A guide by Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative
Submitting a memo to the Nigerian National Assembly on a draft legislation can seem like a big deal and we often get tempted to write it like a PhD thesis. However, the key thing is to keep it simple. If you are passionate enough about the issue, you are most likely going to be emotional in your writing. However, to be able to make those arguments count, I have identified 10 simple rules that you must follow based on my experience in working with the Nigeria’s National Assembly.
- Have a Strategy: Having a strategy increases the chance that your memo would be considered and will influence what happens to the legislation by at least 80%. In terms of strategy, an important point to note is that it is not the best strategy for your memo to address every single issue in the draft legislation. It is often more effective to work with coalitions, partners and share responsibility among one another, assigning responsibility to each organisation/partners to speak to/address specific component of the draft legislation. This is mostly applicable when the bill is voluminous. However, some bills aren’t voluminous and it is okay to speak to the entire provision of such bills.
- Your memo should be structured: To make sure your memo is easy to read. Try as much as you can to structure it as you would in an essay. The hint is to use the first paragraph to observe protocols (Address the relevant house leadership and/or the committee chairman and introduce yourself/organisation), you can then proceed to your arguments, using a new paragraph for each clause you want to speak to in the draft legislation(bill).
- Make Concise Arguments: Your argument must be concise. You must be able to show why the provision(s) you are speaking to/against is/are problematic in a direct way without writing long essays. The memos are mostly reviewed by the consultant to the committee working with the clerk and they are usually overwhelmed by the amount of documents they have to review. Bear in mind that hundreds, maybe thousands of other memos will be submitted (especially when the bill is a public interest one). Therefore, to make yours stand out, you must apply arguments that are straight to the point.
- You must be specific: Your submission has to speak directly to the content of the draft legislation (The Bill) for which a public hearing is being held. You have to be specific in mentioning the provision(s) you are speaking to. You must also identify the clause number and sub clause number as the case may be. Mention the clause, identify the problem(s) with it, and proceed to make your points about it.
- Referencing laws, International Instruments to bolster your argument; When you identify a clause you consider problematic, one of the best ways to drive your argument home is to reference already existing laws or International treaties that Nigeria is a party to. In this regard, always bear in mind that the strongest argument is usually the one supported by the Nigerian Constitution. As much as possible, link you argument to the Nigerian constitution, relevant Nigerian laws and applicable international instruments in that order.
- Avoid Name calling, Biases/Sentiments; Name calling is not a strategy. Irrespective of what you know about the sponsor, promoter or supporters of the bill, you must stick to the issues and not be seen as attacking other people’s personalities. Your writing must be as objective as possible, devoid of ethnic, religious or other biases.
- Support Your Argument with Recommendations: On each clause or subclause you speak to in your memo, you must recommend either an amendment to it or that the clause/sub clause be expunged totally. If you speak on a clause for example, you must recommend either of the following; i. Alternative wording ii. Revised texts or iii. That the texts be totally deleted.
- General Recommendation/Conclusion: In your last paragraph, you must make a general recommendation on the entire bill. Your recommendation can be any of the following; i. That the bill been thrown out in its entirety ii. That the bill be revised with the recommendations you have proposed in each of your arguments in the body of the memo or iii. That the bill be adopted as it is.
- Contact Information: Make sure to include your contact information. The committee may elect to reach out to you to clarify what they deem ambiguous in your submissions. Also, the committee often store such contact information in their database and ensures you/your organisation gets invited to submit a memo/attend a public hearing on subsequent related issues to the one for which you are submitting a memo.
- Some Technical Details: If you reference any authority or an academic work, do not forget to add a footnote and reference accordingly. Note that the word ‘section’ applies to laws that have been duly passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President. The contents of a bill are called ‘clauses’. Also, check for the actual name of the bill you are writing a memo on. Bills usually have short and long titles and assigned numbers (e.g SB132, HB98 i.e Senate Bill 132, House Bill 98). For example, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2019 (HB98) is the short title for “A Bill For An Act To Provide For The Protection Of Human Rights Online, To Protect Internet Users In Nigeria From Infringement Of Their Fundamental Freedoms And To Guarantee Application Of Human Rights For Users Of Digital Platforms And/Digital Media And For Related Matters, 2019”.
While the The Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill, 2019 (SB 132) is the short title for “A Bill for an Act for Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Matters Bill, 2019 ( SB 132)”. Phrases such as “Digital RIghts Bill”, “Social Media Bill” are deployed to simplify the nomenclature and make it relatable to the public. Always check for the proper name for each draft legislation on the National Assembly’s website or through the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) website.