NASS’ Open Week and image laundering

The National Assembly on 16th July, 2018 began its first ever Open Week that will end today.
Taiye Odewale examines the motives behind the week based on comments made by the head of the Planning Committee, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan
Battered image The National Assembly had been in the eye of the storm especially following the ugly incidence of Mace snatching and the disdain with which the lawmakers and security operatives within the National Assembly Complex were viewed.
The NASS certainly gloried not from the ugly episode.
Instead, it suffered more from the battered image forcing its leadership to seriously consider taking action to court public applause.
Three months ago, precisely in April, as a way of sensitisation, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North) at a media briefing, said the National Assembly (NASS) Open Week programme was conceived to boost public participation in the democratic process of the country.
Lawan, in his capacity as the chairman of the Planning Committee, posited that the programme would broaden public understanding of legislative functions and engender interactions between legislators and other critical stakeholders of the country.
Image laundry His words:”Giving the public access to legislative information, activities and policies, is a substantial step towards empowering them to take part in political dialogue and decisionmaking processes.
“Secondly, the Open Week signifies the National Assembly’s commitment to increase accountability and limit corruption.
It Allows public access to the legislature and makes possible for stakeholders to scrutinise our actions as an institution.
“Opening the National Assembly means we have nothing to hide.
Being able to access this information significantly reduces suspicion and generates trust in government.
Thus, the open week will address the perennial negative public perception of legislators and the institution of the legislature by bringing closer the public and the legislature.
“This is shown in the reinforcement of a wide range of types of activity, from expanding the scope of visits to parliament , developing educational resources about the institution , to introducing out – facing programmes actively seeking to engage communities and stakeholders with the work of parliament”, he said.
Three principles of engagement “The three key principles of public engagement of the Nigerian National Assembly are to inform to involve the public in its work and to empower the public to help shape and set the agenda.
“Transparency strengthens democracy, promotes efficiency and effectiveness in governance.
Despite these efforts, a lot more can be done by the National Assembly to improve public confidence in the institution of the legislature as well as encourage public engagement because very few citizens understand the nature of the work of the National Assembly and the breadth of its activities.
“Public perception has largely been shaped by what the media covers, particularly relating to plenary.
The Open Week will open NASS to the public and the inner workings of the legislature.
“Parliamentary openness is meant to enable citizens to be informed about the work of parliament , empower citizens to engage in the legislative process , allow citizens to hold parliamentarians to account and ensure that citizens’ interests are well represented .
We have nothing to hide; being able to access this information significantly reduces suspicion and generates trust”.
Openness generates trust Lawan at the press briefing added that since governments around the world are open and transparent and more accountable to their citizens and less likely to be corrupt, NASS in its wisdom, settled for the open week to achieve same.
“Openness generates trust in government and also paves the way for meaningful participation by citizens and more informed and better policies.
“Around the world, an increasing number of parliaments are being more proactive in the provision of information.
This has become easier with the proliferation of the internet and access to Information Communication Technology (ICT)”, he explained.
Policy and election matters Expectedly as disclosed by him, series of interactive sessions between legislators and key stakeholders on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the judiciary on pre- and post-elections adjudication, among others will be discussed.
Besides, there are planned different sessions with state assemblies, trade unions, traditional rulers, women, youth, student bodies, pressure groups and civil society organisations, all geared towards ensuring accountability and service delivery in governance.
Clinically, as planned by NASS, the exercise will feature daily exhibitions by its various committees as regards their outputs and interface with stakeholders.
The benefits of the Open Week as envisioned by NASS are numerous and expected to have direct bearing on democratic governance in Nigeria.
Going by the foregoing, NASS, through the ongoing Open Week, is demonstrating openness in governance as regards its activities but would it use the opportunity of letting Nigerians look into its account as regards planned spending of the N139.5bn it appropriated for itself in the 2018 budget, particularly the monthly earnings of the 469 legislators? Without this, its perception problem may still persist after the open week.

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