Is the Human Memory that Short?

The recently conducted 2015 General Elections clearly demonstrates the commitment of Nigerians to participate in the democratic process of electing their leaders through the ballot box. Nigerians voted, waited patiently for the votes to be counted, results announced at the polling units, moved to the collating centres, held vigil until final announcement of results.

The Channels Television Correspondents that worked tirelessly  informing viewers  of developments across the 36 States of Nigeria with heart rendering  images of  the very old, the sick being pushed in carts to polling units,  a voter who had left her sick child in a hospital in Maiduguri  to cast her vote,  Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East Nigeria who turned out in thousands to cast their votes despite the threats of attack by Boko Harma, horrifying images of voters who lost their lives in Rivers State, reports of  intimidation and harassment of others, the youths that held vigil outside the INEC office in Bauchi to protect their votes despite the curfew imposed by the State Government and so on an so forth.

These images represent the collective determination of Nigerians to effect change in the manner in which their country was being governed.  Unfortunately, the politicians have soon forgotten the numerous sacrifices made by Nigerians in the just concluded elections and are now spiting fire and brimstone in the struggle for leadership positions in the National Assembly. The leadership of the APC needs to be reminded in case it has forgotten too soon that internal wrangling; uncompromising stand on issues, impunity, imposition of candidates; lack of internal democracy and lack of consensus were the very demons that paved way for the defeat of the PDP at the polls. Reports emanating from the incoming 8th National Assembly are very disheartening and discouraging. The APC is in a deep crisis. The Godfathers are after its soul.

Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara are determined to contest the Senate Presidency and the Speakership of the House of Representatives come rain come sunshine. The duo have rejected the anointed candidates of the APC namely; Senator Ahmad Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. Their supporters have vowed to present their candidates for the election to the positions of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives on Tuesday 9th June, 2015. From all indications, none of the contenders is willing to step down for the other. Perhaps it is only Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila that is reported to have extended hands of fellowship to Hon. Yakubu Dogora and his group. Both Saraki and Dogara have dared the APC leadership and vowed to slug it out on the floor of the National Assembly.

These Questions are begging for answers: Will these legislators indeed pursue the people’s agenda when they eventually get elected to the positions of the President of Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives? Why are they so desperate? Have they soon forgotten the suffering masses that waited long hours patiently in long queues to cast their votes,  in the sun, in the rain, without food, provided generating sets in the absence of power to aid the counting of votes that translated to victories that brought the legislators to the National Assembly? Is this the CHANGE the APC promised? Are they aware that Nigerians are no longer interested in a rancorous National Assembly that is self serving and not pursing the people’s business?  Are they also aware of the numerous socio-economic and political challenges confronting Nigeria? Are the APC legislators aware that their colleagues in the PDP are enjoying the unfolding drama? It is crystal clear from the foregoing, that if the APC fails to manage the contending self interest of its legislators the Party may soon split.  That would be an unfortunate betrayal of the trust reposed in the Party by Nigerians.

The 8th National Assembly can ill afford to start on this negative note in view of the numerous complaints of low performance raised against the outgoing 7th Assembly. Analysts have scored that Assembly very low. On the last day of its sitting the Senate hurriedly passed forty-six bills while the House of Representatives passed fifteen.  Many people have been calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold Assent of the rushed bills. The 8th Assembly is expected to change the negative perception of the outgoing 7th Assembly, partner with the Executive in tackling the numerous challenges confronting Nigeria. In this regard, the legislators  are advised to set aside selfish interests in order to focus on enacting  laws for peace, order and good government as provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended).

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Veto Override Senate Backs Down

Reports have it that the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark told announced after the closed door meeting of that the Senate has resolved not to override the Presidential veto of the Constitution ( Fourth) Alteration Bill 2014. He said:

We are lawmakers and we will not be lawbreakers. We are not just lawmakers we are very senior responsible citizens and very senior lawmakers and this is the apex of lawmaking in this country. Therefore on the issue of the current Constitutional Review that is before the Supreme Court, we want to assure Nigerians that we will not break any law in this country”.  Also, Senator Mark said. “We will take appropriate action that will ensure democracy survives but I will also want to warn that we should not be taken for granted by the executives”. (Daily Trust, Thursday, May14, 2015).

