The saying that, “To whom much is given, a lot is expected” may seem like an over-used cliché, when it comes to appraising the inputs of elected public office holders in Nigeria’s political narrative vis-a-vis the amount of tax payers funds spent in facilitating their functions in office.
For the current crop of lawmakers in the nation’s apex lawmaking body (8th N/Assembly), those (the youths) whose turns are been used up by the “squandering elders in power” are becoming increasingly agitated and itching to assume their rightful places as “leaders of tomorrow” they are said to be.
Indeed as a result of a pent-up frustration occasioned by the sheer ineptitude of political leaders, Youths are beginning to ?get involved in discussions that seek to change the seemingly outdated narrative of leadership with maturity and experience which has been used to tie them down since the end of the second republic.
The debate regarding the need for reduction of electoral eligibility age in the nation’s constitution, has become an increasingly prominent topic among the youths, who believe that those who infused such retrogressive provision in the constitution, belong to the same generation who benefited from the post colonial document, which provided opportunities for young Nigerians to actualise their political aspirations at very young age.
Listing major actors in the build-up to independence and post republican government in the 60s, young Nigerians are drawing inspiration from the exploits of nationalists such as Anthony Enahoro, who was just 25 when he moved a motion for the attainment of self-governance in 1957, and leaders such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa who were all between the ages of 30 and below as well as disappointment arising from the failure of the “old brigades” currently running things to move the country on the path of growth and development.
This indication was heightened recently at a launch of a report of a Constituent’s Needs Assessment survey titled; “Nigerian Legislature and Constituent Relationship: Citizens Demand More” conducted by a youth based non-governmental organisation, Young Legislators Accountability Project, YLAP in conjunction with Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement, YIAGA in Abuja.
Listening to speakers at the launch and their assessment of the people elected to represent them from the 360 federal constituencies and 109 Senatorial Districts, as well as findings contained in the survey conducted, leaves much to be desired with regards to legislators relationship with constituents and how they have fared in their responsibility of providing quality representation.
In the executive summary of the report presented by the head of Research and Policy Advocacy of YIAGA, Mr. Itodo Samson, findings revealed that lawmakers in a bid to secure electoral votes make promises not attainable within their constitutional mandate, as most campaign promises are framed in line with the dominant socio-economic challenges of a community without recourse to the constitutional powers of the legislature.
These unrealistic promises according to the report have placed unreasonable burden of expectations from constituents on the representatives in provision of basic social amenities, such as electricity, roads, portable water, and employment amongst others which form 90 percent of priority needs of constituents.
Also due to the rehashed campaign promises every four years, constituents have also developed an erroneous believe that constituency projects form part of sources of income for lawmakers, as they directly receive certain amount of funds to implement such projects, which induces constituents’ increased demands for financial hand-out and community projects.
The report, which criticised Nigerians for placing excessive expectations on their representatives due to poor political education, also lambasted the legislators for failing to devise appropriate and genuine ways of managing these expectations through the establishment of accessible constituency offices, adding that the need has not been taken seriously by lawmakers.
Aside ignoring the use of town hall meetings as a veritable medium of purposeful engaging constituents, lawmakers are also criticised for down-playing the significance of exploring social media resources as means of engaging constituents on issues of national importance and how constituents’ views shape the direction of debate by their representatives on such issues at plenary.
During the highly critical discourse which dissected the internal ordering of the 8th National Assembly, especially as it relates to its performance in the last one year, speaker after speaker expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of representation shown by legislators beyond the number of bills and resolutions they have passed.
For Mr. Udo Jude Ilo, Country Officer of the Open Society initiative For West Africa, OSIWA, the usefulness of democracy as a system of popular and representative government has increasingly fallen short of expectations, which is why many societies are beginning to question its application by state actors.
“The world over, democracy is under serious scrutiny. Australia is conducting its 5th election in 3 years. If Britain’s Cameron had known he was going to lose the referendum, he wouldn’t have called for it. Look at the US, where despite representing a very narrow view and understanding of international politics and national integration, Donald Trump is still making headway in his campaign.
“People are rebelling against democracy. Not because they don’t want it, but because democracy is not delivering on its promises. So the National Assembly here is also not living up to expectations from the people. Not much is being done to carry the people along in terms of openness and accountability.
“You are giving us how many bills and motions you have passed, but you will not give us the breakdown of your budget for the year. The National Assembly needs to open up on its finances for people to tag them with issues of integrity and transparency”, Mr. Ilo said.
The OSIWA representative also linked the lack of depth in legislative performance by lawmakers to the absence of qualified human resources at their disposal.
“When you look at the average National Assembly staff, you’d be disappointed because there is no intellectual pool house from which they can readily draw for official engagement in the day-to-day running of the parliament”, he added.
However, on the growing practice that has come to mar the focus and responsibility of lawmakers, which boils down to the type of demands made on them by the various constituencies they represent, it was observed that the trend has pushed them to the point of prioritizing material acquisition to quality representation.
“When you start asking the legislators of road, boreholes and electricity, you would have succeeded in setting them on a different trajectory, which is to make more money for them to be able to do that for you, because it’s really not within the purview of a lawmaker to provide amenities for his constituents. So let’s begin to hold our legislators to the job of lawmaking that positively affect our socio-economic well-being as a people”.
For Ezenwa Nwagu, who chairs the Partners for Electoral Reform, a non-governmental organisation, “this initiative is all about how we can put more deposit in the bank, the deficit bank of the National Assembly, which requires boosting for effective legislation that benefits our democracy as well as the people that they represent”.
One attribute which has become so typical of the nation’s legislators in the last one year according to the group is the personalisation of the anti corruption war by the Buhari administration with individuals tying their personal travails to the independence of the institution they represent.
“We need to raise the narrative beyond personality calls to institutional level of relationship. If there’s a spat between Saraki and Buhari, people should desist from labelling it as Executive-Legislature face-off.
“Even when you look at misunderstanding between both arms, it shouldn’t be seen as a conflict, rather as part of the job. Institutional conversation must be elevated above what happens between Buhari and Saraki.
“And the concept of summon, arising from the National Assembly to officials of the executive is self-serving. In the last administration, we had situations where ministers had to practically beg lawmakers to stop inviting them for questioning so that they could actually face the job they were appointed to do.
“But we have this mindset of always showing that we have the power to summon ministers, and in most cases, these invitations are for settlement. Whether democracy is working or not, we must first have a National Assembly that is state manly, and the executive that’s patriotic in nature in terms of listening to the needs of the people and addressing them”, the group added.
Other issues centred on the unending amendment of the nation’s constitution, which according to the panel of discussants has gulped about N11billion so far without any result being achieved.
They faulted the wastefulness and lack of sincerity of purpose of the legislators in trying to always amend the entire constitution, as if the same document upon which they rode to power is a total garbage, even though they miss no opportunity of making reference to it each time they have disagreement with the executive.
The question as to why they cannot seem to borrow from the United States method of clause-by-clause constitution amendment, which has seen just 22 amendments in more than 200 years was also raised with panelists faulting what they called, “the rudderless waste of public funds on constitution amendment exercise that carries more than necessary”, instead of dealing with specific issue at every given time so that important aspects are thrown out on the altar of sectional or individual agenda as was the case in 2006.