that the exercise of legislative investigative powers should complement and invigorate the fight against corruption.
For the 2020 Legislative Conference, we feel that the issue of investigative hearing is worthy of interrogation within the context of separation of powers as enshrined in the 1999 constitution and it will be interesting to hear what the eminent Resource Persons and Panellists we have here have to say.
It is on this note that I welcome you all to the 2020 National Legislative Conference.