A careful assessment of man’s often predisposition to issues of public interest reveals that more often than not, things are taken for granted. This account to a greater degree, for the abysmal failure of public officers to respond as appropriate to the yearnings and aspirations of the people they purport to serve let alone make themselves accountable. Little wonder the seemingly endless pervasive attitude of possessive individualism some public officers manifest in their quest for self-actualization. This has been observed to be the case particularly in such climes as the third world. Not that traits such as self-actualization is abominable. No! However, when such is deployed for anything other than the good of the generality, especially in a position designed for the benefit of all, then God help the society for the consequences can only rather be imagined.
By all indications, man, as the highest socio-political animal, has been found to be the most dynamic. By implication, he is unpredictable and as such untrustworthy. Perhaps, I need say, man’s attitude that could be vouched for remains his natural inclination to chameleonic changes, sometimes in degrees quite unimaginable. Although this has been attributed to politicians more specifically but it is obviously noted as man’s attribute, with which he needs contend, and it often impugn on his integrity, I dare say!
Truthful as the foregoing submission may seem, its application is contestable, for it cannot be generalized. Only some category of man could score distinction in such spheres of abhorable traits; for there are men. Yes, real men; people of impeccable character, men of integrity, reputable for honesty, sincerity of purpose in whatever they do. Such are people commitment to causes of humanity, however the challenges. People with principles geared towards human capacity development for humanity as opposed to those who exploit human capacity unashamedly for the actualization of self only. Those are people who would not dwell conservatively in some morbid, parochially unpatriotic superiority complex in the guise of being principled. In civilized climes, people of such rare qualities of leadership are sought, encouraged and empowered through placement in lines of duties, irrespective of their creed or race, for the benefit of the society in particular and humanity in general.
Sadly, far removed from this is the Nigerian society. Not that we do not have such men but we chose to ignore them, however conspicuous they may appear. In their place, we foist never-do-wells by reasons of naught but sentiments. And this is common-place in practically every nook and cranny of our dear country. As a consequence, we witness daily, perhaps as routine, cases of leadership corruption and ineptitude in matters of state requiring urgent disposition. On issues of welfare, which is grossly in the doldrums, we are greeted with outright complacency, and, worst of all, exploitation of hapless citizens, through the denial of rights.
In the context of this discussion, considering the several criticisms of the legislators of the National Assembly, ranging from the outcry against the jumbo quarterly allowance vis-à-vis the neglect of their constituencies, to what has been witnessed of the investigative hearings conducted by them, and, of course, the scathing criticisms of the former President Obasanjo, in his famous observation while delivering a paper on the topic “Integrity is Necessary for Systems and Institutions to be Strong”, on Tuesday, 22nd May, 2012, it is expected that the law makers would seek, at least, to regain public confidence. However, a peep into the goings-on, particularly on the treatment of their aides, leaves much to be desired. This, to me, suggests that quite a lot needs be done by no less a force than a combination of the leadership and the commission to salvage the plight of the aides and the image of this hallmark of democracy called the legislature.
One cannot but recall the disclosures on the fact that legislative aides, in the early days of the enthronement of democratic governance, between 1999 and 2003, had crisis-prone issues with their principals through whom their pay-packs were issued to them. This precipitated tense situations given the susceptibility of the arrangement to manipulation by those ‘who pay the piper’, and this is Nigeria, where, as a keen public affairs analyst would say, ‘anything goes’ hence, the resolve to subject the legislative aides salaries to the pay system of government.
Laudable as this seems, the system itself makes the aides much more vulnerable. In my opinion, the practice is wrought with inconsistency of sort: according to the National Assembly Service Commission, the appointments are basically short service non-pensionable but the salaries are determined by public service conditions. This, to me is a combination of quasi-political cum civil service job. The implication of this and, indeed, the practice is that the aides are restricted to salary only but such other aspects bordering on the welfare of the aides are left ‘hanging’, at the discretion of the legislators. This is questionable, for it is counter-productive as gives much room for abuse. Nothing of an employee’s actual emoluments and salary should be left to the discretion of the employer, for obvious reasons, however the mode of acquisition of the job.
In confirmation of this fear, unfortunately, some members of the hallowed chambers, banking on the precarious socio-economic situation in the country, with the attendant debilitating effects, chose to exploit hapless Nigerians: to this category, nothing but ‘casualization’ of the legislative aides work is the answer to the challenges of the office: for instance while some employ and list their aides to benefit from the system (by receiving their salary as appropriate albeit without any other benefits, in terms of housing and transport) others, cashing in on the pervading joblessness, employ young Nigerian graduates for the same jobs on ridiculous stipends. Such legislators keep the names of people who, of course, are known only to them in the pay-roll of the Commission, to receive the actual salary of aides, while other hapless Nigerians, cut up in the web of unemployment, are put on stipends to do the jobs, whether as secretaries or aides. In some cases, these ‘ghost’ aides are the ones who attend the periodic workshops meant to train people on the job. How sad!
It is quite unfortunate that this category of legislators do not see the compelling need to make their aides comfortable if nothing but for the sake of humanity. Or is it that the scope of the legislative aides responsibilities, which cover such crucial areas as administration, communication, public relations and research and documentation, as well as other support services all geared towards the success of their principals, is too little to be so ignored? Why could they not have a rethink to emulate some of their colleagues who, in all ramifications, are quite exemplary in their attitude towards and treatment of their aides, and by extension, constituents?
As a critical arm of government saddled with the fundamental responsibility of appropriation and utilization of funds of government, besides law-making, it should have been able to live above board.
The National Assembly, in terms of its position in the structure of government vis-à-vis the strategic responsibilities constitutionally charged with it, has the capacity to address the enormity of the constantly emerging challenges and the rising need to stem such challenges, as well as the recurrent ones. Today, the extent of the realization of the feat remains to be seen. Without making any sweeping generalizations, I hasten to add that the doctrine of necessity propounded to bail Nigeria out of the political debacle/logjam prior to the disclosure of our late President’s death in 2010 shall, indeed, remain indelible in the annals of our nation.
It would not be preposterous to state that a search for the last category of legislators, discussed in the foregoing, would not but be a sine-qua-non to the realization of the laudable philosophy for the establishment of the hallmark of democracy, the legislature. This, to me, is a noble duty which need be accomplished. Irrespective of the relationship we may share, the onus lies on every Nigerian to remain steadfast in making dispassionate opinions about those that may strive to lead us. The commitment towards getting only the best need compel our search for and entrust leadership positions on competent, experienced, tested and trusted people, capacitated enough to stand the test of time.
Nuhu Ogirima, a senior lecturer, unionist and former Senior Legislative Aide (SLA), writes from FCE Okene, Kogi State