Interview with Prof. Abubakar Suleiman, DG NILDS: A Vision for Legislative Excellence and Youth Empowerment

In a candid interview with Professor Abubakar Suleiman, the Director General of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), we explore his journey, his commitment to transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s legislative system, and his passion for youth development.

Prof. Suleiman’s dedication to making a difference through education and advocacy shines through as he shares his proudest achievements and his vision for the future of Nigerian democracy.

According to Mark Twain, author “Always do right. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Your reappointment as the Director General of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) shows that ‘you always do it right’. How does your reappointment make you feel?

Just like any other person who applied for a job and the job was given to him to perform. I was happy and highly elated about my appointment, the first instance in 2018. I came with the vision to do things right, I came with the vision to the works I met on the ground, I came with the vision to revolutionize the situation as an institution of a report mandated to enhance the capacity of the legislature of Nigeria and democratic institutions in the country. I mobilized my staff, my management staff with the support of the Governing Council under the NILDs assembly to achieve my stated goals.

So, from just the four departments, we have nine departments, from nine departments, we have eleven departments. From just an institute that runs a master’s program of less than 60 students’ enrollments in the year to an institute that could boast of 120 enrollments in a year. From just an institute where just about probably ten of its staff that have gone for international training to an institute that has all its stuff on international training, from just an Institute as restricted perhaps services, relatively to the center to an Institute that could boast of training about 22 house of assemblies members in the country.

From just an institution that was able to introduce a lot of other initiative like the parliamentary lecture series like internship for young drafters in the area of drafting, like parading a radio station of his own, like having a center for such analysis on his own to an institute that ensure that the capacity of the aids to National Assembly Members I asked, in other words, within three hours years of my stewardship I was able to take more than three thousand aides in National Assembly.

So, having done all these one should we expect a return in terms of the rewards system.

I wasn’t in doubt in support of my staff. Because these are staff that when I came on board they were grieved at the way their career progression were being treated. And within six months, most of them that were not promoted for seven years are promoted. Within six months, some of them that were on contract were confirmed, and within six months, some of them that could not go on international training, I sent them on international training. All my drivers were trained nationally, all the drivers. Staff that could not get the surge allowance that we’re getting such allowance of 100,000, I doubled it to two hundred thousand.

Staff that could not get outside allowance are now getting outside allowance for the first time, so they were happy with me. Still, whether the people outside will see what I’ve done as something that is worth being given or whether I deserve a second chance is a different ball game. Still, I’m happy with the leadership, the Senate President, and the speaker, regardless of the fact that some tend to see me or tag me as a little bit to the right, not to the left.

They saw my work as a professional as somebody that I’ve done so much, they saw my productivity, they attested to my input, and my accomplishments and two months to the end of my first term, I got my appointment renewed. What can I say to thank God for that? I think I was delighted; I was happy with that.

Not on the reappointment per se but on the fact that people outside there, they recognized my worth and input and they believed no, this is the kind of person we want on the saddle of leadership here and we want him to continue. I think I was happy or delighted and I thank them for that gesture because they are option not to do it.

And I thank God for my staff for the support they gave me because their voice was being heard outside there. They are attested to what I’m doing here. Which to me was the collective, you know, services we are all rendering to the nation.

I was happy, I was delighted. The gratitude goes to Almighty God for that. And to the leadership of the National Assembly, the Senate president, the speaker, and most importantly to God. I think I’m extremely happy.

According to research by Arabella Star Magazine, you have served Nigeria in various capacities. Apart from being a former Minister, you have also served in different National Commissions and Committee’s as well as several capacities on the international front. Tell us more about your political journey so far.

You have said it all. I was a teacher at a university and while I was at the University, I happened to be directors to so many sectors and to the glory of God, I was appointed Minister of National Planning in 2014 by Former president, Ebele Goodluck Jonathan.

In that capacity, I was able to represent Nigeria in the year so many international fora, United Nations, IMF, and World Bank. Nationally, I discharged my responsibilities and I partook actively in ensuring that the government succeeds and the government succeeded.

I will not forget my travail after I left governments, up to EFCC, up to detention, and up to litigation in courts. But even at that, the same government recognized what the gained, and appointed me as the DG of this Institute and sincbe 2019, I have discharged my responsibility to this nation and given me so many capacities and renounced my political activism because the laws they have here does allow that.

I’ve been totally professional. Even though the stigma is still on me of being clingy to one party. Any individual who follows the trajectory here and what we do here will know that we are professional at what to do. We are the compass, we set the piece regardless of the party, we tell you the way it is, we guide them to spare the legislature when we observe that the parties are not guiding their utterances, we convince Political Communication summit to call them to modicum on how to behave, how to speak, to give them rules of engagements where we see the trends in Africa, especially in the areas of military resurgence, we try to draw the attention of our politicians to it too, they should be aware of the events in Africa.

