By Tabia Princewill
Every generation sees its rights, benefits and morals challenged by acrimonious vested interests—the rise of Donald Trump shows the racist, conflict-ridden undercurrent present in America’s hinterlands has been kept alive by institutionalised poverty and manipulative politicians, just as it has been in Nigeria.
It is up to those who believe in justice and fairness, to answer the clarion call every time such threats rear their heads, to fight for yet more progress, truth and reasonableness in public processes.
The Osun hijab crisis is just another political attempt at diverting public attention from real-issues (non-payment of salaries, a comatose state government with little output) to non-issues such as the way pupils dress. Nigeria has no state religion. So public spaces such as schools should remain untainted by outward signs of religion. This is the policy in most democratic nations where there is a distinct separation between religion (plus religious authorities) and the state.
So why would a governor weigh in on pupils’ dress? Politicians have capitalised on the mental poverty of the masses, entertained and encouraged it by focusing on absurd matters to mask their lack of innovativeness andinability to move this country forward. We’ve lived with this for too long.
Tam David-West, a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, recently said Nigeria doesn’t need restructuring (he emphasised, like I have often done, that even if every village in Nigeria became its own state, the same problems we have now would still plague them) but rather a change of attitude.
We also desperately need to change the calibre of people elected at state and local government levels. First of all, INEC must start by printing the names of those we are voting for on ballot papers, rather than just party symbols. How many of us have been tricked into voting for people we don’t know, people whose records in and out of office we are unaware of, simply because we are forced to accept whoever parties nominate, in often strange processes?
Party delegates themselves seemingly don’t choose candidates based on their plans for the electorate but rather based on their bank accounts. Most candidates, especially at the state level, don’t really campaign: the average Nigerian can only name his or her governor (if at all). Most people have no clue who represents them in the House, the Senate, or even worse, at the local government level and are even less capable of saying what measures or policy decisions any of these people have taken to impact their lives.
How can one judge the performance of people one doesn’t even know? Nigeria is a country of many ironies but this is perhaps the crudest, and one of the very many problems we’ve accepted over time.
We abandoned politics to thugs and often uneducated, unqualified individuals, saying politics was for “bad boys” and now we are reaping the benefits: ex-touts and motor-park hooligans who transfer the street criminality they’ve always known to the lofty chambers of our national offices.
Are we then surprised that year in year out, not much seems to evolve in Nigeria? If hoodlums are expected to take complex policy decisions they know nothing about, why are we surprised governance is turned to mugging the masses? This isn’t about elitism or snobbery: it is the defence of talent and meritocracy in all our interest. One cannot expect those who’ve lived a life of crime and obtained riches fraudulently to conduct themselves any differently once they attain public office.
The greatest agents or elements of fraud in Nigeria, let us remember, aren’t at the federal level, in the ministries or various departments, but rather at the state and local government levels. The anti-corruption fight in Nigeria has mostly focused on former ministers and their associates. What happened to the 30 or so former governors the EFCC, under Nuhu Ribadu, claimed were corrupt? What happened to all the alleged evidence gathered?
Retirement home for governors
There is an unholy alliance between state governors and local government chairmen who act only at the behest of their governors. The local governments (and not the Presidency), we’ve all forgotten, are responsible for providing us water, sanitation, sewage, local health care, some of our roads as well as guaranteeing the proper management of markets and regulating the use of land.
Where in Nigeria is this effectively done, without local vested interests coming into play? The Senate has been turned into a retirement home for governors(even those, amazingly, with corruption cases still pending and allegations unanswered). But it is us, the citizenry, who are guilty of the ultimate dereliction of duty: we’ve let politicians run amok, unopposed. It’s time to reclaim our country: Buhari can’t be everywhere but we, the people, who live and work in every nook and cranny of Nigeria can affect the dearly desired change.
Our states are made of “wards”, each with councillors. We need to find out who they are, scrutinise their elections and most of all, find out what the budgets are for our local governments. Your councillor is your first government link. Not the President, or any of his ministers, not even your governor.
Development, or lack thereof, starts at the ward level: we must follow the money trail where it goes. Our young people have been used to subvert democratic processes, many of them have been turned to political thugs and cultists, while in other countries, they are at the forefront of grassroots oversight of government activity.
Cycle of self-hurt
We are now in a catch-22 situation: most government officials won’t empower Nigerians to monitor their activities, for obvious reasons. Yet, the same Nigerians who should be concerned enough to watch politicians closely are either themselves compromised or trapped in a cycle of self-hurt by defending the actions of those destroying this country.
But if we are serious about getting our country back, the Constitution has given us one powerful fail-safe.
Recalling legislators who’ve betrayed public interest would send a powerful signal to the political class. Sections 69 and 110 of our Constitution specifically state constituents can petition INEC to recall under-performing members of state and federal houses.
In fact, the Constitution doesn’t define what specific actions (or infractions) lawmakers should have made before constituents can claim “loss of confidence”, meaning citizens are free, at any time to recall their lawmakers, who, more than any appointee in the executive branch, are the true representatives of the people.
So it is politically sponsored misinformation for anyone to say lawmakers must be tried and sentenced as guilty of any offense before they can be recalled, suspended or otherwise disallowed from participating in law-making. The only way for citizens to show they can’t be taken for granted is to take real action and to show zero tolerance for corruption and incompetence, particularly in the National Assembly.
Still fantastically corrupt
State governors are rumoured to receive N500 million in security votes every month. That’s about N6 billion yearly that’s allegedly unaccounted for. Multiply this by 16 years of would-be democracy by 36 states.
Then ask yourself why the average Nigerian is still so poor. Let’s not fool ourselves, even broke, Nigeria is far richer than most African countries. What do we have to show for it? We need to beam the spotlight on our governors.
The immunity and life pension proposal for National Assembly leaders is another proposal that shows many legislators are still quite incapable of any ability to either read the mood of the country or to come up with real solutions to our myriad of issues.
Moreover, the proposal, made at a constitutional review retreat, shows the Constitution is being reviewed only in such ways as to benefit those who continue to receive more than their fair share of our scant resources.
On another note, the US government, we all know, is a faction of pro-Buhari interest groups and Obama himself is intent on witch-hunting or is it “embarrassing” our National Assembly. Let’s get serious. Nigerians, demand serious leaders.