10 things you must know when submitting a memo to the National Assembly
In light of recent legislative proposals in Nigeria’s National Assembly on regulating Social Media to address the subject of hate speech and fake news, many technology experts and other users of the digital platforms are worried but don’t have a clue about how to make their opinion count in the law-making process. The best way to do this is to submit a memorandum to the relevant chamber discussing the draft legislation. Submitting a memo to the Nigerian National Assembly on draft legislation can seem like a big deal and we often get tempted to write it like a Ph.D. thesis.
However, the key thing is to keep it simple. If you are passionate enough about technology and the internet, 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 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 organization/partner to speak to/address specific components 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/organization), 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. Bear in mind that hundreds, maybe thousands of other memos will be submitted. 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.
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 your 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.
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.
Some technical details: If you reference any authority or academic work, do not forget to add a footnote and reference accordingly. Also, 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. The names bills are called in the media may not be the official name.
This article was written by Adeboye Adegoke for Paradigm Initiative.
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