We need to customise our democracy – 30/05/2014

So Nigeria is in a quagmire. It’s in a state of confusion of what it is, what it wants to be and how it hopes to get there. Previously what we wanted was the end of military rule and a return to democracy. We didn’t spend much time on what democracy means to us and what type of government structure will best suit us. Should we have accepted the Constitution handed to us by the military in 1999 as a perennially binding document to be the basis of an enduring democracy? Should we have clamoured for a clause within the Constitution that compelled the NASS to produce ‘our’ democratic Constitution, under a democratic government before the expiration of its first full term cycle?

In our rush to be rid of military rule and embrace democracy, we didn’t consider the two most important ingredients of a successful democracy: followership and leadership. What do citizens that constitute Nigeria’s followership know about democracy? How does the followership hope to produce good leadership? Do we have the right structures, systems and institutions in place to produce good leaders? If not how do we go about doing so? None of these questions were sufficiently dealt with so we ended up with a mish mash of political parties (rashly formed by strange bedfellows) without distinct and succinct ideologies, largely founded along ethnic divides. In effect our mish mash political structure, unsurprisingly and in hindsight, has largely produced leaders with immense ineptitude and inability with resultant ‘anyhowness’. We are now faced with a catch 22 situation where bad followership is perpetrating bad leadership and vice versa. Nominally, our diversity is and should be our biggest strength, but years of abuse, civil war and military rule have conspired to deny us the trust necessary to benefit from our diversity.

It is clear that we need to rethink our system of government and political structure such that there’s increased citizen education, awareness, engagement and participation with hope that good followers are created and good leaders produced.

What we know is we want a thriving and successful democracy. What should be open to debate is the political structure and system of government that will deliver the kind of dividends of democracy Nigerians desire and ultimately deserve. It is to this end that I’m writing this article, opening and/or throwing my argument into the debate (is there even any debate?). I’m in favour of the federal system of government which Nigeria currently sort of practices. Where I think our current system is failing is that the federal government is too far removed from local politics needs and wants. The federal government I believe has too much power and control over national resources. I believe more resource control needs to be devolved away from the federal level and vest mainly with the local government and then state government. The federal government should largely be focussed on expounding the nation’s interest within the committee of nations, protecting federal borders, harnessing opportunities where Nigeria as a whole has competitive advantage over other nations. The FG’s activities should be similar to that of a Chambers of Commerce and nothing more. The local and state governments should have control over most of the nation’s resources and revenues and should be mainly responsible for directly generating internal revenues as they are the level of government closest to the people.

Since 1999, the FG including the NASS have scarcely initiated policies and created laws that have local impact, directly emancipate businesses locally and create a thriving entrepreneurial business environment. This lack of FG impact is unsurprising as the system that produces public office holders is largely a top-down selection process rather than a bottom up one. A bottom up process ensures that a voice of the people at the local level is what largely drives who gets to serve in public office. Further, a bottom-up process ensures a proper buy-in by the citizenry into the political process. It makes the citizens the ‘elites’ within a democratic structure. Our political structure as currently constituted can’t produce public office holder’s bottom-up.

I am therefore proposing a radical revolution of how we produce aspirants that vie for public office. My proposal makes local politics the focal and entry point for all politicians thereby dispensing with the probability of someone that has never been involved in local politics vying for office at the federal level. The table below shows a summary of the outcome of my proposed political structure.