The warning he issued to the executive is a face serving empty threat that serves no useful purpose.  This attitude does not strengthen nor support the growth of our democracy. The 1999 Constitution has explicitly provided for judicial review of laws passed by the National Assembly. Therefore, the warning is strange and alien to the 1999 Constitution. The last minute decision not to override the Presidential veto is more as a result of the mood of the nation rather than being     “very senior responsible citizens and very senior lawmakers” as opined by the President of the Senate.

Under the leadership of Senator Mark, the Senate has failed to pursue the people’s business. A cursory look at the Bills introduced in the National Assembly within this period has not portrayed that the Senate is less concerned about the welfare of Nigerians. Most of the laws enacted are elitist in nature and do not seek to reduce for example, poverty, unemployment, the falling standard of education, tackle  social housing deficit,  bad  roads  and diversification of the economy among others.

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) has devolved the power of leadership selection to the Senate. Regrettably, the Senate has not lived up to expectation in this very important national assignment. It is on record that rigorous screening of Ministerial nominees aimed at selecting the most suitably qualified Nigerians for such positions has been reduced to merely directing nominees to “take a bow” or “carry go”. This Senate in fact, confirmed an ambassadorial nominee that could not even recite the first stanza of our National Anthem. Nigerian children in primary schools are conversant with the wordings of the National Anthem and the Pledge. The question is could such a nominee possibly understand the Foreign Policy thrust of Nigeria?

Even in instances where Senators from parties other than the PDP raise concerns over suitability of nominees, the President of the Senate will overrule them and bang the gavel. Senator Mark has muzzled and suppressed minority views in the Senate.  This is undemocratic. Indeed, the manner in which he ridicules the contributions of the Senate Minority Leader. Senator George Akume speaks volume of the so called “very senior responsible lawmaker.” He uses the gavel to perpetuate dictatorship in a democracy. He is a tribal bigot bringing to the hollow Chamber of the Senate the acrimony between his tribe and that of Senator Akume. Senator Mark is not a statesman as he portrays in public.

The leadership of the Senate under Senator Mark has severally interfered in staff matters. Administrative matters affecting staff of the National Assembly ought to be handled by the National Assembly Service Commission. However, letters of promotion issued by the Commission to civil servants have had to be withdrawn at the instance of the President of the Senate. This has the unpleasant effect of demoralising the staff, and also diminishing the image and rubbishing the powers of the Commission over appointments, promotion and discipline.

With the financial autonomy granted to the National Assembly, Senator Mark has become the Accounting Officer instead of the Clerk to the National Assembly. This is a misnomer.

The incoming leadership of the 8th Senate is best advised to initiate legislation that would promote good governance as against legislation that seeks to massage the ego of members of the elite. It should not interfere in staff matters, but allow the National Assembly Service Commission and the Bureaucracy to perform their functions without intimidation.

Nigerian Legislatures and Good Governance

Section 4(2) and (7) has empowered the National Assembly and State House of Assembly of Nigeria to make laws for peace, order and good governance.  The Legislatures therefore have a pivotal role to play in ensuring good governance in the country. However, since the return to democratic rule in 1999,  the Legislatures both at the national and state levels have encountered numerous problems that stalled the realisation of its mandate as prescribed in the Constitution. It is no longer news that the executive branch at the national and state levels have continued to interfere in the workings of the Legislature. For example, the choice of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives or of a State House of Assembly is one area where the executive branch has continued to interfere in the affairs of the Nigerian Legislatures. The situation is worst at the state level where most of the State Houses of Assembly have been turned into departments of the executive branch.  The governors ensure that only legislators that they control and direct are elected as Presiding Officers.

