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Deepening Democracy through Legislative Capacity Building

Submitted by on 16 Sep 2011 – 10:48

Kunle G.Akogun, National Assembly Editor, THISDAY Newspapers

Since its return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria has made steady progress towards consolidating the gains of participatory government. However, despite the fact that general elections have been held three times since then, many observers have rated the brand of democracy practiced in the country below average. One of the latest of such ratings came from the influential Economist magazine, which, in its Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU’s) Democracy Index 2010, ranks Nigeria as practising a “flawed democracy”. Now in its third edition, the EIU poll, which aims to provide a snapshot of the state of democracy in the world, ranked some 165 countries based on five variables: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The poll groups nations into four types of regimes: full democracies; flawed democracies; hybrid regimes; and authoritarian regimes.

According to the EIU, in countries rated as “full democracies”, basic political freedoms and civil liberties are not only respected, they will also tend to be underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy. The functioning of government is satisfactory. Media are independent and diverse. There is an effective system of checks and balances. The judiciary is independent and judicial decisions are enforced. There are only limited problems in the functioning of democracy. Countries in this category, according to the EIU’s Democracy Index 2010 include Norway, the USA and the UK.

Flawed democracies, on the other hand are countries, which also have free and fair elections but where there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy. These weaknesses, according to the EIU, include problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Especially problems on the interaction level between the executive and legislative arms; Nigeria has weakness in the interaction level between the government and the house of assembly on both levels – the federal and state level- especially on the state level.

In hybrid regimes, elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. The EIU report noted: “Government pressure on opposition parties and candidates may be common in hybrid regimes. Serious weaknesses are more prevalent than in flawed democracies–in political culture, functioning of government and political participation. Corruption tends to be widespread and the rule of law is weak. Civil society is weak. Typically there is harassment of and pressure on journalists, and the judiciary is not independent”.

In countries with authoritarian regimes, according to the EIU, political pluralism is absent or heavily circumscribed. “Many countries in this category are outright dictatorships. Some formal institutions of democracy may exist, but these have little substance. Elections, if they do occur, are not free and fair. There is disregard for abuses and infringements of civil liberties. Media are typically state-owned or controlled by groups connected to the ruling regime. There is repression of criticism of the government and pervasive censorship. There is no independent judiciary”, the report noted.

In its conclusion, the magazine noted that “It is not easy to build a sturdy democracy. Even in long-established ones, if not nurtured and protected, democracy can corrode”.

It is probably the realization of the need to “nurture” and “protect” Nigeria’s nascent democracy that two international organizations (And also because they believe that Nigeria has growing impact on other African countries and Nigeria could be good example of others) –  the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies (ICPS), London and Actiview Solutions Corporation, Brussels – have entered into strategic partnership to organise a series of tailor-made training seminars for Nigerian lawmakers. The choice of the operatives of the country’s legislative arm of government would appear to be deliberate going by the fact that the legislature is the soul of any democracy.

Of the three arms of a democratic government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – the most crucial is the Legislature. Ironically, it is the most endangered and often the first casualty in any eventuality of any assault on democracy. Whereas the executive and judicial arms are often constant features in any form of government, be it autocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, military and the likes, the absence of the legislative institution is often the most simplistic indication of the absence of democracy.

The legislature has therefore been identified as the hall mark of democracy though not necessarily the major determinant of its effectiveness or otherwise. So, no attempt at consolidating this form of representative government and deepening its impacts on the citizenry would neglect the lawmakers in such country.

This is probably why ICPS and Actiview Solutions decided to organize a series of training seminars in legislative capacity building and good governance in London Brussels & Abuja; starting with the seminar in Westminster, London between November 21st and 25th.

The London based ICPS is a renowned international organization with vast experience in organizing professional training seminars for lawmakers and civil servants and is headed by Matt Gokhool, a renowned parliamentary and political communication specialist.

Actiview Solutions on the other hand has vast experience in public and business affairs in Nigeria and has been involved in the development of public and private projects in the last decade and was recently involved in the preparations for the last voter registration exercise in the country.

The Managing Director of Actiview Solutions, Mr. Arie Taitler said in a statement that the preliminary training, which will lead to the award of the Professional Certificate in Parliament, Governance and Policy, will expose the participating Nigerian lawmakers to legislative best practices all over the world as they would have first hand interaction with other parliamentary representatives from across the globe.

