By Ibrahim Faruk and Yetunde Bakare
The legislature is not only a symbol of democracy but also the participatory hub of popular participation. The legislative arm of government provides citizens with an opportunity to participate in decision and law making processes. Participation in decision and law making processes is an underlying tenet of democracy. Democracy remains clichéd if those in power cannot be held accountable for their acts or omissions, for their decisions, their expenditure or policies.
On 3 December, 2016 at the Dansokoto Model Primary School, Bungudu, Hon. AbdulMalik Zubairu Bungudu, representing Bungudu/Maru Federal Constituency in Zamfara State at the House of Representatives hosted an Accountability Dialogue/Townhall meeting with his constituents. This dialogue was part of the Young Legislators Project (YLAP) which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA.
The Accountability Dialogue which brought together over 200 constituents representing traditional rulers, political parties, women and youth groups, provided an opportunity for Hon. Bungudu to give an account of his stewardship since the inauguration of the 8th Assembly in June, 2015.
In 2015, YLAP conducted a Constituent Needs Assessment (CNA) on ‘Nigerian Legislature and Constituent Relationship’ across 17 states in the constituencies of 28 young legislators (under the age of 40) in the 8th Assembly. The assessment showed that constituency town hall meetings are seen as the most effective means of communication with legislators across the constituencies surveyed.
The findings of the assessment revealed among other things that, legislator – constituent relationship is threatened by the overwhelming demands for individual assistance by constituents. This assistance is mostly in the form of financial assistance for family events such as burials, marriages, children christening, school fees, house rents etc. Poor understanding of the core mandate of the legislature due to lack of political education and poor information sharing and communication between legislators and citizens are other factors which threaten legislator-constituent relationship. This is made worse by ineffective mechanisms to guarantee regular interface between constituents and their elected representatives.
YIAGA’s Senior Program Officer, Ibrahim Faruk, while delivering his remarks at the Accountability Dialogue, reiterated the findings of the assessment which indicate that the gap in communication between legislators and constituents has negatively affected social capital and trust, as well as the building of a new social contract.
At the townhall meeting, the Senior Legislative Aide (SLA) to Hon. AbdulMalik Zubairu Bungudu, Barr. Charles Mbalise, discussed the roles and functions of a legislator. He emphasized that the functions of a legislator include lawmaking, oversight and representation.
Another finding of the CNA indicated that most legislators do not have operational constituency offices. Some legislators use their homes as a petty office within their constituency only occasionally – mostly during festive periods.
In order to improve the engagement of the constituents with their legislator, Barr. Mbalise introduced the staff of the constituency offices in Bungudu and Maru and also shared the constituency office addresses of Hon. Bungudu.
Representatives of various communities in the constituency as well as traditional rulers, political parties, women and youth groups while hailing the first of its kind initiative in the constituency, reminded the legislator of his promises to provide jobs, electricity and represent the interests of women and the youth if he was elected.
Hon. AbdulMalik Zubairu Bungudu, gave an account of his stewardship which included motions that have been sponsored on the floor of the House, oversight functions in various parliamentary committees and constituency project allocations.
The young legislator also expressed his appreciation to the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for their support towards hosting the Accountability Dialogue/Townhall Meeting in his constituency.
It is clearly evident that the legislature is yet to fully understand the import of constituents in sustaining their political career. Legislators are most likely to represent constituent interests when they know precisely who their constituents are, interact with them frequently, and know that their political future depends on gaining and keeping constituent support.
Accountability is the hallmark of modern democratic governance. The challenge, therefore, lies in the ability of citizens to manage their expectations on the performance of their representatives. The Young Legislators Accountability Project (YLAP) an initiative of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) provides an opportunity to bridge the communication gap between elected representatives and their constituents such that both parties can understand and appreciate their realities and needs and build models of legislative accountability.