Structures for Real Change

The first set of elections is about three weeks away. There is so much apprehension among Nigerians. The PDP has held the reins of power for 16 years. Within that time, they claim to have improved the lot of Nigerians. However, quite a number of Nigerians say the PDP has worsened the lot of the average Nigerian, largely benefiting the elites.

The APC have presented themselves as saviours of Nigeria. They have smoothly packaged themselves as the long wished-for knights in shining armour, asking Nigerians to ignore the fact that a large number of their members are former PDP cronies. Many Nigerians, desperately seeking a breath of fresh air are looking at the APC for a wind of change. However, can there be real change without the enabling structures for change?

Ayo Sogunro, in a recent article stated his fears that the APC could enter power and become a version of the PDP, or even worse than the PDP. His point was that there was nothing on ground to stop them from such an evil metamorphosis. He said the legislature has to be under the people’s control. To some persons, his statement may be an expression of needless paranoia, but looking beyond the surface, his fears may not be unwarranted.

Considering APC-controlled states such as Rivers State, where the executive and the legislature are essentially bed mates sharing the same toothbrush, we see occurrences similar to PDP-controlled states. Bills are practically guaranteed passage before they even reach the floor of the state house of assembly. The legislature’s closeness to the executive has ensured that there is no challenge to any policy of the executive arm. “Rubber stamping” is all that the legislature does.

In truth, having one party controlling both the executive and legislature could be a huge help when massive change is required, so as to enable quick passage of enabling laws. However, in Nigeria where the legislative voting pattern bears more on party inclination/approval than personal beliefs or consideration of the people’s will, such full control could be a time bomb. Nigeria needs a legislature with some form of real constructive debate.

Let’s assume that the APC wins the executive arm. With the rampant winner-takes-all mind-set, many legislators from the PDP and other parties would feel inclined/pressured to cross to the APC. They would be welcomed with wide-open arms as “change agents”. Such decamping is usually for personal interest. How would that help the country?

What Nigeria needs are structures that would engender real change—structures that put the citizenry in charge, at the heart of the political process. Free and fair elections would help ensure that even if some ignorant voters were induced with money during elections, the politicians would know that four years of under-par performance would clear the cloud of ignorance, and they would be voted out at the next elections. This would encourage members of the executive and legislature to sit up, and fulfil their campaign promises.

In addition to free-and-fair elections, the process for the recall of legislators should be made a bit easier. Many legislators go to Abuja (or their state capitals) to chase contracts, not to perform their legislative functions. A look at proceedings broadcast on TV reveals too many empty seats. To worsen matters, instead of considering their constituencies when passing laws, and perform their role of checking the activities of the executive, they prefer to stay cosy with the executive in exchange for moneybags, contracts and other corrupt inducements.

Legislators would sit up if they know that their constituencies have the power to bring them down from their high horses. They would know that winning elections are no guarantee that they would last for four years. As they convinced voters to vote them in, they must keep them convinced to let them stay for the full course. Then we can have real change in the system.

Another required structure is a downward review of the emoluments of political office holders. Their current salaries and allowances make Nigeria one of the highest paying countries despite having a GDP that is much smaller than the biggest economies. We cannot have real change if politicians are running because of the huge benefits. In addition, the disrespectful pension scheme for top political office holders should be stopped. It is an insult to the millions of Nigerians and civil servants that a civil servant who serves for less than 35 years would get a fraction of his salary as pension, while a top political office holder is assured of a lifetime of opulence. It is not right for a senator to earn several times what a permanent-secretary earns. Reduce the salaries, allowances and pensions, and let those eager to “serve” contest.

The last structure for real change is a strong anti-corruption drive. All public office holders should be made to publicly declare their assets at the beginning and just before they leave office. Increases in wealth must be justifiable by the amount they had before plus legal income while in office. Making their assets public would help crowd-source information from the public. There are members of the public who know about properties owned by some politicians and would spot discrepancies in their submission. The burden of proof should be placed on owners of inexplicable wealth, not on the police or prosecuting counsels.

These structures are needed for real change to occur in Nigeria. It is too late to implement all of them, but a publicly announced commitment by all political parties to implement them immediately the next government is sworn-in would suffice. Then, any party that wins and reneges its promise would be clearly seen as the albatross of change. If we have them solidly put in place, whichever party is in charge would have to work to maintain the trust of Nigerians. Whether the APC dislodges the PDP, or the PDP maintains its dominance, post-May 29, 2015, if these structures are not implemented, the change Nigerians seek may be a mirage.

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