Editor’s note: A group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has warned that the ongoing leadership impasse at the National Assembly and apparent interference by the Presidency in particular and executives in general is capable of wrecking the Nigerian democracy. The CSOs urged the two arms of government to put their acts togther and get back to business of governance they were elected for in order to move the country forward.
The full statement:
The crisis around the Senate and the Presidency today is causing alarm among democratic forces in Nigeria. There are multiple signs that the political class is even more self-serving than it has been in the past and civil society believes the time has come to clearly define the national interest and work towards edifying it. The lingering and recurrent leadership crisis that has characterized the upper Legislative Chamber since the return to democracy in 1999 has developed into a threat to the democratic system. We recall that a combination of internal and external crisis has at different times, resulted in the removal of three Senate Presidents and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by 2014. We also note that since 2015, there has been crisis between the Executive and the Legislature that has affected the effectiveness of both arms of government in performing their statutory functions.
As civil society activists, we note with deep concern that a lot of the crisis have been caused by narrow intra and inter-party partisan interests rather than legislative priorities aimed at promoting good governance. The on-going musical chairs of political nomadism have no relationship to issues of concern to the Nigerian people. What we can all see is reckless self-serving behaviour of politicians whose only concern is their determination to continue exercising power without responsibility. As political tensions grow and the risk of system failure grows, we seek to draw attention to the primary purpose of democratic politics, which is the pursuit of the common good.
As civil society activists, our greatest concern is the continuous emasculation, harassment and intimidation of the institutions of the legislature by the security agencies signalled by the attack on the Senate last week. We commend the prompt action by the Presidency to restore sanity and constitutional order by curbing the excesses of security personnel of the Department of State Security (DSS) engaged in the abuse of power in relation to the key democratic institution that is the legislature.
We are also concerned with the rising cases of attack on press freedom as observed in the recent arrest and detention of journalists. This undermines the cardinal principle of press freedom in a democratic system of government.
We would therefore like to draw the attention of Nigerians to the following challenges facing democratic governance in Nigeria:
1. THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
a. While we have noted some progress in the fight against corruption, we are disturbed that the fight has taken a back seat in recent months. The failure of the National Assembly to confirm appointees to head strategic anti-corruption agencies in the last three years is a sign that they have been positioning themselves on the side of corruption fighting back.
b. We also note that they have been sitting on the request to pass key anti-corruption legislation. While we commend the House of Representatives for Passing the Proceeds of Crime Bill, other bills such as the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill which will further enhance the fight against corruption, need to be urgently passed by the National Assembly.
c. We recall that immense cost has been incurred from tax payers’ money to conduct several audits in the Extractive sector. We particularly note the annual audits conducted by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI) with far reaching recommendations. Meanwhile, the Executive has not shown enough commitment to implement the recommendations of the auditors, while the Legislature has done virtually nothing to ensure that the Executive acts decisively on these recommendations.
d. The Presidency is yet to assent to the Petroleum Industries Governance Bill (PIGB) which has been sent by the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the Legislature is also yet to conclude work on the three outstanding components of the PIB as both sides continue to disagree on matters of political nomadism.
2. THE DAMNING REVELATIONS OF THE 2016 AUDITOR GENERAL
The 2016 audit report by the Auditor-General of the Federation made damning revelations that should have elicited the attention of the National Assembly through her Committee on Public Accounts. The report depicts gross violations of the Constitution and financial regulations by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). For example, the report indicates a progressive surge in the number of MDAs that failed to submit their report from 146 in 2014 to 323 in 2016. The report also shows that many MDAs are non-compliant to the financial regulations. Considering that these infractions provide avenues for corruption and financial leakages, the undersigned Civil Society Organisations believed that the report should have been used as an important instrument in the fight against corruption. The Presidency has also done nothing to sanction erring MDAs indicted in the report in spite of its discourse of zero-tolerance and the disregard of due process.
3. THE NON-INAUGURATION OF THE NATIONAL PROCUREMENT COUNCIL
The ruling political party, All Progressive Congress (APC), made a clear campaign promise to inaugurate the National Procurement Council in line with the requirement of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and it has not kept its promise. The continuous approval of contracts by the Federal Executive Council is an usurpation of the functions of the NCCP and a violation of an Act of the National Assembly. This illegality must stop and government must act to implement promises it has made to Nigerians and the National Assembly should take up its monitoring role.
