The Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) under her Young Legislators Accountability Project (YLAP) has urged legislators to frequently engage their constituents via town hall meetings as it provides an avenue for face-to-face interactions between the constituents and their representatives.
This will provide an opportunity for the legislators to give account of their stewardship in the legislature and for immediate feedback from constituents and will also promote information sharing between lawmakers and constituents. The importance of town-hall meetings was affirmed by the findings of the Constituency NEEDs Assessment conducted by YIAGA and has in the past year proven to be a fact with the enthusiasm of constituents to participate in constituency town hall meeting.
In promoting the culture of legislator-constituent dialogue, Honorable Julius Pondi, member representing Burutu Federal Constituency of Delta State in the Federal House of Representatives organized a constituency town-hall meeting in partnership with YIAGA under the YLAP project which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). The Burutu constituency town-hall meeting revealed amongst other things the absence of the impact of governance in the local communities and the need for more avenues to engage constituents on their needs and have their voices reflected in policy decisions.
Despite being one of the oldest Local Government Areas in Nigeria, Burutu community with an estimated population of 280,000 is one of the constituencies in Nigeria that is still not accessible by road. Residents have to rely on boat rides that are risky and unsafe due to the conditions of the boats used to connect to other communities. This oil rich constituency, an oil and gas economic hub is currently host to Chevron & Shell Agip installations and the Delta State School of Marine Technology. Beyond the presence of oil, Burutu is a historical town with monuments like the Wind Mill built in 1472, the Slave Dungeon built in 1475 for the storage and exportation of slaves as well as the Slave Wharf in Forcados built by the Portuguese and reputed to be the longest in Africa littered all over the town.
In addition, although an eyesore now is the Infectious Diseases General Hospital, built in 1890 and which at the time was the first of its kind in Nigeria and West Africa. Burutu is indeed a “gold mine” yet to have its potentials harnessed with citizens begging for a good standard of living.
During the meeting, the people of Burutu interacted with their representative, Hon. Pondi as he gave account of his stewardship amongst other things. The people expressed their needs, some of which included: the absence of fuel in the NNPC floating jetty in the community, the abandoned road project in Ogulagha, the need to upgrade the boats to speed boats to match what obtains in other urban areas, electricity, and the urgent need for a bridge linking the community to the city.
The highlight of the session was the practical solutions and suggestions the constituents proffered to tackle some of the challenges they faced. A constituent urged the legislator to seek collaboration with MDAs in providing scholarship opportunities for the youths in the community.
While giving account of his stewardship, Honourable Pondi said he has commissioned some bills which will be ready for the house soon while also explaining some of the motions he sponsored as a legislator. One of such motion is drawing the attention of the Federal Government to the need to provide in the 2017 budget, an estimate/funds for the construction of shoreline protection for the coastlands especially in Delta State. He also urged the federal ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to take joint action to re-construct all buildings, schools, hospitals and other facilities damaged by floods. The house Committee on environment was also mandated, by the adoption of the motion, to undertake assessment visits to communities ravaged by floods and make recommendations.
According to Honourable Pondi, “we should at all times seek peace among ourselves and with all non-indigenes in our homeland. Our youths should protect and preserve all national assets in our homeland. While demanding for our dues, the mechanism for dialogue should be an all-time option for us. In other words, we can interrogate public policies that are inimical to our interest without stepping on the laws of the land.”
Warm tribute was paid to YIAGA for its relentless advocacy and support towards a better accountability and transparency by legislators. YIAGA Senior Program Officer present at the Town hall meeting, Yetunde Bakare took out time to engage some constituents on the role of the legislators and the importance of engaging legislators on their constitutional mandate of lawmaking, oversight over the executive, appropriation, and representation. It was discovered that just few citizens had basic knowledge of the constitutional duties of their legislator but still yearned for more.
According to Ms Bakare, the great role the legislature plays in ensuring accountability, transparency, inclusion and strengthening democracy cannot be overemphasized. She further explained that there is the need for citizens to hold their elected officials in the legislature and other levels of government accountable through constant engagement. “Citizen Engagement is a two-way learning process between citizens and their democratically elected officials, not excluding public institutions in the search for common ground,” she said.
In conclusion, YIAGA believes that the recent call for the recall of a lawmaker by his constituents is a pointer that there are consequences for underrepresentation. Despite the fact that, the National Assembly set Fridays aside for constituency engagement, there is no proper tracking of the process of ensuring that constituency engagements actually take place. YIAGA also decried the fact that, the legislature still does not have a unified system of allocating budget for constituency relation in such a way that it can be monitored sand evaluated.
YLAP is an initiative of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) with support from Open Society Initiative West Africa is designed to enhance legislative accountability through effective citizens’ participation whilst building a cohesive young legislators hub for political mentorship, peer learning, and capacity development. In enhancing accountability and citizen participation in legislative activities, the project seeks to strengthen the linkage between young electorates and young legislators.