Investing in Local Government is Key to Nigeria’s Democratic Development

  • Miriam Frost

Already the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria is on track to become one of the world’s most heavily-populated countries by the middle of the century. Democratic progress is crucial to ensuring that Nigeria is prepared to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. To this end, the International Republican Institute (IRI) works with local governments to enhance their transparency and responsiveness and secure the country’s standing in the democratic world. As a direct result of these efforts, Nigeria’s Adamawa state legislature has passed two citizen-responsive bills that address gaps in the healthcare sector, identified as a priority issue for Nigerians through IRI-conducted public opinion polling. The passing of these bills marks a significant step towards a greater citizen-centric Nigeria.

Although Nigeria has made important strides in strengthening its democracy in recent years, a number of challenges continue to undermine Nigeria’s progress. Political processes remain largely influenced by wealthy elites rather than driven by citizen concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has made political processes even less conducive to citizen participation, especially given the challenges of remote policy implementation and the low internet connectivity outside of major cities.

IRI’s Responsive Political Parties Program (RPPP) focuses on improving the capacity of political parties and state-level government to meet citizen concerns. By supporting government outreach activities like town halls, IRI is helping connect elected officials with their constituents –  in many cases for the first time – and supports representatives with workshops, technical assistance, and stakeholder engagement to develop bills and policies that address citizen priorities. Since the program began in 2017, IRI has facilitated the development of 12 bills and motions responding to citizen needs in the State Houses of Assembly (SHOA) across four states.

Recently, the Governor of Adamawa state signed into law two citizen-responsive bills that had been drafted by lawmakers and approved by the Adamawa SHOA with support from IRI. This is a major accomplishment in Nigeria, where developing and passing bills is a complicated and lengthy process that can take years. IRI supported lawmakers in Adamawa with constituency engagement sessions, analysis of constituent concerns, development of bills, and advocacy initiatives to facilitate the bill development and assent process. The passing of these bills ensures the sustainability of IRI’s work on citizen-responsive governance, even after our current program comes to an end.

The bills focus on improving the healthcare system, consistently raised as a priority issue for Nigerians according to polling conducted by IRI. The first bill sets minimum standards for healthcare facilities in Adamawa state and empowers the State Ministry of Health to oversee and regulate healthcare service providers. This provides a legal framework for the state to address the problem of fake doctors, who are regularly discovered across Nigeria and can cause injury or even death for their patients. The second bill alters the health insurance scheme in Adamawa state, expanding access to healthcare for women, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

Our work has been recognized by state lawmakers in Adamawa, who recently passed a vote of confidence for IRI in the SHOA. Lawmakers including SHOA Speaker Rt. Honorable Aminu Iya Abbas and Majority Leader Honorable Japhet Kefas commended IRI for our work supporting governance processes in the state. With the program wrapping up, lawmakers have urged for an extension, citing IRI’s contribution to strengthening democratic, citizen-responsive governance in the state.

Improvements in citizen-centered governance (with support from IRI) have continued despite the disruptions to many governance processes caused by the ongoing pandemic – with lawmakers finding new ways to engage with citizens through virtual interactions like radio programs and online posters. Armed with the tools to understand constituent needs and develop bills and policies to address them, IRI looks forward to continuing to collaborate with partners in Nigeria to close the gap between citizens and government.

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