The YIAGA Centre for Legislative Engagement has said that the National Assembly was yet to make appreciable impact on the nation and its citizenry despite some recorded successes.
This is contained in a report by the organisation titled, “Assessing Legislative Response to COVID-19” and signed by the Executive Director YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo.
The report is an output of ongoing monitoring and analysis of the National Assembly’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since the index case.
The National Assembly response is assessed against four core principles; Responsiveness, Accountability, Transparency, and Inclusiveness.
According to the report, the National Assembly is taking proactive legislative actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic; however, these actions are yielding limited or no results.
On Responsiveness, the National Assembly is rated high for several proactive steps it took to respond to governance challenges and citizens’ needs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
It said that the January 30 motion on the COVID-19, passage of the ‘Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill’, and the engagement of the NASS leadership with the Executive on fiscal policy and social welfare culminate into proactive legislative actions.
“It is noteworthy that the Economic Stimulus Bill is an initiative of the House of Representatives sponsored without prompting from the Executive. The engagement with Executive on Social Investment Programme (SIP) and the call by the National Assembly for a review of the framework and criteria for the distribution of palliatives during the pandemic was a direct response to public outcry and constituents’ needs. The intervention has equally thrown up the need for a legislative framework for social security in Nigeria,” the report said.
It said though some of these actions are commendable, it has, however, yielded limited or no results.
For instance, according to the report, the Economic Stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives is yet to be considered by the Senate when it ought to have passed it before proceeding on recess on March 24, 2020.
It said there is still a lack of transparency in the management of COVID-19 donations and distribution of palliatives by the Federal government and that the decision to shut down the legislature for over a month undermines checks and balances and weakens the oversight required in the fight against the pandemic.
It said that legislators across the globe, and indeed, countries worst hit than Nigeria, have continued with the regular legislative business, albeit, with precautionary measures and practices in compliance with WHO protocols.
On accountability, the report said the National Assembly leadership undertook some actions geared towards holding the Executive to account, but that it however recorded minimal success in ensuring proper scrutiny of the funds expended on COVID-19 or monitored compliance with its resolutions concerning the fair and equitable distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable poor.
The YIAGA Africa said this can be attributed to the closure of the National Assembly and the inability of its committees to function. Executive actions are taken without legislative scrutiny and approval.
It said that for instance, President Buhari approved the withdrawal of $150m from the Sovereign Wealth Fund for distribution to states and local governments without appropriation and that additionally, the response by the National Assembly is yet to address the legal uncertainties trailing the innovation of the Quarantine Act and imposition of lockdown by the President.
“Furthermore, the reported cases of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses by security agencies require legislative action. Civil society should be commended for its continuous oversight and demand for accountability in the absence of legislative oversight,” it said.
On Transparency, the report said National Assembly leadership maintained a considerable level of openness in all its engagements and meetings on COVID-19 pandemic through regular updates on its online and offline media channels.
It added that however, those meetings were closed to civil society groups and other critical stakeholders.
The report said the decision to reopen the National Assembly after one month of the recess is a positive development; but that, the leadership must accelerate its processes to provide the required legislative response to strengthen the fight against COVID-19.
It suggested that the Assembly needs to explore the potentials and benefits offered by e-Parliament and adopt it for legislative work.
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