New skills for legislative accountability excite Rivers citizens

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By Innocent Eteng

When revelations came last year (through Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna Central at the Senate) that each of the 103 senators earns N13.5m in allowances monthly, 43-year-old Nwigbara Kingsley’s abhorrence for prevailing poor legislative representation in Nigeria increased.

He wondered why members of Parliament – despite the obvious failure of many of them to initial bills that would better the lot of local people, show accountability and inclusive representation – should earn that much in a country with the highest number of extremely poor people – 87 million.

Yet, Kingsley, a master’s level political science student, felt helpless with no idea on how to engage those representing him at the Senate and the House of Representatives to show accountability.

But on Tuesday, February 12, 2019, Kingsley received what he calls “an eye opener” for advocating for better legislative representation and accountability.

“It has always been my dream to have a type of concept like this,” he says.

Kingsley’s new found way came through a training organized by a nonprofit advocating for for better social conditions, Citizens Trust Advocacy and Development Centre (CITADEC), at Khana Local Government Council of Rivers State in Ogoni, where he and 46 other locals were trained on advocacy and lobbying skills to engage elected representatives for accountability.

“The essence of lobbying is that the person you are lobbying has the platform which you do not have. They (representatives) have access to government,” Emmanuel Biira, CITADEC’s Senior Programme Officer, Communication and Strategy, explained to the raptly-listining participants.

The training, which was part of a three day-dialogue on how quality representation can be achieved, saw participants split into groups. Each group discussed one of the basic social problems confronting Ogoni and how to solve them by communicating and engaging their elected representatives who will in turn initiate bills and lobby for such problems to be solved.

The groups included; security, environment, education, health and gender equality.

“The topics here today are more informative, and educative. It would help us to shape the political system in the country. My aim is to henceforth work with others and engage our representatives.”

Kingsley is not the only one feeling new vibes for a change, especially with a new set of leaders and representatives expected to be sworn in on May 29.

“I am really excited because we are being exposed to how to get involved in the making of laws and that would only mean that we would have a better society,” says 26-year-old Erabanabari Theophilus.

She acknowledges that before now, there have always been advocacy groups fighting different problems, but added that none mirrored in on correcting legislative malaise.

An African affair

While no legislative representation in the world could be said to be absolutely perfect without a fault, the situation in Africa is particularly worrisome. And while a few African countries like South Africa have showed significant improvements over the decades, a greater percentage still lags behind.

According to a 2013 study by Robert Rotberg and Jennifer Salahub titled “African Legislative Effectiveness” and published by Canada-base North-South Institute, the reason for lack of legislative accountability stems from the fact that members of Parliament almost always exist as “secondary actors in the national political dramas”, supporting autocratic tendencies in loyalty to the executives or their political parties or both, rather than serving the interest of their constituents and the entire citizens.

As is the case in Nigeria, most legislative representatives end up as “well-paid spongers rather than as functioning members” of the Parliament, the study says.

But CITADEC hopes to change that, a reason it started the dialogue that first took place last year in Gokana Local Government before taking the training to Khana.

Both local governments are the biggest in Ogoni, which have faced protracted hard-hitting social problems ranging from environmental pollution to health hazards, insecurity and educational backwardness.

However, Lawrence Dube, CITADEC’s director, says the aim is not to cast blames, but for everyone to see themselves as vital in the corrective process.

“Training shapes the way people think; training also disciplines people’s expectations. It also corrects opinions and refines mindset. There is is natural feeling among people that things are wrong and all politicians are wrong. But nobody is saying, ‘how well do we correct the system?’”

“The essence of this advocacy training is to engage the system and to contribute to possibly change the system. While we are not expecting overnight result, we are expecting an informed, exposed and well-challenged group of people that would come up and say ‘we are the cause of our problems and not the people who manipulated and put themselves into power. But either ways, we are going to begin to initiate, talking to our leaders, demanding accountability and testimonial.”