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CoS: Harnessing and deepening governance process using inter-parliamentary approach

There is no doubt that the survival of any democratic process and practice is anchored on the cardinal principle of the separation of powers among the three arms of government, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.

The need for the three arms of government in their true operation to serve as check and balances aimed at achieving good governance, purposeful leadership and accountability cannot be over-emphasised.

More often than not, one of the tripods, the legislative arm, is seen as the bastion and light of our democracy but sadly has come under criticism in recent times.

The criticism against the legislature being perceived as an appendage to the executives gave rise to the clamour for its independence. The seeming over-bearing attitude of the executive has remained a clog in the smooth delivery of people-oriented legislations that will in effect engender good governance.

In the search of championing and promoting productive and gainful legislative practices, Nigerian speakers of states’ assembly under the aegis of Conference of Speaker (CoS), had embarked on what can best be described as a study visit of legislative arm of government in Canada to sharpen and develop their legislative experiences and skills.

The idea for the Nigerian lawmakers at the state level was to interface with their Western counterparts in a cross-fertilisation of ideas couldn’t have come at a better time than now when the clamour for good governance has become amplified more than ever before even as 2023 general election draws nearer.

The initiative, which was conceived under the leadership of the conference of speakers across Nigeria, saw the lawmakers gather in Canada for a five-day inter-parliamentary engagement with their colleagues in Ottawa and Toronto.

The meeting had afforded the visiting Nigerian lawmakers to inter phase with former and serving members of Parliament in Ottawa and Toronto where ideas bordering on inter-parliamentary practice were shared.

Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who literally opened the doors of the country to the visiting lawmakers, had in a letter sent to the delegation expressed Canadan commitment and readiness to continue to foster and deepen diplomatic and democratic ties between the two nations.

Shedding light on the visit and choice of Canada, the Chairman of the group and Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Rt Hon. Suleiman Abubakar had declared: “Our choice of Canada is strategic given our shared history of being commonwealth nations and our democratic experiences. Canada is no doubt one of the most developed countries of the world worthy of learning from.

“Canada ranks among the highest in international measurement of government transparency, civil liberty, equality of life, economic freedom, education and environment sustainability.

“In view of this, our mission to Canada is simple and clear. We are set out for robust engagement with our host with a view to learning practices and ideals that will reposition our country on the right trajectory for greatness through subnational legislative activities.”

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The guided tour was facilitated by the Executive Director, OZ Consulting Firm and former parliamentarian Hon Jim Karygiannis, of GTA strategies took their Nigerian lawmakers to the Institute of Governance, University of Ottawa, House of Commons and the parliament where they observed legislative processes and also a visit to the Niagara falls, at the borders between the United States and Canada.

Lessons:

At the end of the conference, some of the lawmakers had described the visit as impactful and engaging. The Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly had stated that the lawmakers would return back better equipped with the new experience and lessons learnt.

In his words, “We are indeed very grateful to the leadership of the Conference of Speakers for the opportunity to liaise with parliamentarians in Canada for engaging with them in processes of governance comparable with what is obtainable in Nigeria, and how we can improve on our capacity in law-making.

“I believe that with the experiences gathered here have given us more knowledge about lawmaking and if practised back home will be beneficial for our democratic development.

“We are particularly grateful for the various state governments for making logistics available for the various states in attendance and to the government of Canada for giving us that opportunity.”

Anambra State Speaker, Rt Hon. Uche Okafor noted that the purpose of the study was to improve efficiency among lawmakers, noting that the critical role of legislators in democratic journey cannot be over-emphasised.

“We engaged with the institute of governance and we discussed electioneering and judicial reform. The Canadian system had similarities with that of Nigeria because we run three tiers of government and the good thing is that it is all about efficiency and that is one thing we will take back to Nigeria.

“Today, we are talking about corruption in Nigeria and for me it is only the legislators who are the eyes of the people and with the sole right to get things right for our people because if they do, the executive will get it right as well. So, the onus and change we anticipate in Nigeria starts from us because we are the only people that can truly bring about the reforms as empowered by the constitution,” he said.

Okafor, however, lamented that the legislature is still tied to the apron string of the executive and called for its total independence, adding that “most of the things we do are from the advice of the governor because some legislators want to come back for second and third terms as the case maybe and dance to the tune of the executives.”

Oyo State Speaker, Rt Hon. Adebo Ogun Doyin said that the inter-parliamentary engagement provided them the opportunity to harness the outcome to be able to deliver democratic dividends.

According to him, “The highlights for me have been the difference and also the similarity in our legislative Processes both at the federal and state level. I’m very excited how the Canadian government has been able to harness the parliamentary system to deliver a good dividend of democracy in this part of the world. I wish and I hope that we do our best to take some of these lessons home.”

The Edo State Speaker, Rt Hon. Markus Onobun in his remarks, said: “The engagement has been very robust considering the impact of Parliamentary practice both in Canada and Nigeria. I understand now that we both operate the bi-camera kind of legislature and for me there is a lot of take home. So, ours is to go back because we have the laws, the institutions are there but we will go and advocate for the will power to strengthen and carry out their responsibility so that Nigeria can be a better place.

“Another thing I have been able to take away is that Canada and other countries of the world believe so much in Nigeria and it appears we don’t believe in ourselves. We must take the message of hope back home that the people out there believe in our strength, population and youth power. It is just for us to look into the untapped resources and bring Nigeria back to where it ought to be.”

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