Dynamism of Being a Serving Member of Parliament

NASS

By Dstg. Comr. Williams Ibinabo

Parliament, democratically, makes laws through its elected members, known as MPs. Bills are subjected to high levels of scrutiny and consideration. Legislatures have a special and indispensable place in democratic governance because they are mandated to represent citizen concerns most directly in the central government. My legislative drive is for this purpose. Embedded in the very concept of representative democracy is the idea that those who are affected by government decisions have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. The duty to support and facilitate this right falls on every single Member of Parliament (MP), and it cuts across every role of the MP, from representative to legislative to oversight. None of these roles can be carried out successfully without meaningfully engaging constituents.

The benefits of doing so are extensive, and they accrue to MPs individually, to Parliament as an institution, and to the public.

MPs who effectively engage their constituents are better able to build enduring political coalitions and secure continued electoral success. They are better equipped to expand their level of influence in government, elevate their public profiles, and build their “brands.” They have a greater ability to control their messages and speak for themselves, rather than having their narratives mediated by party/student leaders, the press, or other outside groups. Constituent engagement is also often the greatest source of personal fulfillment, and many MPs use the opportunity to make a tangible difference in people’s lives as where they derive the greatest meaning in their work.

Parliament as an institution benefits very broadly from effective communication with constituents as well. Legislative solutions are better, more effective, and more sustainable when they are based on the input of the people they impact.

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Furthermore, institutional capacity is significantly augmented by having access to independent analysis from outside experts and civil society organizations (CSOs). This is especially helpful while parliaments are still in the process of building up the capacity of their research services and resources, and it ensures they are not solely dependent upon the executive branch. Having independent sources of information is critical for conducting meaningful oversight as well.

Hearing from a broad range of voices diversifies and improves parliament’s knowledge base, enriches debate, and expands deliberative capacity. With greater openness and transparency also comes greater public trust, and with this growing trust comes greater legitimacy and relevance, and a stronger position concerning the executive branch. Regular two-way communication with the public also plays a critical part in educating citizens on the appropriate roles and functions of parliament, which helps to manage expectations and, in turn, further strengthens public trust.

The public can also greatly benefit from having their voices heard in the legislature and in places where decisions are made. The opportunity to share their lived experiences helps ensure that government programs and services are designed effectively and fixed when they are not. Having confidence that their elected representatives are open with them and listening to their input helps to create a virtuous cycle of constructive civic engagement. This is imperative for both developing and mature democracies alike.

Effective, meaningful constituent engagement is built upon several core principles, achieves several important objectives, and often happens within the context of a few common challenges, as outlined below:

  • Transparency
  • Accessibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Authenticity
  • Inclusiveness
  • Consistency & Resources
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This is the drive we had in the 7th Assembly of the Students Representative Council (SRC, SUG)  Rivers State University, which led to a public hearing in the 8th plenary session for constitution review, the first of its kind in the history of Students’ Representative Council  Rivers State University (RSU). This milestone was achieved under the able leadership of Rt. Hon. Conquest Nondi, the then speaker of the 7th Assembly, and with the help of his honourable members who played a vital role in intellectual and moral contributions.

As a critical member of the 7th Assembly, and as a representative of faculty of management sciences, Constituency one (1) I constantly engaged my constituents with the aide of my honourable colleague representating constituency two (2), and we had a free-flowing communication &  relationship. As their representatives, I was the voice of the students who didn’t have the privilege to be in the house and lend their voices to contribute to making student-friendly policies.

A representative/parliamentarian is the voice of the voiceless citizens, and less privileged. They are meant to speak and make laws that will directly benefit the citizens and not for personal gains. However, in most recent times, this is lacking in our legislative representatives. They have failed to own up to their primary responsibility out of lack of focus and concentration in the effective legislative process and sacrificed their duties on the altar of politics and personal gains. Also, the constituents have failed in their part by not holding their representatives accountable for their representation in the hallowed chamber and not demanding stewardship from their Constituencies quarterly or annually as the case maybe.

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Powers of Constituents Over a Legislator

The power of constituents over legislators refers to the influence that voters and citizens can exert over their elected representatives in government. Constituents have various ways to hold legislators accountable and shape their decision-making:

  1. Voting: The ultimate power of constituents is the ability to vote legislators in or out of office if found not being effective in their representation.
  2. Contacting Representatives: Constituents can express opinions, concerns, and preferences through phone calls, emails, letters, and personal meetings with their representatives in areas of concern.
  3. Public Opinion: Constituents’ views and attitudes can shape legislators’ decisions, as they seek to reflect their district’s values and priorities.
  4. Grassroots Organizing: Constituents can mobilize and organize voters around specific issues, generating momentum and influence over legislators if not performing.
  5. Holding Town Hall Meetings and Public Forums: Constituents can organize, attend, and participate in public events, asking questions and expressing concerns about their legislators if found wanting, and can advocate for their withdrawal.
  6. Campaign Support: Constituents can offer financial support, volunteer time, or endorsements, which can impact legislators’ re-election prospects.

By exercising these forms of influence, constituents can shape legislators’ priorities, votes, and policy initiatives, ensuring that their voices are heard and their interests are represented and protected in the legislative process.

Thank you.

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25/06/2024

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