We do come up with policy briefs to guide both executives and the legislatures, we sensitize the media on how to report political events. We are into so many things

But the point I can make in summary is the fact that I pay my dues and I’m still paying my dues duly as a politician, as a technocrat, and as a teacher. And if future responsibilities beckon on me to do more in any capacity, as long it’s on nation-building, I’d be willing to do that. That’s something I enjoy doing and I will be glad to do it.

During the public presentation of a research report on inclusive practices of political parties in Nigeria organized by your Institute in conjunction with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), you identified ‘fake news, ethnic and religious sentiments, as threats to the country’s democracy.’ How has NILDS fared in promoting political inclusion, and deepening democracy in the country? 

Concerning my engagement with WFD on the issue of inclusiveness. Before we restricted our mandate to training, to technical assistance, to research, but in the last four years we have scaled it up to advocacy, Advocacy on local government autonomy, judicial autonomy, and parliamentary autonomy. We have joined the forensic advocacy on the issue of youth and women inclusiveness and governance.

And it’s based on the belief that democracy is incomplete without mass participation and the system we run is the system that tries to seclude certain class of people in governance, that is not democracy if our issues about democratic practice, democratic studies and democratic training are just in order for us to join the advocacy for more women, inclusion in governance, for more women inclusion in lawmaking, for youths and people with vulnerability inclusion in governance. We have lost favor of that in the last five years and it has come to stay in notion. The practical belief that no woman should not be there at the forefront. They should not lead whereas what African countries are making waves, they are getting their women to play an active role in governance.

For the light, yes. The largest democracy in Africa is leaving women behind. So, if no institution is doing it in terms of advocacy, in terms of speaking in terms of building conversation, we believe we should do it and I was very impressed. So, in the course of 2023 election, we partnered with the WFD in observing the election with the focus on identifying how many women partook in that election, how many men, youths, and how many physically challenged people are there and we came up with reports. In terms of casting votes, yes, they are the majority but in terms of election, they’re the minority. That is not the best way to go as a people. So, democracy in Nigeria is still not practiced the way it should be, let me be mild with my words. Because a larger number of people, that is women have been excluded from governance. substantial numbers of youth who constitute the majority are been excluded in governance. The physically challenged people are not being reckoned. So, we believe we should sustain the advocacy and we believe we need to guide the lawmaker in the areas of technical interventions, in the areas of legislation, in the areas of ensuring that we get bills that tend to cater for the needs of these people in a way that we’re able to deepen democracy in this country and, democracy practices.

So we are not just talking the talk. We’re working towards the talk and that is why we convoke conference again recently. And that is why we’re taking it further. To even convey all the CSOs and NGOs that has something to do with the issue of women in pushing politics by next month. And that is why we’re putting our report before the desk of the lawmakers because we are National Assembly failed in the areas of you know, getting backing to support women in politics, this certainly will not fail when we’re ready to leave the advocacy, we are ready to lead the Vanguard. And we’re not just talking see, to talk and ensure that people that constitute 49% as they claimed but I believe it’s more than 49% of our population are well taken care and let their voice be heard in governance. Having ten female senator that’s not the best way to go. Having just 15 female members in House of Reps, that is not democracy. We should have more than that.

Then, we try to identify are the problem? What are the challenges? Why are women are getting it right. The conference we convened was able to address and by the time we get in order with the principles of National Assembly, I think something positive, you know, in advance in the interest of Nigeria will come out of it. So, it’s something we are committed to and it’s something people identify ourselves into and we’re committed to achieving this. That’s what we’re offering.

How does NILDS collaborate with the Nigerian National Assembly and other relevant stakeholders to strengthen legislative capacity and effectiveness in Nigeria?

NILDs is an agency under the National Assembly and our primary role is to serve the National Assembly Legislature, especially the parliamentary staff, and the parliamentarians to provide technical assistance, we draft motions for them, conduct research for them, and most of the laws we make are born out of research. We are the intellectual wing of the National Assembly. So, practically what to do on a daily basis is to render services to stakeholders in national assembly and state assemblies and every other democratic decision in the country. So, the support from them has been very productive. We got our funding from National Assembly votes. Our government council, and the principal of National Assembly, the Senate president and the speaker, the six members from the House of Representatives and other recognized members. So, there are no detachments, we are hung to their neck and they are hung to our neck too. It is a symbiotic relationship. We are incomplete without National Assembly and they are incomplete without us. We are together as a body its like a whole body’s system. You know we are just the subsystem National of Assembly and I think I need to say this, the leadership has been wonderful in terms of their cooperation and assistance to our needs. Everything has to go back to leadership, the 7th Assembly, 8th Assembly, 9th Assembly and the last three months of this leadership have been very smooth and wonderful. And we have done so much in the last three months. So, if not for their support we won’t be where we are today in terms of mileage and milestone and in terms of accomplishment. So, we are an agency under the National Assembly.

At a leadership conference to promote inclusive political party practices organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), you urged President Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to appoint a young person as the youth minister, this means NILDS has the youth’s welfare at heart. How is NILDS enhancing the youths’ development in Nigeria?

You said I urged Mr. President about two weeks ago and just yesterday, it was announced for the first time we have two ministers of youths. I travel, I pray, I advise I beg when I was making that plea, the leader of the PPC was seated and here we are now we have not just a Minister of Youths and we specifically mentioned that he should be below 50 years. And now we have youth ministers that are below 40. Trying to say that my advocacy has been yielded to by, Mr. President. So I think what I need to do here is just to commend Mr. President for being sensitive to the hearings of Nigerian Youths, for being a listening president and for adhering to their calls. So over the years, I’ve told you the last five years were being at the forefront of advocating for inclusion in portions of the downtrodden, the lower class, the lower class says the lower class are women. The lower stakes are huge, the lower stakes are people that are vulnerable. We have been on it. We have had series of engagements. With donor agencies, with SCSO, with government agency, with female parliamentarians and with youths. Even when had the #endsars protests, we took a position, we supported the movement, that’s what the youths did, was the right thing. We have taken the bull by the horns by supporting the youth emancipation. So when we talked about the effectiveness of what I’ve been doing in terms of duties, implementing policies or governance. I think we have done our bit. And I’m happy that we have a president who is more youth-friendly. So it is just for you to assess us, so I think this is the period of evaluation. And at this moment, it is for me to thank our presidents and I’m happy again, that the people in question one of them the main minister is from my state and like a daughter to me, what else can we say but to thank God. We want to see more youths occupying sits in parastatals, more ministries. If we don’t respect them, if we don’t listen to them. Is like we are trying to pull to suppress their future. So for us to have a future rather, we need to pick up the youth and bring them home by through mentorship. Let them start practicing. Give them this instrument to work with.

Legislative transparency and accountability are crucial for a healthy democracy. What measures or initiatives does NILDS undertake to promote these principles within the Nigerian legislative system?

The issue of accountability and transparency on the side of the Legislature is very germane. It’s something I’ve been emphasizing. And let me commend the 8th Assembly. If there is an Assembly that I really love so much in the area of making the book available for Nigeria. I think it was the 8th Assembly. And the 9th Assembly too, sustained it. I recall under the 8th Assembly there was this clamor that Nigerian, CSO wanted to know how much the Senate and House of Representatives are earning and as of that time Senator Sani of Kaduna state championed the advocacy, impressed some leadership and we were able to make known available what they were earning, I could recall again that the same 8th Assembly, there was something we introduced on a Democracy day ‘Open NASS Week ‘whereas people are allowed to come into National Assembly premises to engage with the senators, and ask questions, I’m saying this to let you know that unlike before, the National Assembly is open to public scrutiny, public criticism, they tend to now respect the FY Bill and that is why today people know how much they are earning, budget provision, they public now know how many cars they want to buy. They could have kept it from the public out of transparency, today, proceedings in the House of Representatives are covered by the press except when it comes to sensitive matters, that is openness and transparency. National Assembly today has also established radio and TV stations under this, to me that is openness and transparency.

The effectiveness and parliamentary transparency have been there over the years and the only thing we need to do is to sustain it. One of the methods of sustaining it is to engage with the higher institute to go beyond training and capacity building, to enter the terrain of advocacy, to speak for them, to prove before you certain data, information that you need to know. Because, without the directive orders, there’s nothing we could do. So, I think we are getting it better like it use to be in the 5th, 6th Assembly. Democracy is past evolving and we are making tremendous progress.

As the man of the people, what would you say are your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievement as an individual is the fact that I have impacted in so many people’s lives. Especially in the area of human capital interest. My best achievement is when I go out there and see students that I have tutored and that’s the best thing I have done for humanity and that is the best thing I still want to do. So, what I’m doing here is a continuity of that, impacting and developing people’s human capital, capacity enhancement, adding values to their lives. So, the best I have done as an individual in the last fifty something years of my being on this planet earth is that I have impacted human capital, I’ve developed people’s capacity, I have produced a lot of students that today, in their own respective ways are leaders. To me, that is my consolation and I still want to do more.

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