By Mfonobong Ukpong
Citizens participation in the law making process and oversight responsibilities of the legislature helps a great deal in confidence building between the citizenry and the government, and in addition enriches the law making process.
This was the submission of the Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Barr.
Onofiok Luke on Monday in Uyo while delivering a keynote address on the topic ‘Political/Legislative Imperative for Increasing Citizenship Participation, ‘ at the 2017 Niger Delta Civic Engagement Forum held at Emerald Events centre, Uyo. He said the current assembly decided to adopt an open legislative approach in its lawmaking process in a bid to promote mass participation in the democratic process.
According to Luke “One thing sits at the heart of Civic engagements: government’s transparency, sincerity and the political will to promote Civic engagement. You build consensus successfully if you run an open and transparent government. You encourage people to participate only in an exercise where they trust their participation would not be a mere window dressing.
In his words, “An open legislature encourages interaction with the citizens; and these interactions could serve as opportunity for citizens’ participation in the Strengthening of government institutions. Our experience at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has so far proven this to be true. A key aspect of our regular citizens engagement policy is public hearing. For instance, to carry the citizens along in the state budgetary planning, we decided to introduce a number of mechanisms to enhance citizen participation in the yearly appropriation process. We call this model Participatory Budgeting. We were the first to do this, four years before the National Assembly adopted participatory budgeting. In engaging the citizens where there noticeable records of achievements? Yes, of course! By merely asking ordinary people (Market women, traditional rulers, students and youths, civil liberties group, industry experts) to deliberate and make contributions to the budget of the State, we found that there was areas of needs which their inputs at the public hearings revealed. The 2017 appropriation law is an instance of such”.
Explaining further on the 2017 budget, the Speaker hinted that after listening to and collating inputs submitted by representatives drawn from the different of the citizenry during the public hearing on the budget, the legislature had to make an increase to the overall budget outlay to the tune of 8 billion Naira in capital expenditure. He said the House had to provide for more renovation of schools, provision of water boreholes especially in rural communities, desks in schools under the inter-ministerial direct labour coordinating committee in order to improve the free and compulsory education efforts of government. He said there were no initial budgetary provisions for the items by the executive, adding that the legislature had to include them having carefully listened to submissions made by citizens during the public hearing conducted by the House on the appropriation bill.
Barr. Luke also listed public petition usually forwarded to the House of Assembly through its committee on Justice, Human rights and Public petitions from the citizens who are asking for the intervention of the legislature in matters of concern to them as another instrument which stimulates legislative citizens engagement, and cited an instance of such where the House of Assembly had to wade in and cause the reinstatement of some government employees who were wrongly disengaged from service, reinstatement of some students in the state owned higher institution who were dismissed from school over alleged student unionism activities among several other legislative interventions.
He thanked the organisers for putting up the engagement forum, noting that it was a step in the right direction as it would help encourage mass participation in the building of our democratic process.
Speaking earlier, the Chief of party, Mr. Dara Akala in his welcome remarks who described Akwa Ibom State as the most friendly places to visit in Nigeria, said the aim of the Niger Delta Civic Engagement Forum which has as its theme: Strengthening Niger Delta Institutions (NDIs) Through Citizen participation, was to prove a platform for citizens of the Niger Delta to lay bare issues that affects the region, and to chat the way forward.
In her presentation, an activist, Miss Ibim Semenitari who is a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, said the Niger Delta region would remain relevant with or without oil, noting that there abound so many untapped resources that are capable of sustaining the economy of the region. She advocated for the Strengthening of institutions saddled with the responsibility of developing the Niger Delta region.
The former NDDC boss who spoke on the systematic approaches and best practices in Strengthening Niger Delta Institutions, however regretted that most of the failed jobs and abandoned NDDC projects littered across the Niger Delta region were jobs awarded to the people of the region, and wondered why the very people who feel the pulse of the environmental degradation in the region would be the one’s contributing to further impoverishing of the region. She faulted the inability of some established institutions saddled with the responsibility of driving development in the region to live up to expectation.
Another rights activist, Charles Oputa, alias Charly Boy on his part, said the country was in dire need of men of integrity, and good leadership.
“We lack men of integrity who are genuinely interested in fixing our economy. The people of Niger Delta are suffering and smiling. We must hold our leaders accountable”.
Another Niger Delta activist and Nollywood actress, Hilda Dokubor, identified selfishness, hatred, bitterness envy and discrimination amongst the people of Niger Delta region as some of the major reason the region has not been able to move forward.
She sued for a change of attitude, and tasked leaders at all level in the region and the citizenry work in unison for the overall benefit of the people of the region. Citizens participation in the law making process and oversight responsibilities of the legislature helps a great deal in confidence building between the citizenry and the government, and in addition enriches the law making process.