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Is democracy possible without a pro-poor legislative agenda?

Tabia Princewill

DEMOCRACY is an imperfect system but the best one at our disposal because we believe democracy is good for the majority, especially the poor. Yet, this is not true in Nigeria. In 2004, 54.7 per cent of Nigerians lived in “absolute poverty” according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

By 2010, the figure rose to 60.9 per cent. Poverty in Nigeria has steadily been on the increase over the past 15 years and we did not become the poverty capital of the world overnight. Rather, the decisions taken in the past 20 years which made macroeconomics the focus of reforms without looking at the impact on the poorest amongst us is a legacy of the Obasanjo years during which the policies encouraged by international financial institutions finished what the structural adjustment reforms started.

Structural adjustment

The privatisation of essential services in Nigeria has led us down a path we are yet to recover from. I have said many times in this column that we cannot dissociate the unaffordability of health and education, or the lack of well-funded public utilities from continuous violence in Nigeria, where private interests are subsidized by different governments and are allowed to evade taxation, while the poor, who live outside of these networks, cannot afford their basic needs.

It is not repeated enough that too many of the Nigerian elite scrounge off the state, they depend on it, it bails their businesses out, provides them with loans they often don’t honour while workers’ salaries remain unpaid. Will the ninth Assembly look out for the average Nigerian who is robbed by the financial improprieties of a small group of people? Will it promote stronger labour laws to protect Nigerians who work for foreign companies, many of whom allegedly maltreat their staff?

Isn’t it time the law worked for the common man as opposed to siding with those who are responsible for his or her discomfort? Will the ninth National Assembly work, for example, with the securities and exchange commission to make sure our economy ceases to profit only a few criminally intentioned people who subvert the entire financial system with little concern for the risks to the wider economy? Will the ninth Assembly work for small businesses? Will our laws urgently make it easier for people to do business in Nigeria, as well as enable better working conditions for all? The latter is rarely given prominence.

Will our laws make social investment and different forms of income redistribution a permanent part of government, so that whoever takes over from President Muhammadu Buhari builds on his social protection mechanisms? How will the ninth Assembly enable ordinary people to participate in its activities? The poor especially are not allowed to analyze or proffer pragmatic solutions to their own condition based on their experiences.

Will the ninth Assembly promote bills that get to the structural causes of poverty and leave cosmetic “empowerment” constituency projects behind? Injustice is at the heart of violence in this country. So long as injustice remains the lifeblood of our politics and national life, the average Nigerian will remain prone to manipulation based on ethnicity and religion, which suits some political actors.

Benefits of social innovation strategies in frontier markets(Opens in a new browser tab)

We can’t afford a situation whereby democracy doesn’t produce material benefits for those at the bottom, where for many years, our legislators didn’t see the interrelatedness of different policies and their impacts on the majority. Favouring private interests instead of championing pro-poor economic growth got us into this mess. It remains to be seen if the ninth Assembly can assist the executive in getting us out of it.

 

Nuhu Ribadu

THE former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, says Nigerian governors must disclose their spending on security. He is right.

Ecological funds, like security votes, are some of the murkiest, least transparent aspects of public spending. If ecological funds in the North and middle belt states had not been mismanaged for the past 30 years, the clashes between herdsmen and farmers would not exist, given what we know about climate change, soil erosion and what should have happened if those funds had impacted the environment, enabling sustainable development for the diverse populations that occupy and share its resources.

“For a long time, security, both in concrete and abstract terms, has been used to conceal expenditures that are largely fraudulent or dubious.

“If we learn lessons at all from the famous arms probe of the last three years, it is that not everything written in the name of security actually gets spent for the intended purpose. We must insist that for accountability and transparency, Nigerians are told what monies are budgeted for our security apparatuses and for what purpose the monies are spent” Mr. Ribadu said.

The National Assembly ought to be on the side of the people by championing such causes. Insecurity in Nigeria is a business, like kidnapping. Individuals profit from it through endless fraudulent military contracts to buy inexistent or obsolete weapons and equipment. Despite what people think, kidnapping is not the exclusive preserve of any ethnic group: criminal organizations employ the services of a diverse set of Nigerians.

The “fulanisation” narrative is a political tool we must be weary of. It masks high-level corruption involving all ethnic groups.

 

President Buhari

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari said violence in Nigeria, or clashes between communities of different ethnic groups and religions are sponsored by ethno-religious leaders. This has been the case for most of Nigeria’s existence.

Indeed, corruption is tantamount to domestic terrorism because stolen funds arm militias. The president also said that some leaders “exploit our divisions and fault lines, thereby weakening our country”. However, he reaffirmed his focus on security, a better economy and fighting corruption, despite the doings of saboteurs.

One hopes that more attention will be paid to making Nigerians own the fight against corruption, in their own interest. It is not populism to recognize that our economy and society are skewed toward the rich, many of whom owe their business success to an unfair advantage (the misuse of government resources). But without explaining these structural issues in detail, how can we galvanize ordinary Nigerians into becoming a part of the solution?

Confidence in Nigeria is low, the saboteurs have successfully undermined every part of the state, destroying its ability to care for ordinary people while creating more avenues for themselves to profit from dysfunction. Yet, Nigeria was responsible for stabilizing Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Ivory Coast.

To quote the President: “without Nigerian influence and resources, the liberation of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and ultimately South Africa would have come at a greater cost. This fact has been attested to by none other than the late Nelson Mandela himself. Too many young people are not aware of the inherent greatness of Nigeria, a country they have been taught to despise for what it has become due to the deliberate acts of some people.

“Nigeria is the Big Brother to our neighbours. We are the shock-absorber of the West African sub-region, the bulwark of ECOWAS and Lake Chad Basin Commission. We can, therefore, be proud to be Nigerians. We must continue to be good neighbours and good global citizens,” the President said.

While this is true, the average person has little awareness of this. Does the National Orientation Agency do any work?

 

Neo-colonialism

THE Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, incessant calls and appeals to the European Union, United States Embassy and any other foreign, Western mission or diplomats is nothing short of tragic.

The concept of national sovereignty seems to elude some Nigerians who perhaps have forgotten that Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Space doesn’t permit to remind us here of the many ways western powers used divide and rule as far back as the 19th century to destabilize Africa and to encourage warfare between ethnic groups which was beneficial to European trade.

We should know calling for political intervention from foreign powers is treasonous, but we trivialize and play games with everything in this country.

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