When I was growing up, whenever my siblings and I needed something like a new toy or an item of clothing from our parents, I recollect that all we really needed to do was get our mum to ‘ok’ it before asking our dad. If mum agreed to it, it doesn’t matter how long daddy says no, his no will always eventually become yes. Yup, mum was gangster like that. Most mums are. The nature of the relationship between my mum, dad, siblings and I isn’t too dissimilar from how I understand what the nature of the relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government and the public should be in a democratic setting.
As most people know, within a democracy, there are three arms of government: Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The Executive implements policies, the Legislature creates laws that empower the Executive and the Judiciary enforces the laws created by the Legislature. From a procedural standpoint, it makes sense that each arm of government are in regular contact with each other so that the operations of government, for the benefit of its people, can be smooth. Within a democracy and among these arms of government, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that it is the Legislature and Judiciary arms that will be the ones in most contact with members of the public. Necessary for the legislature so that the laws it creates are relevant to the people it represents and the Judiciary as default for settling disputes and enforcing laws to maintain a sense of justice.
The legislative arm to my mind plays the role of mum. So if I, as a member of the public feel strongly about a need that I’d like my government to meet, I should only need to convince my legislative representative in order to have that need met. Of course, I may need to convince other members of my local community to buy into the need so that together we can gain the necessary traction to encourage the local legislative representative to devote energy into consulting with the executive in order to get the need met.
There is no doubt that current members of the Nigerian legislature do regularly meet members of the public in their capacity as public servants. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the calibre and character of those that these representatives meet for regular public consultations is of the class that isn’t driving and/or inspiring the representatives to move in the direction the country requires.
The probability that a nation will be on the right developmental curve and at a reasonable pace is highly dependent on the quality and quantity of its extant middle-income class as well as the quality of its “emerging middle-income” class. These classes must be actively engaged in politics. They must not only talk the talk but walk the talk. These classes must place a higher value on the sanctity of life than what is currently obtainable in Nigeria. Whilst anappearance of active engagement in politics by the “emerging middle-income or emerging-elites” class exists on social media, this engagement is beginning to prove to be mere voltronism – #EkitiDecides confirmed this. Many of thesevoltrons have very clever punch-lines and cute ways of describing current political ails and plagues. This voltronism means absolutely nothing if it isn’t backed by real life voltronism. I define the “emerging” class not on the basis of income, but by this new and pervasive sense of self-entitlement, awakening and rhetoric reminiscent of a middle-class income earner but without the substance of one.
How many voltrons know who their representative is at the ward, state and federal level? Do they know the local office of these representatives? Do they have contact information for these representatives? When these representatives organise local constituency meetings, do these voltrons attend? The truth is, every government and public office holder needs legitimacy. Without it, they cannot hope to remain in public office. So it is in the interest of all members of the legislature to hold these local constituency meetings so that they can stay in touch with their local base and remain legitimate. Make no mistake about it, these meetings are being held and regularly too. The question is who has been attending from the public? Is it safe to guess it is those that are more likely swayed by “stomach infrastructure”? So whilst voltrons continue in their attempt to outdo each other on who has the best punch-lines on social media, their fate is being decided by ignorant politicians and stomach-induced people at constituency meetings. Yet they continue to wonder why things aren’t improving and why the wrong people continue to get into government?
It is this phenomenon that completely befuddles me about Nigeria and its army of social media voltrons. The thought of attending these constituency meetings seems below them. Their time is too precious to be spent onmundane things like local constituency and ward-level political meetings, yet they fail to realise that it is at these meetings that their fates or its direction are decided? This may sound harsh, and I’m a Christian and a man of faith, but why can’t these elites realise that their public office holders, especially their representative through action or inaction have a more than even chance of impacting their destiny than they themselves can?
Democracy is really a very simple system of government. The checks and balances it provides as enshrined in the Constitution are also simple too. If the public desires the executive to act in a certain way, the lever available to it is via the legislature or at general elections. Public protest is good and has its place in a democracy but mostly lack bite. Nothing in the Constitution compels the executive to act on public protest. However, it is compelled to act on leanings of the legislature. What perplexes me even further is despite the claim to intelligence and exposure by the emerging elites, none have thought to impress it on any legislature national or state to join in the myriad of ongoing public protests especially #BBOG or #ChibokGirls. As we are too cowardly to protest Egyptian style, if we desire any protest with bite, surely we must include the legislators? Just recall the limp #OurNASS protest and one will see how easy we’re making it for the legislature. Let’s consider the LASU fees protest, why isn’t any member of the Lagos State House of Assembly saying anything? Why do we find it acceptable that none of them is saying anything? Is it too farfetched for the protesting students to realise they need their rep backing or take their protest to the Assembly? Is Fashola not more likely to act on orders of the Assembly? Just imagine David Mark and the leadership of NASS leading the #BBOG protest in Abuja. Won’t that have more impact than the commendable effort of Madam Oby? Not even the opposition leaders in the legislature are joining the protest.
If the Judiciary fails, it’s not a direct fault of the public. Failure of the executive is an indirect failure of the public whilst failure of the legislature can and should only be laid squarely on the members of the public.
So what’s the way forward? It’s simple really. Get involved. Know your legislator. Be closely involved with your representatives in the legislature. Know their movement. Attend their constituency meetings. Write complaint letters to them. Shame those that refuse to respond. Encourage your neighbours to attend constituency meetings. Share ideas locally. Online interactions only can be ambiguous. Social media is a tool; it should never replace face-to-face conversations. By doing this you help your legislator understand what their constituency needs. You help them write their campaign agendas. Think about it. If, for example, two-thirds of a constituency write their representative about issues with water in the community, will the legislator base their electioneering campaign on beautifying public spaces? You don’t even need to be an official member of a political party to be engaged. Besides, if we want to influence the calibre of those that get to represent us in government this is the direct way to do so. We want godfatherism to be out of politics, what will replace it? Empty chairs at constituency meetings? What is Nigeria’s problem? Look no further than the mirror.
Finally, becoming a well developed country is a deliberate action, never a happenstance. Every Nigerian must decide to commit them self to a new social contract – a personal contract that places the highest of values on the sanctity and dignity of a Nigerian life. We must determine a minimum standard of equity and justice that we must demand of ourselves and from each other. There must be a line that we must agree, nationwide, not to cross when it comes to service delivery from those that represent us in government. We must realise that our action, inaction and ignorance have far reaching consequences. Don’t pay that bribe, neither should you seek it. Stop seeking short cuts. By cheating the system, you’re cheating yourself. Be vigilant and let’s stop making being Nigerian difficult. Live peaceably. Nigeria is where it is today because of the summation of all of our individual negligence. And by God, please educate yourself on citizenship and democracy especially what it means to be a citizen in a democracy.