4. NON-COMPLIANCE TO FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS
The National Assembly among other government agencies has overtime not complied to requests for information based on the Freedom of Information law, despite numerous requests. By its refusal to obey a law it had written, other agencies are encouraged to also disregard the law with impunity.
To make real the struggle against corruption, transparency is essential and the National Assembly must, in compliance with its oversight function, take legislative action to ensure that the agencies of government and the National Assembly itself comply to the law by readily availing information to the public when requests are made according to the law.
BOARD FOR THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The Presidency is yet to appoint a Board for the National Human Rights Commission and the lack of action has made it difficult for the Commission to perform its functions effectively. Meanwhile, the violation of human rights, especially by security agencies has been escalating. The Presidential Panel on violations of Human Rights by the Military has drawn attention to this problem in its finding and the massive violation of citizen’s rights by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the police has become an issue of public concern and agitation leading to the recent directive of the Acting President to reform it. The National Human Rights Commission which has statutory responsibilities to monitor the abuses is crippled by the lack of a governing board.
5. BUDGET FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE 2019 ELECTIONS
Civil Society finds it very scandalous that that the source of funding for the 2019 elections is being delayed by political gimmicks. The time for the elections have been known since 2015 and specific dates known since January 2018 and all we see has been the politics of horse trading and blackmail between the Executive arm and the Legislature. While it is alarming that it has taken the Executive so long to send the request for approval of the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) election budget, it is disappointing that it took pleadings and public outcry for the National Assembly to consider this as a matter of national importance, thereby creating avoidable heating up the polity.
Furthermore, we consider the proposed budget size of N242 Billion for elections curiously high coming from a government that professes prudence in spending and cutting the cost of governance. We expect that the National Assembly would prioritize the scrutiny of this proposal to ensure that duplications and wastages are addressed.
Having considered these issues:
1. We call on the National Assembly to refocus and carry out its legislative responsibilities with a sense of patriotism and prioritising the provision of good governance in line with its constitutional mandate;
2. We call on the Senate to ensure that the current crisis is resolved speedily and amicably in the national interest by rising above party affiliations and personal ambition.
3. We call on the National Assembly to objectively scrutinize the budget proposal for the 2019 elections to eliminate duplications, and wasteful provisions and consequently expedite actions on the virement and supplementary appropriation to ensure INEC receives necessary and timely funding for a hitch-free conduct of the 2019 general elections;
4. We call on the National Assembly through its Public Accounts Committee to intensify oversight over the MDAs to address non-compliance to the Constitution and financial regulations;
5. We call on the National Assembly to take adequate steps to strengthen the anti-corruption efforts by the passage of necessary laws and confirmation of the appointment of heads of government agencies to enable swift execution of delegated responsibilities;
6. We call on the National Assembly to expedite action on pending anti-corruption Bills to strengthen the fight against corruption in line with the promises to the Nigerian people;
7. We call on the National Assembly to ensure that the proposed Legislative Forum for the Implementation of the EITI is properly constituted and operational to ensure prompt implementation of recommendations from NEITI audit reports and to conclude work on the outstanding components of the PIB;
8. We call on the President to constitute and inaugurate the National Council on Public Procurement as provided in the PPA 2007 to bring an end to the illegality in the award of contracts;
9. We also call on the President to act decisively on the report of the Auditor-General of the Federation by sanctioning defaulting MDAs and insisting on zero-tolerance to disregard for financial regulations;
10. We call on the President to assent to the PIGB sent to his office by the National Assembly in furtherance of the reforms in the oil and gas sector and in line with his promise the Nigerian people;
11. We call on the President to call his security agencies to order and put a definite end to Constitutional breaches and violations of human rights by security agencies that have been acting with impunity;
12. Finally, we call on the National Assembly to adopt open legislative framework of governance as an institutional process and not a one-off activity by making its budget spending and procurement public, this will restore public confidence to the legislature in Nigeria.
1. Civil Society Legislative Advocacy centre (CISLAC)
2. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
3. Centre for Information Technology and Democracy (CITAD)
4. State of the Union (SOTU)
5. Partners for Electoral Reforms (PER)
6. Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC)
7. Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA)
8. Accountability Mechanism for Maternal New Born and Child Health in Nigeria (AMHiN)
9. Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED)
10. Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT)
11. National Procurement Watch Platform (NPWP)
12. African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
13. Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP)
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