It is on record that most of the State Houses of Assembly took off in 1999 without adequate offices, facilities and a well trained workforce. The General Sani Abacha Administration did not disband the staff of National and State Houses ofAssembly as has been the practice with previous military regimes. This singular act of that regime laid a solid   foundation for successful take off of legislative houses at the end of General Abdulsalami transition to civil rule in 1999.  Regrettably, most of the Clerks (Chief Administrative/Accounting Officers} of the State Houses of Assembly who were trained in legislative practice, procedure and parliamentary administration were redeployed to the executive branch.  In their places, those who lacked capacity and knowledge of the workings of the Legislature were deployed by State Governors to head the legislative bureaucracy as Clerks. The action opened the floodgate to the crises that befell the Nigerian legislatures. Thus, many Nigerians perceived the Legislatures as self serving and mere appendages of the executive. Any Presiding Officer that sought to assert the independence of the legislature was removed from office with the active connivance of the governor of that state.  The governor needed only to bribe the legislators to spur them into action.

The Constitution has empowered the National and State Houses of Assembly to regulate their procedure in Sections 60 and 101.  The procedure for the conduct of legislative business is captured in the Standing Orders which are adopted at the beginning of a new assembly. The Standing Orders are not sacrosanct. They are mere “servants” of the Legislature and are amended the moment it is observed that they impede procedure.  However, once adopted legislators are bound by its provisions.

Our legislative experience has unfortunately revealed that provisions of the Standing Orders are more often than not observed in breach especially as it relates to the removal from office of a governor, a deputy governor or a presiding officer.

Recent impeachment notices served on governors of Ekiti, Ebonyi and Kebbi State as well as the removal from office of Speakers of some Houses of Assembly clearly show that our legislators have not learnt anything since the return to democratic rule sixteen years after. This is worrisome because the Nigerian Legislatures have a central role to play in the realisation of the CHANGE brought about through the Peoples votes in the 2015 general elections.

WE HAVE THE FLOOR

The title of this write up is inspired by the book entitled – The People Have the Floor – a History of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) by Yefime Zarjevski. The Inter-Parliamentary Union is “the international organisation of Parliaments that promote world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples for the firm establishment of representative democracy.”  The National Assembly of Nigeria is an active   member of the IPU.

Now that the elections have been won and lost; we the People of Nigeria Have the Floor to set an Agenda for the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari. The Agenda is loaded because we the People have been in the cold for so long, insecurity, hunger, poverty, unemployment, epileptic power supply, poor infrastructure have been our lot. Our children sit under trees and on the floors during lessons, student hostels and facilities are in a state of disrepair,the entire educational system needs overhaul, we live in slumps, there is no provision for social housing, health facilities have collapsed, the roads are death traps, so much injustice has been melted to us as a result we have lost a sense of direction.

We hustle to survive and in the process vent our frustrations, anger and hopelessness on ourselves. We fight, steal, kill, rape, kidnap, drive against the traffic, tear down barricades on our dual carriage ways, vandalise oil pipelines, electrical installations, litter the environment, dump refuse in drainages, canals, defecate and urinate anywhere. Yes, we have lost our sense of self esteem. What transpires at our airports both local and international reflect the disorder that has become our way of life. We need Value Orientation to purge ourselves of these ills in order to embrace the wind of CHANGE that is blowing across our great country Nigeria.

Nigeria has become a dumping ground for all sorts of goods. We are disturbed of the health and environmental implications of some of the goods being dumped on us. The capacity to effectively dispose for example, electronic waste that is embedded in imported fairly used items such as computers, refrigerators, etc. is a source of concern.

We are in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world. We have lost great opportunities to turn our country into paradise on earth so that nationals of other countries can also queue at our foreign missions to obtain entry visas to visit our beautiful country.

We know our expectation is high and resources scare but Nigerians have good spirit, are reasonable and understanding. Dialogue with us, canvass support at home and in the Diaspora. Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora are performing excellently well developing host countries. They are invaluable assets to our  great country.Together, and with Almighty God on our side we are determined to move Nigeria to enviable heights.

