The Hub

February 2, 2017

Wanted: State of the Nation Address

Wanted: State of the Nation Address

President Muhammadu Buhari in a hand shake with one of the wife of late fallen hero after the Wreath Laying ceremony of 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day at the Arcade in Abuja.

By Josef Omorotionmwan
FROM the lessons of Social Psychology, it is  clear that nothing  should be written-off as totally wrong because even a dead clock is correct twice everyday. All those who hate war with passion must wait till they see how war reconstruction efforts turned Hiroshima from a ghetto to an ultra-modern city after it was reduced to rubbles by the bombs of the Allied Forces in Word War II.

Similarly, the adversary situation that develops between the Executive and Legislative branches of government cannot always be regarded as unhealthy. How else does anyone obviate the ugly collusion between the two branches, usually to the chagrin of the citizenry?

Quite often, each branch seeks to exploit the weak points of the other for maximum advantage. In a corrupt clime like ours where people use what they have to get what they want, it is not unusual for the Executive branch to use the power of the purse to buy its way through; while the legislators employ their power of oratory to bluff through.

Ever before he became terminally ill, the late President Musa Yar’ Adua had started developing cold feet in appearing at joint sittings of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to the extent that he began to delegate the all-important function of the annual Budget presentation to the Finance Minister.

Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan who took after him was perhaps cluster-phobic so much that it was doubtful if he could summon enough courage to appear before members of a standing committee, talk more, the entire National Assembly. The Legislators quickly harped on this weakness.

The Budget estimates were already being presented by proxy. The National Assembly reckoned that in the course of a full year, the President of the country might not have an opportunity to face the nation even once. We heaved a sigh of relief when they introduced a Bill for THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS. The State of the Nation Address normally provides a unique opportunity for the President to x-ray the political, economic and social health of the Nation. To the President, it presents a golden opportunity to show-case himself and his administration’s policies and programmes to the entire world.

We thought the National Assembly was introducing the Bill for its relevance to the Nation. Little did we know that it was intended as a scare-crow to President Jonathan, who resisted it and did everything to kill it.

But the two Houses of the National Assembly went ahead to pass the Bill, requiring the President to deliver the Address to a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the first legislative day of July every year.

In vetoing the Bill, the President advanced various lame excuses, including the wrong notion that the new law would be a duplication of the provisions of Section 67(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which states, “The President may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly to deliver an address on national affairs, including fiscal measures, or to make such statement on the policy of government as he considers to be of national importance”.

Perhaps in an attempt to whittle down the Address, the President rushed in a belated amendment, intended to provide an escape route, after the Bill had been passed by both chambers. Hear him: “Where the President is unable to present the address in accordance with the Act, the President shall in writing inform the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and either designate the Vice President to present the address on his behalf or transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the text of the Address”.

On the legislative side the proposed measure required that in the event of the President’s default in presenting the Address, he shall be compelled to appear before them to offer explanations.

As important as the State of the Nation Address Bill was, President Jonathan vetoed it; and, as usual, our legislators kowtowed. Apparently, by the time the President dished out a few constituency projects, the legislators had sold their legal and moral rights to over-ride his veto. And the Bill died!

Essentially, the Legislative and Executive branches were playing a game of cards, using the rest of us as the ace. It happens all the time. But Nigeria is too big to be used for political adventurism; and the State of the Nation Address is also too important to be used for horse-trading for personal aggrandizement.

Currently, in the course of an entire year; and by extension, throughout his four-year tenure, the President of Nigeria may not face the electorate who put him in office to give account of his stewardship. We are not talking of the “Barka De Sallah” messages or the message of felicitation to Christians at Easter. Neither are we talking of those fireside chats where the questions are apparently pre-arranged. Rather, we are talking of a properly-constituted forum where important policy pronouncements bordering on the very existence of the nation are discussed!

The British have THE MESSAGE FROM THE THRONE where the Queen of England appears in all Majesty to address the people. The Americans have the STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS where the President addresses the American people. Other democracies of the world have established forums where the people hear from their leader at least once a year. At annual general meetings, Board chairmen render returns to share holders.

But with the Nigerian government, citizens are kept groping in the dark, totally rudderless, only to rely on the newspaper headlines they can pin together.

Government is business. To that extent, Nigerian government is perhaps the only business that keeps its owners in the dark – no report as to whether the business is solvent or insolvent.

The fact is that the Captain of this sailing ship should occasionally report the direction of sail. The State of the Nation Address is a fundamental requirement. We demand it!