A critical part of our effort to build and sustain a developed Nigeria would come from our commitment to build a strong democracy. One key aspect of that is to understand the role of our representatives in the legislature at the local, state and federal levels.
With such understanding, we will be compelled to not only seek the best candidates to represent us at each level but also regularly hold these citizens to account. In addition, many of us will put ourselves forward as candidates, thereby improving the quality of citizens who represent us in the legislature.
What are the functions of the legislature at state and federal levels?
Law Making: The legislature make laws to ensure peace, order and good governance in the country, in respect to matters in the exclusive legislative list (legislative powers exclusive to the National Assembly only) and/or in the concurrent list (items both the National and State Houses of Assembly can legislate on).
Representative Function: Each legislator represents a section of the people in their respective state (constituents) for avoidance of marginalization in the scheme of things.
Deliberative Function: Before any bill is passed into law, or a resolution taken on any matter, members must procedurally engage in a careful and meticulous deliberation of all the facts therein, to arrive at decisions. They may hold a public hearing where citizens and interest groups can come with recommendations.
Oversight Investigative Function: Through committees, the legislature carries out oversight functions over the activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. There is a committee for each MDA.
A critical part of the legislature’s oversight function is the review and passing of the Executive’s budget proposal known as the appropriation bill.
Judicial Function: The legislature can conduct a trial as if it were a Court of Law. It may issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails to do so. Such persons may be tried summarily for contempt and punished without the right of appeal to law courts.
Quasi-Judicial Function: The legislature performs this important function through the impeachment and removal from office of members of the Executive.
Petition Function: The legislature receives and carefully attends to petitions. All petitions are expected to be considered and thoroughly investigated. Where necessary, the petitioner may be required to appear before appropriate Committee of the Red or Green Chambers.
The petition can be against a government nominee, a government official or a ministry, department or agency. A petition can also be against a bill waiting to be voted into law or a law that the petitioner would like to recommend for amendment.
Constituency Function: Members of the legislature are expected to maintain a constituency office in their constituency and hold regular town hall meetings with their constituents. These meetings would provide them with a platform to get feedback from constituents about the impact of government policies and performance and bring these to the attention of the chamber. It also provides the constituents with an opportunity to suggest projects that the lawmakers may lobby the Executive to action.
Legislators also help to alleviate some of the challenges in their constituency by utilizing their constituency project fund to execute projects in their constituencies.
Administrative Function: The legislature (Senate only at the National Assembly) plays a key role in the Executive’s appointment process. Citizens nominated by the Executive for appointment as Ministers/Commissioners, Special Advisers, Ambassadors, Supreme Court Judges, Board members and Chairmen of parastatals etc., require the confirmation of the legislature for such appointments to be valid.
So, we see what a powerful part the legislature plays in governance and though we can claim we don’t have enough credible representatives, we must not ignore the fact that it is our responsibility to make this political office what it should be. We must begin to make the current legislators know they represent us. After all, they are our representatives.
What should we do now?
– Write to them demanding: their agenda for their 4-year term, regular communication from them, feedback on their constituency projects and also what you want to see in the community.
– Attend their town hall meetings and go with well prepared questions.
– Plan to attend a plenary sitting and a public hearing set up by a committee.
– Follow their activities (particularly that of your representatives) in the electronic and print media. You can also follow their Facebook page and Twitter handle. The Nigerian Senate Twitter handle is @NGRSenate and ‘Nigerian Senate’ is their Facebook page. I recommend those on Social Media follow them.
Who should you contact and for what?
The National Assembly: Everything Federal – Federal roads, Federal MDAs (including the Police and Military), Federal Universities, Unity Schools, Teaching Hospitals, Federal Budget, etc.
The State House of Assembly: Everything State – State roads, State MDAs, State Universities, Primary and Secondary Schools, General Hospitals and Primary HealthCare Centres, State Budget, etc.
To learn more about our legislative representatives, download this leaflet here. Do share with others to help get many more citizens educated about our legislature.
We at the Nation-builders Movement have launched a campaign that will facilitate many citizens writing to their representative in the National Assembly. Click here to find who your representatives are and how you can engage them.
Now you know these about the legislature, would you help build our democracy by engaging your representatives?