It is my singular pleasure and honour to welcome you all to the 16th edition of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers Conference (CSPOC), Africa Region, taking place in the beautiful city of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. I hope that you have all settled down from your travels.
Let me quickly acknowledge the efforts of the Planning Committee headed by the very able Deputy Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Hon. Sulaimon Lasun Yussuff in organizing and facilitating this Conference. Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me also seize this opportunity to specially thank His Excellency, the Acting President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN for finding time out of his very crowded schedule, to grace this occasion.
We have been told that Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions. Unfortunately, Africa has been home to strong men who paradoxically relished in building weak institutions to keep them stronger. Yet all of Africa’s problems be they corruption, socio-Political, economic etc can only be solved by strong institutions. It is therefore the duty of Parliaments across Africa to free our people from the shackles of strong men by ensuring that strong institutions replace the later thereby ending this pervasive curse on the African continent once and for all. There is no gainsaying the fact that our Parliaments cannot achieve this onerous task without first establishing networks and building coalition. That is the main reason why we are assembled here today.
As you are probably aware, the theme of this Conference is The Presiding Officer in a Changing Society. The Sub-themes have been carefully chosen to reflect the challenges faced by Leadership of Legislatures in contemporary Africa. A conference of this nature is very important for inter-African cooperation. As I said during the meeting of our Standing Committee in November last year: ‘It is only through coming together like this as parliaments that we can address some of the burning issues in our region and internationally. As we meet, we foster understanding and develop relationships from the experiences we share’. Accordingly, Conferees will be reflecting on topics like the Presiding Officer and the Challenge of Managing e-Parliaments. The world is going digital and Parliaments are increasingly using new technologies to interface with citizens. It is therefore incumbent upon African Legislatures to exploit electronic platforms in the conduct of parliamentary business. We shall also seek to determine the extent that Parliaments can coexist with non-state actors such as Labour, the Media, Civil Society Organizations, Youth Organizations etc. in the course of policy formulation and legislation.
Without doubt, one of the core functions of Parliament is control of the public purse. To effectively undertake this responsibility, members of Parliament require reliable, objective and timely information and data. In the United States of America, the Congressional Budget Office serves to bridge this knowledge gap by providing dependable data to Legislators. In Africa, our Parliaments are at various stages of establishing Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs). This Conference is therefore a platform for sharing country experiences on the challenges of establishing PBOs. We shall also be examining the opportunities provided by this institution in Parliament in enhancing legislative capacity for oversight and scrutiny.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no doubt that Speakers and Presiding Officers here will return to their various Parliaments with new insights on the imperative of upholding the principle of non-partisanship in the conduct of Parliamentary business. With all modesty, I wish to state that, individually, we are the most visible players on the Parliamentary stage. Our roles extend beyond the Chambers and the often stormy Parliamentary sessions. We are the faces of Parliament at State ceremonies as well as private events. Accordingly, we are held to the highest ethical standards at all times. As we seek for ways to better maintain, foster and encourage impartiality and fairness on our part, may I remind us that we are only fulfilling the aims of the CSPOC Constitution which says that: ‘The aims of the Conference are the maintenance, fostering and encouragement of the impartiality and fairness of Speakers and Presiding Officers of Parliaments, the promotion of knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy in its various forms and the development of parliamentary institution’.
As the Preamble to the Standing Rules of the Conference says: ‘Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers, irrespective of race, colour, religion or culture, are united by community of interest, respect for the rule of law and pursuit of the ideals of parliamentary democracy’. What this means is that Presiding Officers have a major role to play in sustaining parliamentary democracy and the rule of law in our respective countries.
The Presiding Officer’s role is not just to maintain order, put questions after debate and conduct divisions, interpret and apply the Standing Orders and practices of the House by making rulings and decisions, serving as the mouthpiece for the House, upholding the rights and privileges of Members and of the House but has a profound political and extensive administrative role being responsible, with his colleagues for the overall direction of the Parliament especially in a presidential system of government. Furthermore, as one of leaders of the country presiding over elected representatives of the people, he or she has a duty and responsibility to ensure stability in his/her country and delivery of good and accountable governance to the constituents of Parliamentarians.
To ensure good governance in Africa, the legislature and the Executive branch of government must cooperate and deliberately provide a conducive atmosphere for the smooth running of all governmental institutions. Even though in most presidential systems of government, personnel and functions are separated, yet it is true to say that government departments or arms of government in modern times have overlapping functions and responsibilities, and must therefore work together as one government serving the people’s needs and aspirations. Africa is in a hurry to develop, it is in a hurry to vanquish poverty, ignorance and disease. Our people have no patience for squabbles between various organs of government and it is the duty of the Presiding Officer to ensure that the Legislature supports the Executive for good governance to thrive while maintaining its relative independence. The legislature as the first institution of democracy must sacrifice more in this endeavour even if the gesture is not often returned by the Executive.
In closing, permit me to wish us constructive and fruitful deliberations. May I once again invite all Delegates to enjoy the ambience, beauty and rich cultural heritage of our capital city, Abuja. I understand that the Planning Committee for this event has partnered with Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation to organize an excursion tour of the city on Friday, 28th July, 2017. Please do not miss the opportunity to participate. But beyond sight-seeing, may I encourage you to spend lots of money in buying made-in-Nigeria goods. Patronising made in Nigeria goods is not a waste of money rather it is an investment in promoting Africa’s sustainable economic independence!
God bless all of you, God bless the CSPOC Africa Region and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.