On May 27th 2013, a serving minister who happens to be one of the most loyal cabinet members of President Goodluck Jonathan known for his astuteness in frankly negotiating with trade unions in Nigeria, invited me to attend the mid-term report event of President Jonathan which took place on May 29th 2013 at the international conference center Abuja. I attended the event but sadly the organizers (office of the secretary to the government of the federation) made a total mess of that occasion because rather than provide sufficient copies of the report Journal launched at the event with pomp and pageantry by the number one citizen of Nigeria, the organizers failed woefully but were more concerned with banalities like hiring some gorgeously dressed market women to clap hands intermittently for the wife of the President when she was shown on a recorded speech televised on a projector at that event.
I went away from the hall of that mid-term report presentation of President Jonathan without the clean copy of what I can call mid-term report card of the current executive arm of government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But as luck would have it, as I made to board the shuttle bus that brought us to the venue, one of those market women hired for the purpose of clapping hands for the wife of the President gave me her own copy because in her words, “I don’t know what government wants me to do with this book”.
I have since digested the contents of the ‘richly’ printed and very colourful booklet and I am doing a critique
which will be ready in few days.
Conversely, on June 4th 2013, the office of the speaker of the Federal House of Representatives invited me to attend the mid-term assessment parley of the Federal House of Representatives which took place on June 6th 2013.
With my working knowledge of the level of significant transformation that happened in that Federal House of Representatives’ leadership style since the last two years that the duo of Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Deputy Speaker Mr. Emeka Ihedioha emerged, I decided to honour the invitation and I have since not regretted my presence at that august event which turned out to be intellectually rich in the real sense of it.
The Mid-term report assessment parley of the Federal House fundamentally departed from the political jamboree that was organized by the office of the secretary to the government of the federation as mid-term report session by President Jonathan.
In that presidential mid-term event characterized by high-drama and fanfare, the key ministers in the cabinet of President Jonathan reeled out what may be considered as “statistical lies” to justify the huge expenditure incurred so far by this very expensive executive arm of government to service the recurrent budget of political office holders. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, and it is in that fashion that most Nigerians afflicted by mass poverty, mass illiteracy; insecurity and youth joblessness have reacted in unison to condemn the beautiful lies that were celebrated by these key ministers under the current Federal administration. To demonstrate how unsophisticated these ministers are, few days after celebrating the mid-term of the current administration, both the minister of state for power and that of Finance publicly admitted that poverty; joblessness; corruption are still major challenges confronting Nigeria.
I will return to all that in my complete critique of that mid-term Journal from the presidency.
But at the mid-term assessment program of the Tambuwal-led Federal House of Representatives, members of the very critical organized civil society and the Human Rights Community were allowed to deliver their independent assessment of how far the parliament has gone in meeting some of the legislative aspirations of the people of Nigeria.
Such erudite scholars like Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria and the irrepressible human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Mr. Femi-Falana among others, delivered very rich papers and were frank in their assessment. They also charged the Tambuwal-led leadership to keep the flag of good leadership flying and to keep passing good laws that would promote the cause of human rights of Nigerians and good governance in Nigeria.
The big masquerade of that event was the speaker who nevertheless came out to assure Nigerians that as imperfect human beings, the members of the House would continue to play by the rules of democratic engagement by allowing members of the general public to keep sending in their well thought out pubic legislative agenda to guide the parliament towards serving Nigerians creditably.
Speaker Tambuwal was charitable enough to profoundly applaud President Jonathan for being a statesman and for respecting the principle of separation of power as enshrined in the constitution of the federal Republic just as he also praised the nation’s judiciary headed for the first time since the nation gained independence, by a woman-Justice Maryam Alooma Muktar.
His words: “We commend the Executive and Judicial arms with whom it has been a period of mutual complimentary operation, the management and staff of the House have been a wonderful lot working successfully under over 360 masters. Our brothers the Civil Society have continued to challenge us with their quick wit, alertness, penchant for detail and unalloyed commitment to the defense of the defenseless. To all Nigerians, I must state that we are humbled by your trust, confidence, cooperation, patience and understanding even in the face of deficits in the fulfillment of your aspiration and expectations…”.
In the thinking of most observers in Nigeria, some of the laws made by the current National Assembly if thoroughly and comprehensively applied, will grow not just the nation’s economy but will promote good governance. Two of such laws come to mind namely the freedom of information Act [FOI]and the amendment to the enabling law setting up the National Human Rights Commission to confer stronger financial and operational autonomy. President Jonathan signed these two legislations into law thereby entering the political annals of Nigeria as a man willing to bring about some positive political changes and transformation, at least on paper.
