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Re: Lawmakers and their constituents

By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor

Long ago in our early school years, when teachers had a good knowledge of their subjects before they delivered their lessons, it was constantly drummed into our heads that ‘ignorance is a disease’.  Thus, we were encouraged to take much interest in everything and read widely so that we wouldn’t have the disease.  Many children complied then, so, at siesta in the boarding school, you would find most pupils secretly reading novels, foreign magazines and journals which were educative.

Sometimes, one used a torch to read after ‘lights out’, and those who were caught were punished.  Such was the avid quest to acquire knowledge.  Many of those who passed through that system, even those who stopped at the secondary school level, modern school, or even the primary school, are still interested in acquiring knowledge and they speak and reason more effectively than some of  their own children who have a string of degrees.

What has been happening through the ages?    Light-weight educational stuff in which many pupils/students have very little knowledge of this country, how it works, and those who help to run it.  Asking them about world rule and politics would be inviting trouble; but they know the newest rapper/actors/entertainment people across the globe.

I have no problem with this, as we too were interested in the artistes of  the day in our time, but young people should first of all be well-equipped  with all aspects of Nigeria; including how the various tiers of governance  are run.  They should know how parliament is run.   ‘Mock Parliament’ was a popular extra curriculum event in schools in our days, and there you got to know about the various ministries, their duties and how they impact on your life.

You knew what being an elected member of parliament involves.  If this is still on the school’s curriculum, our young people (who are our future leaders)  would be aware of the responsibilities of  parliamentarians, and this would help them if they go into politics/what to expect of  law-makers.

Our piece on the need for our law-makers to draw nearer to the people in their constituencies, threw up some thought-provoking reactions.

“Madam Helen, thanks for your piece, but do you seriously think that our lawmakers would want to interact with their constituents?  That has never been in our nature.  They would consult their godfathers/sponsors, but not the people who are supposed to have voted them into that seat.  They have to be educated on that.  –  Ibe,  Lagos.”

“Let the truth be told, Helen.  The public don’t know their rights concerning the relationship that should exist between them and their law-makers.  I’m middle-aged and for quite some time now, I do vote during elections. It has never occurred to me that the senator, the house of parliament and the house of assembly members for my area have any responsibility towards me.  I’m not aware that  I should consult  them on anything, whether on how they should vote, or on any problem I may be facing that they can help bring relief to. Do you think the lawmakers are supposed to interact with us as you said?

I’ve seen a sign-board indicating the office of the House of Rep member for my area.  I don’t know why the office was set up and what they do there.  Am I an ignorant Nigerian?  I’d bet there are thousands like me out there.  What would the nation do about us?   John,  Kaduna.”

“In my opinion, I think those NGOs on politics and voting rights, etc. should educate the public on the relationship that is supposed to exist between them and their law-makers.  I must say that across the nation some law-makers help their constituencies with scholarships and healthcare.

These ones should be praised for their efforts, but it isn’t just monetary relief that they can bring to their constituents.  They should hold regular meetings with them.  At these meetings, they would get to know areas that need special attention in the community.  It may be bad roads,  refuse collection, water problem, etc.  Obviously, these law-makers won’t be able to solve all the problems there are, but they can tell the people where to go to be attended to, e.g., the local government, etc.”

“Madam, do you think we’re mature enough for the relationship you wrote about between the law-makers and their constituents?  Won’t the Nigerian factor come in, and people would go camp outside the offices or homes of their law-maker, until they get satisfactory response to their problems?  I foresee much monetary demands on the pockets of the poor MPs, who also have financial commitments towards their own political parties, not to mention their own families, and friends.

There’s also the issue of security for him at these surgeries that you spoke of.  Facing a room full of strangers who want help is not easy, as there could be violence.   There should be laid-down rules for these meetings to prevent chaos or even a riot.  Thanks for the article, anyway.   Mary,  Jos.”

“Madam, I don’t think what obtains in the western world can happen here with regards to the relationship between our law-makers and us.  People over there have had democracy for centuries whereas ours is just an emerging and shaky democracy.  The member of  Assembly, parliament, senate and local government is given funds to open an office in his community, but he/she’s not the meal ticket or job-seekers or for families in his area, although he can influence policies that can create jobs, and give better and more affordable healthcare.  Our people need to be educated about what to expect from our law-makers.

Or, we can leave things as they are at present, and limit the help given to scholarships.  The law-maker is not supposed to discharge the responsibilities of the government.   –  Francis B.,  Ibadan.”

“There’s usually a retreat before the members of parliament or assembly take their seats in their respective houses.  I can’t claim to know what happens when these are organized, but I suppose they’re told how they will run their constituencies.  Also, I think the various political parties of  note also hold retreats for their law-makers.  What to do is to ensure that the programmes include their interactions with their constituents.  I’m sure they will be willing to be instructed.  After all, the desire of every one of them is to be re-elected.
Thanks.  –  Rola, Lagos.

We thank all those who sent in their views.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.