By Tabia Princewill
Personal interest in Nigerian politics always seems to supersede the interest of any group. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the National Assembly in recent years. With the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, budget hanging in the balance, Nigerians must be wary of any attempt to sabotage the upcoming elections, as present difficulties are all too reminiscent of the electoral postponement in 2015 and of the last-ditch antics of the now infamous “Orubebe outburst”. Sabotage is a near constant of our politics, so is flouting the rules of decency, morals, ethics and quite frankly, common sense.
I won’t bother going over the Senate President’s refusal to step down from his position, although it is difficult, in the interest of truth, not to point out that it is more than curious to find an APC-dominated (in terms of numbers) Senate led by two members of the opposition party. Nigeria is always the ring leader of “unfortunate firsts” and some of our people whose senses have been deadened by wrong-doing for so long, don’t see anything wrong with this.
You might think this is all about politics and that it has nothing to do with you the average Nigerian; think again, politics has everything to do with you because the settings or environments within which politicians operate influence the final state of affairs in the country at large. Every wrong, big or small, which is allowed to go unchecked has consequences for us all and also determines government’s future ability to keep its promises to the people.
Can any real work go on in the Senate if the two principal officers are serving the opposition party’s interests or beliefs? At least now Nigerians know where everyone’s heart truly lies. Some people are going to court to stop the Senate President from being impeached, as if the position were any individual’s birth right. It is the same calibre of people who seek “perpetual injunctions” to stop corruption investigations and prosecution by the EFCC; that is, people who want to use the law which exists to serve all Nigerians, to serve only their own interests. Nigerians must recognise them for who they are.
These are the people who personalise the law and customise judgements to suit them; the sort of people, for example, who would support an understanding of Shariah law with harsh punishments for the poor and ignore the transgressions of the rich who defraud the state of billions. These are the same people who claim their defections are a result of their not being “carried along” by the Federal Government. These are the people who take advantage of many Nigerians’ ignorance of politics and public administration, especially as it is practiced in other climes.
They take advantage of the fact that the intelligentsia, pauperised by poor salaries and a bad economy, sides with them to survive and therefore does not do its duty of explaining issues, of breaking them down in the simplest way possible for the instruction of the masses. Some defectors illogically claim they weren’t carried along by the government: they were members of the APC and know its manifesto, they know the founding principles of the party etc. If they were real progressives, they would know what that means or therefore what sort of ideas and policies the Buhari administration intended to pursue once in office.
So why are they writing letters to the public claiming they were not happy with being asked to simply “deliberate” and “approve” policies submitted by the Federal Government? That is what legislatures all over the world do! The executive is the primary emanator or originator of public policy: nobody in the National Assembly can replace the President. If they wish to be President, so be it, let them admit they had their sights set on that office all along and stop saying they were not “carried along” by the executive. Nigerians need to read up on the role of the legislature in a democracy which is primarily to make and pass laws, create spending bills (pass the budget which has always so far been done atrociously late).
The legislature in Nigeria is constantly behind its global counterparts in terms of the passage of bills: how many bills have our senators drafted for the benefit of Nigerians beyond attempting to reorder the election sequence to favour themselves? Nigerians must prove they are not fooled; it’s now or never.
Defectors keep saying “they are not consulted” in government decisions, yet they are not members of the executive. Inadvertently, what they are revealing is the dysfunctional way things are usually done in Nigeria whereby all arms of government get involved in whatever they like and pursue their own agenda with no regard for established procedure or global best practice. Nothing is ever enough in political circles: trading power and influence, sharing “juicy” committees etc. is the name of the game but with no impact for Nigerians. Some people con Nigerians into taking their side, acting as if their lofty positions don’t give them de facto influence on public policy.
The number three citizen in a country like America can’t claim to be unable to influence policy. In fact, the success of a sitting government largely depends on the occupant of the Senate Presidency and House speakership because they are supposed to galvanise support in the legislature for the swift passage of bills to aid the executive in delivering its promises. So, if the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, believes the APC has failed, he must accept part of the blame and cannot remove himself from any analysis on how or why things went wrong. Let the truth set us free in Nigeria.
Nigerians didn’t hear much about any laws being passed to aid the various crises rocking the nation or to alleviate poverty and suffering. Instead, what trended was opposition to direct primaries because it appears some people favour the old way of doing things which presents individuals with unearned automatic tickets to contest for elections therefore barring the way for qualified candidates by preferring select “anointed” people with little interest in local development.
Excuses will continue, and more than likely so will lies and misinformation; it is up to Nigerians to decide what they want: a progressive future with ordinary people at the heart of politics or what we’ve always known, elitism in service of the interests of a few.
Around 200 government officials resigned (or were sacked according to conflicting reports) in Sokoto State due to their unwillingness to defect to PDP with their erstwhile principal, Governor Aminu Tambuwal. The aides released a statement declaring they owed their fortunes to the APC of which they were members before their appointment to public office; their resignation, they said, was thus necessary. Although in short supply, there is some honour left in politics.
The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is possibly one of young Nigerians’ favourite politicians. He was nominated for this role by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu during a meeting with the Lagos State Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Tunji Bello and some notable core progressives in the South West. His performance so far is proof that politics in Nigeria is neither all bad nor always self-serving.
The VP has been praised for his swift actions on behalf of his principal (e.g. his recent decision to overhaul the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, and his handling of the foreign exchange crisis in 2017 when he was Acting President). Unlike the corruption allegations, power machinations and conspiracies which surrounded past Vice-Presidents during their tenures, Professor Osinbajo remains scandal free, a rarity for one who occupies such an office in Nigeria.
Gradually, we’ll separate the wheat from the chaff; in the coming season young people, especially, must be mature in their judgements and side with people who’ve proven their worth, shown their loyalty to the ideal of progress for all and empower such people to do more.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.