By Ojo Maduekwe
Nigeria’s National Assembly, NASS, is one of the country’s most obscure and secretive institutions. There’s disconnect between the members of NASS and their constituents in matters of its finances and votes on important national issues. Nigerians hardly know what goes on in the National Assembly.
Except for data sourced from the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the National Assembly has refused to make public the exact figures of its member’s salary and allowances, notwithstanding continuous pressures being mounted on it by civil society organizations and individuals.
While organizations like the #OpenNASS are campaigning for the details of the National Assembly budget and participation of lawmakers during plenary to be made public, using methods such as operating a free hotline for voters to phone in and sign petitions, other organizations like BudgIT have created a tool known as Tracka, used to track the implementation of federal government projects, as well as constituency projects of individual members of NASS.
These breakthroughs, and tiny peep into the internal affairs of the legislature did not come easy, but took years of hard-work by an ever vigilant civil society. The only arm of government, whose task of being the representative of the people is clearly spelt out, has failed to live up to its responsibility.
It is for this reason that one would find impressive the ‘Akwa Ibom Legislative Internship Programme, AKILIP. An initiative of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, AKILIP is a career and capacity development initiative that offers Akwa Ibom state graduates of higher institutions the opportunity to supplement their academic training by gaining practical legislative experiences.
They do this by observing the daily workings of the legislature firsthand, and providing Assembly members with additional assistance for their legislative obligations. Started 5 years ago by the Assembly speaker, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, as ‘The Onofiok Luke Legislative Internship Programme’ (TOLLIP), AKILIP is the first legislative sponsored internship programme in Nigeria.
Popularly known by the Akwa Ibom electorate as the “People’s Assembly”, this state Assembly has succeeded where the National Assembly have failed, and gone ahead to pave the way for other state legislatures to follow.
This exposure to public policy-making and legislative processes is expected to sharpen the interns’ ability to acquire skills and knowledge they can apply in their chosen careers and future life experiences. This is possible because, according to the coordinator, Mr. Ubong Linus, AKILIP will instill in the interns the following skills: commitment to the core values of volunteerism, peace advocacy, community development, and entrepreneurship and leadership skills.
At the inauguration of AKILIP, Mr Linus said, “In the long term, it is expected that this interns will contribute to a greater public understanding and appreciation of the roles of the legislature and perhaps equipped to contribute significantly to public service at the Federal, State and Local Government levels.”
This point was better appreciated following a comment by Senator Effiong Bob while giving a lecture on ‘The role of the Legislature in the Development of Akwa Ibom State in the past 25 years’. “This happens to be an opportunity some of us never had,” according to Senator Bob, a member and deputy Speaker of the First Assembly between 1992 and 1993 when the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly was established. He and the other members did not get the kind of training the AKILIP interns will be equipped with in the coming months.
The maiden participants are 23 legislative interns successfully selected from a total of 280 applicants that applied on the programme’s website. They were examined and screened by a team headed by the Akwa Ibom Assembly House Committee Chairman on Education, Hon Samuel Ufuo.
“The successful interns were not selected based on any identity considerations, area of origin, or weight of recommendations. The cardinal considerations were determined by the stipulated eligibility, desirable skills, competency, level of interest, commitment, and of course you had to be between the ages of 18 to 35,” according to the AKILIP coordinator, Mr. Linus.
The following development organizations, the Rotary club, Ignite Enterprise and Employability Project, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Youth Hub Africa, Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, National Institute of Legislative Studies will support AKILIP and the interns through transfer of knowledge, financial support, job opportunities and exchange programmes.