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2019 general elections and the question of national unity: The Constitution and credible candidates (5)

By Aare Afe Babalola

Last week, I discussed of the Constitutional development of Nigeria from the pre-independence era to the present one and its effect on the credibility of candidates nominated by political parties for elective office. I highlighted how the fore-fathers of the Nigerian nation were able, due to their knowledge of the country and their political savvy, to fashion out a Constitution which recognised and positively exploited the ethnic diversity of the nation. I examined how the differences in the process of enactment of the pre-independence Constitution and subsequent Constitutions which have been forced on Nigerians have respectively had on the emergence of the political class and the country’s political fortune. I concluded by stating how and why the 1999 constitution may not be truly reflective of the wishes of Nigerian populace contrary to the content of the preamble of the said Constitution which seems to suggest that it (the Constitution) is the outcome of a well-thought-out Constitutional making process embarked upon by the Nigerian people.

FEDERALISM UNDER NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

Nigeria at the present moment is made up of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The idea of federalism which is practised in Nigeria today was taken or borrowed from the American and Australian models. In these jurisdictions, persons of divergent nationalities, races, creeds, ethnicities etc have been able to come together to co-exist under one political and national identity. The United States of America for example is made up of the Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, Latin Americans, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch etc. Americans themselves proudly refer to the country as one created by immigrants. The countries despite this wide diversity of their people have continued to flourish. This is so as the Constitution recognise the component units as the heart and soul of the union and do not concentrate power in the centre.

In Nigeria, the reverse is the case as power is concentrated in the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Federal Government controls virtually all important means of revenue generation with the result that a large chunk of revenue generated from the vast resources of the Country end up in the coffers of the Federal Government. The Federal Government, as provided by the Constitution then assumes the role of a big brother and decides what each State will get as its own share of the national revenue.

The immediate impact of this is felt in the corruption that has pervaded our political class. Each state and local government receives what is known as monthly allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria. The ongoing prosecution of some past office holders on account of misappropriation of funds from the monthly allocations of their state or local government shows that the said allocation is seen by politicians as a prime opportunity to corruptly enrich themselves. Most politicians now seek elective office so as to partake in the sharing of this “national loot”. Governors and Local Government Chairmen all eagerly await this monthly disbursement of the National cake. Such is the emphasis placed on money accruing to the State from the Federation Account that little or no attention is paid by political office holders at the state and local government levels to opportunities of improving the internally generated revenue of the respective states.

One would expect that a populace very much aware of the overall political and economic aspirations of the country would jealously ensure that its leadership lives up to the barest minimum of political and financial accountability. This unfortunately is not the case in Nigeria. Nigerians have over-time come to gradually accept as a normal way of life the morbid corruption which has engulfed the political class. Rather than serve as a check on corrupt politicians, Nigerians it would seem by their very action encourage politicians to be corrupt.

There has always been a debate over the huge wages, allowances and expenses of members of the National Assembly. Interestingly, some members of the National Assembly have justified this anomaly on the volume of request for one form of financial assistance or the other from members of their political constituency. In essence, the defence is that the money which they collect is ploughed back into feeding, clothing and accommodating their friends, relatives, political dependants and numerous others. Little wonder then that the system of Government in Nigeria was derisively described not too long ago by a political writer as “lootocracy” i.e. “government of the looters for the looters and by the looters”.

CONSTITUTION AND POLITICAL PARTIES

Sections 221-229 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 provide for the creation and regulations of the affairs of political parties. Whilst it is not in doubt that political freedom is a sine qua non for emergence of a sound political and electoral system, the leeway available in the above-stated section of the Constitution appears to have brought about a vast number of political parties which are truly lacking in any appreciable form of political, social or economic ideology.

The need to allow Nigerians to freely come together and form political parties arose primarily from the experience of the military transition programme in the late 80/ earlier 90s when politicians could only join any of the two political parties established by the then military junta. It was thought that Nigerians would be able to take advantage of the opportunity to form political parties of their choice to establish parties which would in the due course of time formulate and be guided by strong political ideology which development it was hoped would impact positively on the political consciousness and development of the average Nigerian and Nigeria itself. But what do we have now?

We have political parties which appear not to know the basic reasons for their existence. Political parties in Nigeria today are more or less marriages of convenience contrived for the singular reason of winning elections at all cost. Most political parties do not have any visible physical structure or identifiable means of coordinating the activities of their membership.Indeed, some parties appear only to exist in the brief case of their founders. How else can one explain the seeming penchant of some political parties to advertise their availability to disgruntled members of other political parties who seek a platform upon which to achieve their political aspirations? This is moreso when all parties are ordinarily expected to have their own membership consisting of persons who would have indicated interests in contesting elections on the platform of said political party.

Thus, our political history is replete with instances of political office holders who have abandoned their parties, even where they were elected on the platform of the said party for other opposition parties at the drop of the hat. One wonders what has happened to the concept of loyalty by politicians to a particular political ideology.

The lack of identity of purpose or cohesion in these political parties manifests itself primarily in the quality of candidates which they throw up or produce for the purpose of election. This is to be expected for a party which itself lacks any form of ideological or social identity cannot be expected to require or enforce such amongst its membership. Thus the anomaly immediately rears its head in the primaries of these parties where the win at all cost attitude is often the order of the day.

After the conduct of the primaries, the same scenario plays itself out in the general election where the politician would employ all manner of underhand tactics including votes for cash, ballot box snatching, stuffing etc to win an election at all cost. Yet, it is from these same set of persons that Nigerians are expected to elect political office holders who would lead the country into economic, political and social development. As we say in law, one cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.

The solutions to the problems discussed are multi-faceted. Genuine efforts must be made at bringing about a Constitution which is truly representative of the wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people. Without this, a search for a nation where persons of integrity would be voted into office might continue to be a forever elusive objective to be sought but never to be attained.

Nigerians on their part must become far-sighted in their measurement and appraisal of the political class. Many are at the present moment myopic in their assessment of the political class for the singular reason that they prefer whatever illicit gain is available to be had at the moment to the eventual political and economic stability of the country. Nigerians must demand and enforce a universally accepted standard of political accountability from their leaders. This can only be done when Nigerians realise the power of their votes and use it accordingly for the betterment of the country.


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