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NDI Study Mission: Nigeria

Saturday, March 16, 2013 to Sunday, March 24, 2013

From March 16 to 24, 2013, NDI hosted a delegation of five members from Nigeria’s National Assembly, including one senator and four members of the House of Representatives. This group was chosen based on considerations of committee leadership and membership, seniority, regional and religious diversity, and gender parity. These reform-minded legislators were nominated from the three opposition parties in addition to the ruling party. The aim of the program was to enhance the capacity of legislators to effectively ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of the National Assembly, as well as to improve the National Assembly’s capacity to oversee the executive branch, particularly with regard to natural resource management. The following members participated in the study mission: Senator Victor Lar from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), chair of the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Anti-Corruption representing Plateau State; Honorable Abike Dabiri-Erewa from the Action Congress Party (ACP), chair of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs representing Lagos State; Honorable Uche Ekwunife of the All Progressive Grand Alliance Party, chair of the House Committee on Environment representing Anamabra State; Honorable Rafeequat Onabamiro of the ACP, vice-Chair of the Committee on Women in Parliament and member of the ad-hoc committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill representing Lagos State; and Honorable Simon Arabo of the PDP representing Kaduna State

The exchange provided an opportunity for the members to examine the U.S. legislative process, focusing on issues of transparency, accountability and legislative oversight, particularly as related to natural resource management. The study mission also provided an opportunity for the delegation to discuss such topics of international engagement in Nigeria as energy, security, and development. Several sessions helped strengthen the participants’ understanding of the role and functions of the U.S. Congress, including meetings with former Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller; Representative Donna Edwards; staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and through participating in the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress’ annual dinner in Washington, D.C. Participants engaged on issues of legislative transparency and accountability through meetings with the Sunlight Foundation and International Budget Partnership, as well as the World Bank. Finally, the delegation discussed salient issues in U.S.-Nigeria relations during meetings at the Department of State, with representatives of the National Security Staff, and during a meeting with the Nigeria analyst from the Congressional Research Service. Discussions ranged from topics of security and Boko Haram to corruption, transparency, and trade.

The program also included a two-day visit to Montana. The delegates spent a working day at the Montana State House where they were welcomed by Governor Steve Bullock and hosted by Montana native and former Clerk of the House Dave Hunter. They had the opportunity to observe the state legislature in session, interacting with the Clerk and learning more about the automated voting system employed therein. They met with representatives from the private sector in a joint-panel with oil and gas regulators and civil society representatives to discuss natural resource issue and advocacy at the state level. In the context of the pending Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in Nigeria, these meetings allowed the legislators to ask industry-specific questions of experts. The delegation visited Montana Tech University to meet with petro-engineers and hydrologists who provided them with technical context, further illustrating the need for parliamentarians to have a greater understanding of the science behind the oil industry. Finally, participants visited the world’s largest man made toxic lake in Butte, before spending two hours learning about the lessons learned in the course of Montana’s history with regard to environmental degradation and socio-economic development.  Further information about the study mission activities can be found in the accompanying summary report that was submitted shortly after the program concluded.

As noted through comments and feedback provided in the post-study mission evaluations, informal discussions between NDI staff and participants, and post-study mission activities, the delegates expressed their intention of sharing their experiences with their colleagues in the House and Senate, and on relevant committees of interest. NDI arranged for the delegates to meet with the USAID Mission in Abuja to discuss the outcomes of this program and potential follow-on activities. Already several participants in the program have made public statements and have been quoted in the Nigerian media on issues discussed in Washington, D.C. and Helena, including the PIB, women’s political participation, and Boko Haram.  In particular, the delegates highlighted the helpfulness of the sessions that dealt with technical issues regarding natural resource management and legislative oversight, including the two-part meeting with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Sunlight Foundation. Members also expressed an interest in strengthening independent oversight mechanisms that have proven to be ineffective and under-resourced in Nigeria compared to the U.S. Finally, in a recent article by the Nigerian periodical, Honorable Abike Dabiri called for distribution of government revenue to public projects in the states, emphasizing the need for representatives to promote the interests of their constituents. While this call cannot be directly related to the study mission, it was a focus of discussion in both D.C. and Montana.

NDI will continue to monitor the activities of program participants through traditional and social media as well as through the NDI office in Abuja.

At the end of the program, the Nigerian delegates reflected on what they had learned and what they would take back with them. Before departing D.C. for Helena, Montana, they completed a formal evaluation of the week’s activities.  The highest rated substantive sessions were those at the CBO and the Sunlight Foundation.  Nearly all substantive meetings were rated “satisfactory” or “very satisfactory”. Participants suggested that it would be helpful to conduct NDI facilitated training on oil and gas contracts for legislators in Nigeria in order for them to know better what safeguards could be incorporated into agreements between the government and international oil companies. Additionally, the participants expressed interest in trainings conducted by the CBO; connecting the parliament with the International Budget Partnership partners in Nigeria; continuing dialogue with the Sunlight Foundation and hopefully being included in Sunlight’s regional outreach; and training and internship support for parliamentary staff, potentially utilizing the World Bank’s e-learning resources for parliamentarians and staff. 

Participants expressed some level of frustration with organizations who are working in Nigeria and who have been critical of aspects of governance in Nigeria, but have not been engaged with the parliament. For instance, the delegates were unaware of the partnerships that the International Budget Partnership harnessed in its assessment of budget transparency in Nigeria. Additionally, the participants did not find the session with the Oil/Mining/Gas Unit at the World Bank as beneficial as other sessions, largely because the delegation felt that the discussion did not produce practical or tangible outcomes that the delegates could take back to their committees. 

Weather caused a cancellation of the delegation’s flight out of Montana. To enable the delegation to make international connections to return home on schedule, the delegation needed to depart several hours earlier than planned, through a different routing.  As a result, NDI was unable to collect written evaluations for the Montana part of the program, but will do so when the group reconvenes in Nigeria for planned follow-up meeting with USAID, per the Mission’s request, to discuss potential follow on activities between the Embassy and the National Assembly.  However, informal and verbal feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In particular, the delegation expressed particular appreciation for:  1) the site visit to Butte to see the negative impact of mining booms in the U.S.; 2) the dinner with the governor; the 3) the meeting with House and Senate leadership; and 4) the panel discussion with oil and industry lobbyists and advocacy groups.  Additionally, they expressed an interest in continuing a partnership with Montana Tech, either in the form of trainings or student exchanges.

Although NDI establishes the program date in coordination with the members of the visiting delegation, particularly during times of political uncertainty, the domestic political calendar is always subject to change. Two of the original six delegates rescinded their participation only one week before the program was to begin.  NDI was able to secure one alternative candidate who was willing and able to travel and expresses appreciation for the support of the embassy in processing his visa expeditiously.  Additionally, due to the particularly busy nature of the U.S. congressional calendar at the time of the visit, congressional meeting with the delegation were more difficult to secure than in some previous study missions, despite assistance of the IRG board.  The issue was mitigated by engagement with the board members, with former members of Congress (in the US and in Montana) and by engagement by executive and legislative leadership at the state level in Montana.