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On the lame ducks

By Josef  Omoroinmwan

TODAY’S piece begins with a matter of urgent public importance. Strange enough, the National Assembly is not sufficiently proactive (or it is outright lazy) even on matters relating to its own processes.

How else does anyone explain a situation in which at the inception of every new National Assembly members are embroiled in the debate on the issue of their ranking order but it never gets settled?

There is hardly any legislature in the entire world where there is no ranking order. But in the particular case of Nigeria, much as the idea is not repugnant, the timing of the debate makes it simply suspect.

When the Senate President, David Mark, was talking of the rule not being made for any group of people, even when he was the chief beneficiary, he could as well have told that to the marines. Well, we hope it is now settled that in just the same way that the senior prefect of a school cannot be chosen from among the freshers, new members of the National Assembly cannot aspire to be principal officers. They must first learn the ropes.

It took time for some of us to grapple with the idea of winners of an election not occupying office until after a long time. As an instance, in the United States of America, in an election year, the President is elected on the 4th of November but his inauguration comes up  on the 20th of January the following year – after 77 days! Our minds were focused on lame duck Presidents who would still have to be in-charge of the country for 77 days after their defeat.

Within that period, they could do a lot of harm; they could empty the treasury. It took time to lecture us that their system is ordered in such a way that everybody, including the President, could only take what rightly belongs to him, even if a lame duck President were left there for a whole year.

It is interesting that we are gradually arriving at the democratic point. At first, a democratic change through the ballot box was highly inconceivable but we are now seeing a situation where a government in power would lose an election and relinquish power.

Even the most efficient democracies in the world today once had their teething problems. It is generally held that American democracy did not become effectively operational until 1801, when President John Adams lost the presidential election to Thomas Jefferson and there was a peaceful change of baton. In Nigeria, what we once thought was impossible is becoming possible. This year alone, we saw the peaceful wind of change blowing at the gubernatorial level in Ogun, Oyo, Imo and Nasarawa states.

What should be the attitude of these lame ducks and the in-coming governors? By and large, they are still fixated at the level of our original fears for the American system. In the past, we have seen the cases of out-going governors sweeping the government houses clean; removing everything from tooth picks to tooth pastes, from beds to beddings, from cutlery to cutlasses, from pillows to pillow cases; and indeed, everything, including leaving empty treasuries for the in-coming administration.

On both sides of the divide, there is cause to worry. We have seen the speed with which the lame ducks are plunging the incoming people into debt by quickly accepting future liabilities, even those they had originally declined. The new national minimum wage is a case in point. While many states are still considering the possibility of being able to pay the new wage, many of the lame ducks have accepted to implement it. The N10 billion scandals currently rocking the ‘House of Fraud’ are likely to be fall-outs from fleeing lame ducks.

In the euphoria of their new conquest, some of the incoming governors are, perhaps, beginning to over step their bounds. They should remember that the lame ducks are under Oaths of Allegiance and Office to serve for four years and that they cannot be shut out before May 29, 2011.

Those in-coming governors who have attempted to freeze the accounts of the state are better advised not to constitute themselves into second captains in a single ship. All they can do for now is to pray harder for the time to fly faster. They must wait for their time. Yes, it might be possible for the lame ducks to loot the treasury and steal their states blind between now and their departure time. There are government bodies, EFCC, ICPC and other anti-graft agencies whose duty is to deal with all such misdemeanors.

The spectre of office can entice an otherwise very decent human being to lose himself and become the monster that once repulsed him. Some of the new kids in town have spoken so loud on how they are going to probe the lame ducks. Such governors will soon realise that the business of governing a state is not a tea party. It is energy sapping and in any case, a governor should be more concerned with governance than peeping at the anus of his predecessor.

In the past, some in-coming governors have aided their State Accountants-General to vamoose from the scene so as to forestall looting of the treasury by lame ducks. We advise caution here and we should remain guided by the timeless admonition of Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965): “Even more important than winning the election is governing the nation; that is the test of a political party – the acid final test; when the tumult and the shouting die, when the bands are gone and the lights are dimmed; there is the stark reality of responsibility”.

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