That good faith showed by most Nigerians on the activities of the Tambuwal-led Federal House of Representatives was not lost on the leadership because the first thing they did was to fashion out a clear agenda and legislative assignment for themselves tailored towards promoting good governance and respect for constitutionalism.
The speaker made the above points when he stated thus; “At the commencement of its journey, the 7th House of Representatives fashioned for itself a Legislative Agenda to guide its processes, programmes and operations. This agenda is consistent with the constitutional mandate of the legislature to wit: Legislation, Representation and Oversight. The legislative function of making laws for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria appears reasonably well appreciated now by the general public, so is the function of oversight of the implementation of the laws so made pursuant to the law making function”.
“The House of Representatives is the House of the Nigerian people, it is the congregation of over 160 million Nigerians in representative capacity. As it is well entrenched in the Principal-Agent relationship, so is the relationship and duty of the representative to the constituents and ultimately the entire people of Nigeria. The people may seem weak against the government they have put in place, though it ought not to be so, but the people must be heard nonetheless. If the people yearn for fair patronage from their government, be it development, employment or whatever, a true representative must stand with the people. Where they unjustifiably neglect, it will amount to abuse of mandate and it is in order to forestall this abuse that the people have reserved for themselves the power to recall compromising and erring representatives”, speaker Tambuwal, noted.
However, Nigerians still yearn for a legislative framework to make critical institutions that would promote good governance much more independent and strong.
Nigerians are keen to seeing that the National Assembly use its constitutional power to clearly amend the extant provisions in the constitution to empower the local government councils to become independent because the greatest happiness of the greatest number of Nigerians would be served whenever the local governments are made truly independent and liberated from the stranglehold of the 36 state governors most of whom have turned them into their private revenue yielding assets.
The way governors run the Local government councils in clear breach of section 7 of the constitution is spreading poverty to homes of millions of Nigerians who reside in local government areas and are deprived of the dividends of democracy.
The authors of the great book titled “Why Nations Fail”, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson went as far as postulating that institutions such as the local government councils ought to be run independently in such a way as to promote transparency and accountability if the aspirations of majority of the citizenry for rapid development and economic prosperity are to be achieved in no distant period of time.
These writers wrote in that 529 page book thus; “Political and economic institutions, which are ultimately the choice of society, can be inclusive and encourage economic growth or they can be extractive and become impediments to economic growth. Nations fail when they have extractive economic institutions, supported by extractive political institutions that impede and even block economic growth”.
In the book “WHY NATIONS FAIL”, the two joint authors further argued thus; “…the politics of institutions – is central to our quest for understanding the reasons for the success and failure of nations. We have to understand why the politics of some societies lead to inclusive institutions that foster economic growth, while the politics of the vast majority of societies throughout history has led, and still leads today, to extractive institutions that hamper economic growth”.
The above well thought out leadership philosophy encapsulated in the aforementioned book, were incidentally also captured in part or in whole in another fashion in the speech delivered by the speaker of Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives aptly titled; “LONG WALK TO GOOD GOVERNANCE”.
But as the popular aphorism goes that ‘action speaks louder than words’, Nigerians will only become happier when through stronger national laws enshrined in our constitution, strategic institutions such as the local government area councils and the anti-graft agencies are made more independent to bring about good governance and zero tolerance to corruption. Corruption as we all know is the single most dominant cause of all the developmental challenges confronting Nigeria in the twenty first century.
Tambuwal did not leave his audience imagining what his leadership thinks about corruption which reared its ugly head among some key legislators in the last two years especially in the line of discharging their oversight duties.
In his words: “Regarding the objective of zero tolerance to corruption, the House has been decisive in meting out administrative sanctions even when judicial processes are inchoate. We have had to apply such sanctions as suspension and removal from committee headships on our colleagues as means of self censorship and internal discipline. The House is gradually but firmly institutionalizing the war against corruption in order to maintain high ethical standard for all Legislators. In this regard, the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges is hereby directed to expeditiously undertake the comprehensive review of the Code of conduct to bring it up to international parliamentary best practices”.
Mr. speaker, Nigerians are watching and for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that produced the duo of Tambuwal and Ihedioha among a few other good political Statesmen and women, the political platform should focus more on how best to attract good people to swell their ranks so that by winning elections transparently, these persons can transform our nation for the better.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, is Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA. He was a Federal Commissioner at the Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission.