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COVID-19: YIAGA-Africa recommends measures for improved legislative response

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YOUTH Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA-Africa), has commended the decision of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, to resume plenary after a one-month recess following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

  This was contained in a press statement signed by the executive director of the group, Samson Itodo in Abuja on Tuesday. The group noted that the resumption of legislative work will no doubt strengthen Nigeria’s response to the pandemic, deepen accountability and transparency and protect citizens’ socio-economic and political rights.

  According to the statement, “this resumption is coming against the background of increased cases of coronavirus and its determination to wreak havoc on the nation’s economy and annihilate our population. As of March 24, 2020, when the National Assembly proceeded on recess, Nigeria had 44 cases and one death. Within the one-month break, the case profile has risen to 1,273, with 40 deaths spread across 32 states based on data released by the NCDC on April 26, 2020. The case progression calls for urgent action by all arms of government to prevent further transmission of the virus and mitigate its harsh effects on livelihoods.”

  The group however recommends some pathways for an improved legislative response to COVID-19 which require administrative decisions and legislative actions such as adopting e-parliament in legislative work, the NASS to amend its rules to incorporate videoconferencing and teleconferencing to facilitate remote legislative work like committee meetings, public hearings, public petitions among others to ensure legislative work is not stalled due to social distancing or lockdowns as a result of the pandemic. Legislators and staff of the NASS should be trained on the use of technology in the conduct of legislative business to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

  YIAGA-Africa calls on the National Assembly to mandate its committees to subject all executive actions taken during the recess to legislative review especially enforcement of the COVID-19 regulations, distribution of palliatives to indigent Nigerians, management of COVID-19 funding and coordination and containment of the health crisis. The NASS should, in the spirit of transparency, engage with critical stakeholders, especially citizens, civil society, media, faith-based organizations in holding the executive to account for its actions. Publishing a report of the findings of this exercise will enhance citizens’ trust in the legislature and faith in the overall government response to the pandemic

   The group urged the Senate to expeditiously consider the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill as passed by the House and transmit to the President for assent, harmonise the bill with the proposed N500 billion fiscal stimulus package of the executive, as both proposals seek to provide the required resources to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy and citizens particularly marginalised groups who are most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.

  YIAGA regretted that the pandemic has further exposed the fragility of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure and facilities and enjoined the Senate to use its power of appropriation to increase budgetary allocation to the health sector and deploy necessary legislative oversight to ensure that the country’s health infrastructure is prepared to manage health crises like the one posed by COVID-19.  

  The group urged NASS to investigate incessant increase in the abuse of citizens’ rights by security personnel deployed to enforce lockdown measures across the country. This resulted in killings of innocent citizens. The country has also witnessed a significant rise in sexual and gender-based violence during this time and ensures accountability through its relevant committees.

  While calling on the NASS to prioritise the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), the group explained that the  bill is considered critical to the reforms of the petroleum industry in Nigeria and, indeed, the stability of the Nigerian economy, given that the oil represents the largest source of revenue for the country.

  As the group restates its commitment to supporting the legislature as it gears up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic through legislative action, it stated, “the lifeline of the COVID-19 will be determined principally by the responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness of the government’s response. This is the moment for democratic institutions like the National Assembly to demonstrate they exist for the collective interest of the people.”

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