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*deepening democracy?

By Bisi Lawrence
For a moment back there, the impression was given that the proposal to amend the Electoral Act to make all committee chairmen and their deputies in the National Assembly, members of their various parties’ Executive Councils, had been dropped, at least, in the shape and form it was earlier presented.

That would have been a move dictated by sheer commonsense and in line with propriety. Some proponents of the idea actually stated that the matter would be further discussed in a “constructive engagement”, whilst it was under wraps, with the State Governors who were vehemently opposed to it. But the matter flared up again this past week in defiance of all the criticism that streamed out against it.

The proposal, as it stands, immediately raises a query about its usefulness to the generality of the polity and, beyond that, its advantages to the development of our democracy. The question is why? For what purpose?

The supporters, however, are not in anyway embarrassed to defend it, even if we are thereby made uncomfortable. Legislators are rightly accorded to possess an appreciable measure of clear thinking which is expected to be apparent  in their utterances at all times. According to the Honorable Eseme Eyiboh, spokesman for the House of Representative, the proposal was “framed to deepen democracy”.

That is an unveiled insult to the intelligence of the masses, who are supposed to be the very beneficiaries of democracy. It confers no enlargement at all on the rights of the people to take decisions, or have decisions properly made for them by their elected leaders. In fact,  it abrogates the peoples’ freedom to choose those who will act for them in certain areas.

The entire membership of the Senate and the Chairmen and their deputies in the House Committees are involved in this move to constitute what would be executive councils that would become top-heavy with legislators.

It is not that the position of a legislator and the membership of a party’s National Executive Council (NEC) are mutually exclusive. Indeed, several legislators belong to both categories already. But just consider the over-all addition: it would mean virtually all the Senators, since they are either Chairmen or Deputy-Chairmen of the Senate’s fifty-four Committees. On the side of the House, the Committees are over 70.

The total of their Chairmen and deputies double that of what advantage can that really be to a conference that is usually faced with issues that demand urgent and cogent decisions?

When you consider further and realize that some of these decisions may directly affect the choice of legislators by each party, the proposal takes on an ominous hue, in that it seeks to make the legislators umpires in their own game.

That is one fact that none of them can deny – that it puts them in a position to massively influence or interfere with, their continued choice as representatives of their parties. Does that “deepen” democracy? On the contrary, it removes from the sublime purpose of democracy, which is allowing the people to be architects of their own fortunes. In the same manner, an injudicious increase in the number of the parties’ NEC’s does not “reduce conflict and reduce the matter of injustice”; as someone has claimed.

A village square meeting is not necessarily the best forum for conflict management. The proposal only brings the parties under the legislators’ control, and  nullifies the position of the State Governors who each really has a much wider consistency than any of the legislators. It does not just bring them at par with the legislators; it subjugates their relevance by the fact of their sheer size of the legislators.

That is why Governor Bukola Saraki, the outgoing Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum did not mince words in condemning the amendment to the Constitution “as a law that will not impact positively on the country and its citizens.”

Governor Saraki went on to observe that, “As leaders, we should see that the interest and welfare of the electorate are ahead of our own, and that is why we (governors) will never support this aberration … “ Some people might not see the  governors’ standpoint in an altruistic light. Legislators have no limit of tenure, whereas State Executives are only in office for no more than two terms. So, the proposed amendment may not indeed “impact positively” in a direct manner on the position of the governors. And thank providence for that.

Almost every citizen is against this self-serving move of the legislators, for it is no less a ploy than that. That it is being funneled through the process of law-making indeed makes it no less than a piece of “legislative rascality”, a term to which several members of the House have raised fiery objections which almost consumed the author  who is one of their own.

We shall therefore not dwell on it, though the  stifling of free expression in that manner does little credit to the “hallowed” halls of democracy. This issue is a direct confrontation between the people and the politicians. At stake is the welfare and supremacy of the masses. The people must win.

*sensational consensus

It is reported that when the much-publicized consensus candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the forthcoming presidential election was revealed at last as former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, there was joy in the tents of President Goodluck Jonathan.

They apparently never considered Atiku to be a formidable opponent. The possible choice of former President Ibrahim Babangiga as an     adversary would probably have left them less jubilant. In spite of all the resentment expressed about his entry into the presidential race, IBB appeared to still have an edge on his rivals within the PDP. But now the choice has been made.

It should be recorded, however, that the issue of a consensus candidate arose because of the phenomenon of the “zoning” policy which reared its head in totally unforeseen circumstances. It came with the notion that another section of the country, apart from the North, should produce the president immediately after the military epoch.

And because the late M.K.O. Abiola had lost out in the power encounter with the military, a candidate from the South-west section would be most appropriate. That was how Olusegun Obasanjo, a former general in the army, emerged as a civilian president for the full tenure of two terms .

Continuing in the spirit of that rotational process, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’ Adua stepped in after Obasanjo for the two terms that he should have served in respect of the North, but for the abrupt termination of his tenure within the first term. By law, his Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the South-south Zone, stepped in.

From that moment, the ring of succession according to the zoning pattern was broken.
There were people who heaved a sigh of relief. The system of zoning seemed to have been acceptable mostly because of its brokers who were powerful men. But even those highly influential people removed their support, and openly stated that the system had served its usefulness and should be abandoned.

Coupled with that was the significance of the South-south  zone from which hails the chief contender for the oncoming presidential race, the incumbent President, Jonathan. The people of the area strongly believed that this was a divine opportunity which may speak peace and prosperity to their lot, as Nigerians who have been, so to say, ironically improvised by the misfortune of their wealth as the oil-producers, and therefore the money-makers, for the nation.

The concentration has been on milking ‘the area without developing it in any appropriate manner. This has led to widespread unrest that has spilled into other areas of the country. Jonathan’s retention of the presidency approximated a people’s cause against that background.

But there are other elements who fervently hold to the principle of the zoning system. They claim that the mandate for two terms did not belong to Yar’ Adua as an individual, but to the North as a whole. Their protestations threw the nomination of the PDP presidential candidate open.

Thereafter, Jonathan declared his candidacy for the nomination of the party, as well as some others. Since the other candidates were opposed to the position of Jonathan, it was considered prudent, by those who were opposed to his candidacy, to select one common opponent against him from the other contestants. The search for the “glorious” consensus candidate was itself opposed in various quarters, thus according the PDP a lot offree publicity along with the effort. Now the die is cast.

The acceptance of the PDP’s decision to field Atiku Abubakar by his rivals is a model of  democratic practice at the highest level. Pardon me if, even as a Nigerian, I affirm that it is “unNigerian”. Perhaps it presages a brighter future for our national politics.

On the other hand, the joy in the camp of Goodluck Jonathan may have been premature, and could be short-lived. To the discerning mind, the team they are drawn against, in fact, probably makes Jonathan look like the David in a contest against Goliath. That would have been amply revealed by January 15, when the conduct of political parties’ preliminaries ends.


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