Reports of the public presentations on constitutional amendment by the National Assembly have a common thread running through all of them from Calabar to Sokoto, Maiduguri to Abeokuta.
Democracy in Nigeria is a misnomer. It is a limited edition democracy and unless a clear winner emerges in this war of politicians against the people, nothing good will come out of this exercise.
In this democracy, there is nothing of the people, by the people and for the people. The former President of the Lagos Business School, Professor Pat Utomi encapsulated this reality when he said what we have today is a “government of politicians, by politicians and for politicians”. The whole thing is about Presidents and Governors who rule the country without commitment to serve the people. I see some flexibility in the President who seems amenable, from time to time, to popular criticism and outcry. The governors seem inflexible and stiff. They want to keep everything and concede nothing.
One annoying feature of the public hearings is the near absence of the governors as in the case of the North-West where only one, Rabi’u Kwankwaso, out of eight, turned out for the zonal public hearing.
Most Northern governors are today ashamed of their Northern identity and thinking and that is perhaps why only Kwankwaso showed up to articulate the reigning sentiment in the North.
But really a more important issue for the people is how the lopsided relationship between the ruler and the ruled can be mended. Unless this is done, the constitutional amendment would end up as an exercise in shadow boxing, or one that is designed to protect and safeguard existing privileges enjoyed by the governors and the poor go home empty handed.
These days, no state in the country gets less than five billion Naira from the Federation Account credited into their coffer every month. Because of the absence of an effective framework of accountability, this money, in some cases up to N50billion to the oil-producing states, ends up as money to the governors, not to the people. Corrupt governors do as they wish
. The parliament is asleep in his pocket and the public accounts committee is comatose. For this reason, the Nigerian masses are the most “unprivileged” class in the world and the governors are demi-gods. That is why a governor would embark on the construction of an international airport in a state where classrooms have no roofs and seats for pupils. One governor in a state that is statistically the nation’s second poorest and owes his workers N11billion in salaries and allowances had the audacity to build a mansion for a female governor across the border in a neighboring country.
The concept of budget tracking is intended to help the citizens know where their money is going and ask their leaders to account for budgetary allocations. Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, during her first stint government, in 2003, introduced the policy of publishing monthly allocations to state governments. The whole idea is to encourage accountability by helping the people have access to information about how much their governors are receiving. This is a wonderful objective. In reality, however, is it working? The people seem docile or indifferent to the way elected leaders behave.
But how about a situation in which the constitution is amended in a way that ties the federal grants to projects such as education, agriculture and industrialization?
In terms of their freedom of expression, Nigerians can shout and be heard in their corners but they dare not ask questions on the misgovernance by their leaders.
I think it is on account of the felt sense of helplessness and failure to check these excesses that the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, made the unexpected call for death penalty to punish corruption. In China, they do it. Ordinarily, death penalty is a horrible punishment and it is doubtful as an effective deterrent. As a Nigerian loving his motherland, I am opposed to capital punishment. In fact, I am opposed to death penalty. But there are legal, moral and practical lessons for introducing death penalty for corruption in Nigeria. And if the Northern governors had assessed that the Northern masses would largely not welcome death penalty for corruption, they were absolutely wrong seeing the enormous support for it through comments in social networking sites.
If they are serious about giving us a better constitution, the legislators at the centre and the states should formulate an effective framework to ensure that money to the states is money to the people, not to their governors.
They also need to correct the situation in which there is one law for politicians and another for the ordinary citizen.
This country has a law for all, but these laws are twisted to suit the needs of the rich citizens and politicians. The law applied in the bribery case involving a sum less than N10,000 by junior official or small crook is very severe but the one dealing with a politician or minister who steals billion or trillions of Naira is lax and flexible. A very important requirement for curtailing corruption is that any suspected politician or contractor involved in scams due to greed for money and power must be tried and punishment awarded.
The greatest incentive to crime is the confidence of escaping punishment. Constitutions anywhere should not be amended to protect the interest of few at the expense of the larger majority. While capital punishment is wrong for high profile white-collar robbers, it is okay for ordinary offenders. This defeats the essence of constitutional amendment.
Lastly, it is not out of place for the political parties to be forced into a contract with the citizens. They all have manifestoes, which they must publish. This should be the contract for which elected officials should be held accountable. When this is done, you won’t have the kind of running conflict between the current President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly.
When the leadership of their party summoned to explain why they were in constant conflict with the President every now and then, the leadership of the House of Representatives under Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal asked the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP if the President realized the party has a constitution and manifesto. They accused the President of running a government of strangers who were not anywhere around when the party fought for election and won.
These days, it is fashionable to hear politicians talking about the devolution or transfer of power from the centre to the regions or states. How about a transfer of power from the ruler to the ruled, such that the real people can exercise control over their affairs?