POWER OF THE PEOPLE

The just concluded 2015 presidential election in Nigeria has brought  to the fore the power of a  people to take their destiny into their own hands.  That Nigerians have the power to vote out a government that has failed to meet their aspirations is no longer news. The Nigerian people have ably demonstrated this power and politicians can ignore this fact at their own peril. The signs of an impending defeat at the polls by the incumbent  were there but those who surrounded President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan failed to decode. They were engrossed pursuing personal agendas and creating enemies for the President and could not decipher the warning signs on the political horizon. The impunity of those in the corridors of power continued unabated. Genuine and constructive criticisms of government actions or inactions by respected elder statesmen and citizens were met with indecorous language from these political aides. Rather than response to issues, insults, and curses were heaped on well meaning Nigerians while the President looked the other way. The Cabal held the President hostage and contributed to his failure at the 2015 polls. The true electoral value of these political gladiators has been revealed by their inability to win votes for President Jonathan even at the Ward level in their States. These members of the Cabal thrive best in an atmosphere of confusion.

The Lagos Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Jonathan Support Group led by Senator Musiliu Obanikoro for example, spent millions of Naira in newspaper advertisements for the sole purpose of tarnishing the integrity and capability of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega to conduct free and fair elections in Nigeria.   The actions of the Group contributed in no small measure in aggravating tension in an already charged political environment. Indeed, the attempt to spread outright falsehood rather than vigorously peruse issue based campaigns further alienated their Principal form the people and hampered his   re-election chances.  Similarly, the culture of IMPUNITY exhibited by political office holders and the systematic destruction of public institutions are issues which the incoming administration of the All Progressive Congress (APC)  need to confront head on so as to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Nigerians Take a Stand Now

The political campaigns in Nigeria have brought to the limelight serious challenges facing our country. It is unbelievable that the political campaigns are loaded with hate messages aimed at causing disaffection among Nigerians. Religion, ethnicity, cultural differences have been exploited to the most ridiculous level that one wonders whether the damage being done to our nation will ever be reversed after the elections have come and gone. It is painful to know that politicians have taken Nigerians for granted over the years. They have exploited, divided and ruled us for their selfish interests. They have no interest in ensuring good governance and development of Nigeria. Indeed, they lack the capacity to conduct issue-based campaigns; hence the resort to religion and ethnicity as a platform for securing cheap support. This has been the trend since the return to democratic rule in 1999.

The Cabal that is fighting for the soul of Nigeria has no integrity, morality and credibility. Campaigns using derogatory and despicable language, which is strange to all known Nigerian cultural values have taken the center stage. Which Nigerian cultural norm promotes death wish for a political opponent or derision over the deaths of family members.

The PDP campaign groups are so desperate to have its candidate returned to Aso Villa and are ready to do anything. just anything in the name of supporting the incumbent President. They have for example; widely circulated a medical report on the health status of General Muhammadu Buhari purported to have been obtained from the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. The hospital has since disassociated itself from the report and further stated that the so-called doctors who appended their signatures to the report are not on their payroll.

Recently, African Independent Television (AIT) and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) transmitted a documentary full of inaccuracies with the sole aim of destroying the APC Presidential candidate General Muhammadu Buhari. Even though the National Broadcasting Code for elections provides to the contrary:

4.2.2 Broadcaster shall:

(a) Not broadcast a programme which violates social value, shows disrespect for law and order departs from an honourable life-style;

(g) avoid the use of foul and blasphemous language;

5.1.6 Archival or library materials where used to illustrate a current event, shall be used with discretion and clearly identified to avoid confusion or causing emotional pain, offence, embarrassment or defamation.

5.2.5 Political broadcast shall be in decent language.

5.2.7 A broadcaster shall, in using a political material for news, avoid taking inflammatory and divisive matter in its provocative form;

5.3.6 A live broadcast shall take cognisance of the cultural and religious sensibilities of all Nigerians and avoid offensive inputs.

