High turnover of legislators, worrisome
By Chinelo Obogo
Dr. Ladi Hamalai is the Director General(DG) of the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), and in this exclusive interview, she advocates the creation of more awareness on the importance of curbing the high turnover rate of federal legislators. She says the country should emulate the US in the area of re-electing experienced legislators, as it would promote stability in the polity.
Why are legislative aides not being trained as frequently as the legislators?
There is not a single year that we don’t have programmes for legislative aides; maybe what is short is the level of intensity. The basic reason the institute has even not been doing that is because the National Assembly Service Commission has the responsibility of induction and since the legislative numbers of the aides are quite large, we may not garner the sufficient resources to train them properly in batches. But we are doing our best; for example this year, we had three training programmes for legislative aides –the basic, intermediate and advanced.
At the beginning of each new legislative session, usually, not up to 30 per cent of old legislators return, and this has led to a high turn-over rate, new set of legislators who are practically greenhorns. Does this not bother the institute?
I think everybody is really worried about the high turnover, because by the time a legislator has been there for about four years, that is when he begins to learn the in and out of his job. He gains confidence; can engage the executive and do oversight functions, but just as he is gaining grounds, his four-year tenure is over and most often, they are not reelected. So, it is really damaging to the institutional growth of the legislature.
However, the problem is not that of voter education as much as party dynamics, because if you look at the results of the primaries, you will see that at least 60 per cent of the candidates fielded by the party are new.
But it is the people that do vote for them
Yes, but at the primary level, it is as a result of internal party mechanism. But again, if you look at the relationship between the candidates and the party leadership, you discover that there are factors that determine how a particular candidate emerges at the primary election; factors other than the normal voting. So you have to do both; sensitise the electorate and at the same time sensitise the party.
Now, there is another dimension to it, be it the Senatorial district or the constituency of the House of Reps member. You find that in many constituencies, even if the party wants to return the same candidate, the constituents may say no; it is the turn of the next local government.
So, you find excellent legislators who have done all the due diligence of his work, but at the end of the day, he will be discarded based on rotation at the local government level. Some even abinitio will tell you that you will serve one term or will give you a maximum of two terms after which it would be the turn of the next local government.
The other angle is that the party leader or the governor of the state who happens to come from the same local government as you, would, at the end of his tenure, want to come to the Senate. So, you know you have to go. It happens. There are one or two cases where the governor lost the election but in most cases they will win the election. So, unless you sort out the other issues, it will keep happening.
In America, it is your credentials as an individual that matters; if your constituents are happy with your representation, they keep on re-electing you. I was reading somewhere that the most predictable thing in US politics is the legislator returning to his seat. You can bet on it by 90 per cent that they will be reelected. The upset is only when there is a party swing at the national level. So, if you have that season, then there will also be some swings within the legislature, then you find that some new members will come in at that particular time.
So do you advocate for mid-term elections just like we have in the US?
Well, the importance of the mid-term elections is that you don’t have potentially, a new set of legislators at a go and it reduces the burden of the electoral processes; that is if you are able to do it in two batches. So, you maintain some level of continuity.
But to do that in Nigeria, you have to amend the constitution, and find a strategy to manage the transition. Do you increase the tenure of some by two years? So, how do you start implementing it? But if all their tenures will end in four years and you now change at the end of four years, that means you have to allow some people to have additional two years and you know that is not possible. How would you even select the half that will now have additional two years to start up? So, there has to be a gradual, very exhaustive planning and re-planning to get that kind of constitution done. At the end of the day, it is even easier to continue the current system.
But what may need to be done is to as we said, embark on voter sensitisation, maybe get the political parties themselves to become stronger and more institutionalised, more objective, more national in their approach to things rather than make your self-interest. If you are able to cause a reorientation to happen, then there will be nothing wrong with the current system. Any legislator who is known to be hard working will be supported by the party. Normally he will be supported by the party and will be supported by his constituents as well. I think that is the best approach for now; it is much easier for the system in terms of adaptation.
Previously, we have talked about the adjustment of the Act that setup the National Institute of Legislative Studies to be broader; it is now going to be the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies.
What are the positives that this change will bring?
I think the immediate impact that we envisage will be on democratic institutions in the country, because right now, there is no public institution that is mandated by law to do that. So, that vacuum can be filled and the need for such capacity development is acutely felt. The institute will be able to work with political parties as instructed in its establishment Act to provide opportunities for better understanding of democratic culture, the workings of democratic institutions from within national perspectives and comparatively with international perspective. We would also envisage the situation where the institute might even get engaged in facilitating inter-party dialogue so that there will be more cohesion in the polity. We would also again engage political parties in developing their agenda because usually the parties develop their agenda. Let us ensure that the blueprint of political parties or development agenda of political parties are based on sound knowledge of the workings of the economy, the polity and the understanding of democratic principles and the developmental needs of the country. This is because without proper grounding in some of these things abinitio, we may end up coming up with faulty development agenda at the party levels and even the relationship between the ruling political party and the executive structures.
So, it is a whole area of discourse, you can see why you have blockages in terms of smoothing them through conferencing and dialoguing So, there are quite a number of things even engaging the civil societies. Civil societies are important parts of democratic process. How do we bring them in? How do we even strengthen them – the civil societies so that they engage more effectively in the political space?
But we have missed on goals much earlier on because of well, in the initial stage of the institute, we don’t like to start taking on too much. We have funding issues; you have to sort out the funding issues. If you are going to wider political, national political space, if you are no longer going to depend on the National Assembly, budget, and now you have to find other sources of funding such national projects. I believe and I am confident that if this new department of democratic policies is properly established, it will add a lot of value to democratic governance in the country.
What is your individual opinion on the gender equality bill?
I think the bill is quite well appreciated. It should have been there long time ago. We are happy; it is a step in the right direction and the feeling I am getting is that it has a wider network of support. If Nigerians are really bold enough in the course of integrating women into political leadership and decision making, then there is no way you can do it without taking extra measures such as affirmative actions that constitute discrimination, support women’s weaker position in the polity, in governance, in the economy.