By Ebuka Onyekwelu
Apparently, evaluating a lawmaker’s performance is one of the most difficult things for Nigerians to do. It appears most Nigerians do not know just how to say if a lawmaker has done well or has failed. The reason is that the expectations from an average lawmaker, state or National Assembly, are so high and often outside the scope of duty of lawmakers.
Why the expectations are high is directly connected to the many needs of the people that have not been met by the government. It also connects to mistrust of government officials, given years of missed opportunities, and depths of political corruption. In consequence, every government official risks being painted with the same brush of suspicion and high expectations irrespective of what their powers are.
However, government is not a one-way street. Instead, it is an entity with so many parts that have been variously empowered by law to perform specified functions. Based on those specified functions assigned to each arm of the government, it is only right that evaluation of lawmakers be based strictly on their assigned duties rather than on the wide expectations of their government, by the Nigerian populace.
In Nigeria, government has three levels: Federal or Central Government, State Government and Local Government. At each level of government, there are three arms of government; executive, judiciary and legislature. At the Federal level of government in Nigeria, the National Assembly made up of the Senate and House of Representatives constitute the federal legislature. But at the State level, House of Assembly constitutes the state legislature. Meanwhile, the Council constitutes the legislature at the local government level.
Essentially, the legislature has three fold duties: lawmaking in the form of presentation of bills, contributions to bills presented, quality of debate in support or against bills. Secondly, motions. This includes the number of motions sponsored or co-sponsored by the lawmaker and the quality of his or her contributions during consideration of motions. Then finally, oversight functions. This includes committee membership of the lawmaker and what he or she does with the committees in ensuring that Ministries, Departments and Agencies -MDAs whose committee he or she is a member of, is up to speed in the discharge of its duties. Actually, it is through these MDAs that government presence is felt by the governed in the society, through implementation of programmes and projects of the government contained in the budget passed by the legislature.
In truth, legislators do not have any budget to undertake government programmes or implement public projects like road construction, among others. Lawmakers should not be encouraged to do what they have not been constitutionally empowered to do.
However, they can rely on their oversight in MDAs to influence or attract projects or jobs, or other special benefits to their constituents. But this is largely based on influence or some kind of political understanding and not a right of the lawmaker. Hence, for one to be a successful lawmaker, he or she ought to be a person of influence, positioned in the leadership of the legislature or favourably disposed to the leadership, to be able to make impressive addition to his or her constituents.
Lawmakers should not be encouraged to do what they have not been constitutionally empowered to do
Now, in Nigeria’s National Assembly, there is what is called Zonal Intervention Programme – ZIP, in which lawmakers in National Assembly have designated amounts budgeted and approved for their special intervention programme in their senatorial zone or federal constituency. The approved amount is tied to specific project or programme and the amount approved is openly monitored by media and advocacy groups. Amounts received annually by federal lawmakers; everyone of them, for this, is public knowledge. At the state level, something similar obtains and it is called constituency funds. Virtually all state Assemblies in Nigeria do not have an open evaluation of how the constituency funds are spent. This is somewhat like the popular security vote collected by state governors without any explanation, justification, detailed expenditure or even the amount collected.
Similarly, constituency funds in State Assemblies are largely a secrete, as people do not know how much collected by their representatives or what programmes or projects the collected amounts are meant for.
Therefore, a federal lawmaker in Nigeria can be evaluated on the following clear four bases: bill passage and contributions in that process. Motion sponsored, co-sponsored and contributions during this process. Thirdly, oversight on MDAs and how well influence-power has been deployed to attract government programmes or projects to his or her constituency.
Finally, how well the ZIP funds have been used to address the needs attached to it. This is the same for the State Assembly, except that those evaluating a State lawmaker’s performance should endeavour to ascertain the exact amount approved as constituency fund, per year for each lawmakers in that state.
Nigerians must hold their lawmakers accountable within the limits of their constitutional powers, and not based on the enormous needs of the country or their communities.