The question that begs for an answer is whether the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (APN) have lived up to expectation by sanctioning stations that have been violating  the broadcasting code with impunity. As rightly observed by the Veteran broadcaster Dr. Tom Adaba that” We cannot seat back, arms folded, looking the other way and pretending all is well. Let the truth be told, we have simply behaved as if there is no tomorrow for Nigeria. The campaigns or advertisement of mudslinging and derision, which we have allowed to appear on the screens, have not been helpful to the course of this nation. It has indeed helped to divide us as a people. If we preach hate we shall reap hate and destruction, if we preach love and peace well shall reap same” (Sunday Trust 21nd February, 2015 P.36)

During the Presidential media chart held at the State House in Abuja on Wednesday 11th February 2015 President Jonathan referred “… to the attempt to pelt the Presidential convoy by young, ignorant people, as treasonable offence….” Although  the action is condemnable, it was most revealing  when asked as to whether he was not worried by the threat of war by his kinsmen if he is not re-elected. President Jonathan simply responded that his government will make sure that things are done “in such a way that nobody goes to war. We will not encourage anybody to destroy this country. We must protect this country and those who support us must not destroy this country.”   The threat of war by his kinsmen to destroy Nigeria is indeed a treasonable offence, even though President Jonathan refused to condemn Asari Dokubo and co-travellers as he did in the case of the “young, ignorant people” in Katsina State. (Daily Trust 12th February, 2015 P.5).

Dame Patience Jonathan in a recent outburst  in Calabar during a political campaign told Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supporters “Anybody That Tells You Change, Stone That Person!”

Nigerians Take a Stand Now to Save Our Country from Destruction.

Nigerians Deserve A Better Deal

The elections are here again and politicians are out in the field crisscrossing the country canvassing  for votes from the electorate using fair and foul means to outwit one another. The history of politics in Nigeria since the First Republic (1960) indicate that mudslinging rather than issue based campaigns has been the norm. It is not sixteen years since the return to  democratic rule. Regrettably,  the content and quality of  the ongoing political campaigns have remained hollow. Rather than canvass support on how  they intend  to tackle the numerous challenges confronting Nigeria, politicians have resorted to   mudslinging, ethnicity, sectionalism and outright hate campaign against opponents. The political gladiators are so naïve, selfish, desperate  and out of touch with the true aspirations of majority of Nigerians.

Hunger, poverty, disease, deprivation, hopelessness, do not recognise religion, tribe, north, south, east and west. The Nigerian voter is  more interested in how politicians intend to tackle the challenges of insecurity, corruption, poverty, the economy, unemployment, food security, collapsed public infrastructure, housing deficit among others. So far, neither the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nor the All Progressive Congress (APC)- the two major political parties have presented to the Nigerian electorate a concrete plan on how to tackle these problems. President Jonathan who is seeking re-election has not being convincing as how he intends to tackle these issues either,  if given a second term. The smaller political parties have simply been swallowed by the sound and fury of the two giants.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party claims to have done extremely well and as such deserves a second term to complete its transformation agenda. However, it is worth pointing out  that even within the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, urban slumps have sprung up, refuse collection,  solid waste management, inadequate housing  have remained  a huge  challenge. Primary and Secondary schools within the F.C.T are over crowded and lack basic facilities. The satellite towns despite proximity to the seat of power  lack basic amenities such as water, electricity, roads and housing. Indeed, women and children spend hours scooping water from virtually dried up streams in competition with animals. The situation in most Nigerian cities and rural areas is not different.

Against this background therefore, it is in the best interest of politicians to come up with concrete plans on how they intend to tackle the numerous problems confronting Nigeria. The Nigerian voters  of  the February, 2015  general elections are politically enlightened. They are united by frustrations of failed dreams and aspirations. Therefore, attempts by desperate politicians to divide and rule them along religious, tribal and sectional divide will fail woefully.