According to him, the participants will also take part in special discussions that will set agenda for the subsequent professional training seminars coming up next year in London, Brussels and Abuja that will focus on Nigeria.

Taitler explained that the training seminars are aimed at complementing Nigeria’s democracy building efforts towards improving the country’s democratic status “by strengthening the parliamentary relations between Nigerian lawmakers and the United Kingdom/European Union lawmakers”.

They also aim at training newly elected Nigerian lawmakers and political decision makers from the executive arm on how to improve policies and governance through effective and proactive legislation.

The training seminar, according to the Actiview Solutions boss will ultimately provide participants with “the essential skills for understanding best practice in good governance, understanding the roles of Parliaments in different countries, and managing the policy process from beginning to end”. Especially will improve the interaction between the executive and legislative arms amongst the state level- among the selected delegates are also several political decision makers from the executive arm,such as federal ministers and state governors

He said the programme “covers a comprehensive range of subjects such as: the roles and functions of Parliaments, the separation of powers, legislation, relationships between parliaments and governments, scrutiny; principles of good governance, administrative reform, legislative reform, accountability and transparency, the rule of law; sourcing evidence, analysing and evaluating evidence, working with stakeholders in policy development, consultations, communicating policy options, option appraisal, delivery chains, making robust and realistic policy, evaluating and reviewing policy; principles of strategic thinking, creating strategies, implementing strategies; as well as structuring written work for assessment”.

Taitler said, “In order to involve all relevant Nigerian stakeholders in the preparations of the tailor-made seminars, the co-organizers invited selected senior lawmakers & political executive decision makers across the country from the federal and state levels, opposition and ruling parties to participate at the November event in London”.

He disclosed that a total of 36 Nigerian lawmakers & civil servants political decision makers selected according to specific criteria to represent the six geopolitical zones of the country, will be taking part in the November event. These include four federal lawmakers & Federal ministers and 32 state legislators & political decision makers, adding that the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, has been invited to be guest speaker by ICPS. Amongst them 6 executives Governors where invited together with the speaker of the house of their state to practice interactivity between the executive and legislative arms; (Three of the Governors are newly elected and one of them was elected from the opponent party of the incumbent governor)

The Actiview boss said the training seminar would be of utmost benefit to Nigeria, especially as the country struggles to improve its status from the “flawed democracy” rating given it in a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey to “full democracy”.

He also pointed out that the initiative “is in line with the international community standard of foreign policy adopted by governments and international organizations that seek to support the spread of democracy throughout the political systems in the African continent by stabilizing politics at the local level and strengthening the economy by attracting direct foreign investment”. However, Nigeria will also harvest internal benefits as such seminar will improve the interaction between the executive and legislative arms.

The November Certificate seminar is a professional qualification accredited by the Chartered Management Institute and delivered by the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies, (ICPS). The Certificate is accredited by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is the only chartered professional body in the UK dedicated to promoting the highest standards in management and leadership excellence. The professional qualifications offered by the Institute are internationally recognised.

In a pre-seminar statement mailed to our correspondent from London, the Chief Executive Officer of ICPS, Mr Matt Gokhool, explained that “following the strategic decision of the Institute to co-organize special tailor-made seminars for Nigerian lawmakers and civil servants, with Actiview Solutions from Brussels, starting from next  year, we have decided to provide special slot in the programme for Nigerian law makers at both the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly whose members were elected during the successful April 2011 general elections.

“To this end, ICPS has invited the President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator David Mark to represent the Nigerian National Assembly in the official programme and deliver a key-note address entitled: “Governance and the Work of the Nigerian Senate” to round off the week-long training programme.

“Senator David Mark was also invited to co-chair the programme and formally present certificates to the participants at the end of the seminar”.

When contacted, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Senate President, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan confirmed that the Office of the Senate President has received the ICPS’s invitation.

He would however not comment on the disposition of his boss to the seminar, only saying “the invitation is being looked into and the organizers would be contacted on the Senate President’s decision at the appropriate time”.

Also, Taitler, the Actiview boss disclosed that the organizers have received “positive responses” from several Speakers of some state Houses of Assembly on their readiness to take part in the November training seminar in London.

 

This article appeared in THISDAY in August 2011 and is reproduced here with permission from Kunle G.Akogun