Full Count Office Eligibility Eligibility Pool Max Term Term Cycle (Years)
1 President Current SenatorQualifying independent  109 2 4
1 Vice President Current SenatorQualifying independent 109 2 4
109 Senator Returning SenatorHouse of Rep. MemberGovernor 503 4 4
360 House of Rep. Member Returning Rep.LG ChairmanState House of Ass. Member 2,176 4 4
36 Governor Returning GovernorLG ChairmanState House of Ass. Member 1,780 2 4
72 Dep Governor Returning Dep GovernorLG ChairmanState House of Ass. Member 1,816 2 4
970 State House of Ass. Member Returning State Rep.LG ChairmanWard Councillor 11,316 4 4
774 LG Chairman Returning LG ChairmanWard Councillor 10,346 3 4
9,572 Ward Councillor Any member of the public c.160m 6 4
Aspirant Criteria:
1. Must have served at least one full term from a qualifying public office. A qualifying public office is any public office recognised by the Constitution which requires the conduct of an election in order to fill such office.
2. Must have a minimum of school leaving certificate.
1. For President/Vice President, independent candidates are allowed provided that:
 –  they are a current public office holder;
 –  have served at least one full term of office in their previous public office post;
 –  they were ranked in the top two in a test of nationwide viability through a by-election voted on by the Council of LG Chairmen.
2. Nationwide viability by-election will be a simple majority, first pass the post contest.
3. If a nationwide viability test only consists of two aspirants, then the aspirant that ranks first will run in the general election.
4. Council of LG Chairmen will consist of all current seating LG Chairmen in Nigeria.
5. LG Chairmen running as independents for the post of President/Vice President cannot also seat on the by-election voting Council.
Political Pay & Finance Reforms
1. Salaries and Allowances paid to all public office holders within the Legislative and Executive arm will be the same as that of the Federal Civil Service.
2. Political campaigns can only be funded from:
 – grants from the political parties to which the aspirant belongs.
 – funds raised by the aspirants electoral campaign office directly from members of the public.
 – the maximum amount a member of the public can donate directly to an electoral campaign office is N250,000.
 – the maximum amount an individual official member of a political party can donate to the campaign fund of the party is N5,000,000.
 – the maximum amount an official individual electoral political party aspirant can donate to the campaign fund of the party is N15,000,000.
 – the maximum amount an institution can donate to a political party is N25,000,000.
 – no foreign organisation can donate any funds to any political party or electoral campaign office of any political office aspirant.
 – no foreign individual can donate any funds to any political party or electoral campaign office of any political office aspirant.
 – every donation worth more than N250,000 to a political party or electoral campaign office must be declared and registered with INEC.
 – within three months of the end of each general election, INEC is to publish on its website the list of donations registered with it.
3. Members of the legislative arms should be permitted to hold jobs outside of their legislative roles provided that:
 –  such jobs do not, in addition, take up more than 25% of their statutory working hours;
 –  they declare how much was earned from all outside jobs;
 –  they declare how many hours they worked;
 –  they declare who paid them;
 –  such jobs do not necessarily need to relate to their political role.
1. Politicians are professionalised.
2. Career politicians are known early on.
3. Everyone public office holder starts or joins politics at the ward level and work their way up.
3. There’ll be a verifiable track record of public service.
4. Campaigns will be based mainly on track record.
5. Members of the public will be able to scrutinise political aspirants’ background and record more effectively.
6. Ensures whoever is President would have started from the bottom.
7. Ward level as a starting point for all politicians at all levels should draw democratic power closer to the people.
8. Increased focus on policies that impact at a local level.
9. Quality of the legislative arm of government should improve.
10. Improved legislative arm should have a knock-on effect of improving the judiciary.
11. The quality of the executive pipeline will be clear to the general public from a pool of approximately 28,155 elected public office holders.
12. The pipeline ensures continuity and focus of policy.
13. The pool for Presidential aspirants will be known very early on which will give the public adequate time to vet potential aspirants.

The above proposal can produce a President as young as 36years old should one go into politics straight after leaving secondary school or a 41 year old President should it be straight after obtaining a university degree. One of the arguments a friend made against my proposal was the risk associated with professionalising politics. There are all sorts of professional careers and none without its risk, pitfalls and issues etc. I see no reason why politics cannot be professionalised in the same way that lawyers, doctors and accountants are especially when its decisions and fallouts can impact the lives of the people more directly and with far reaching consequences. We need to professionalise politics in such a way that only those with genuine heart to serve are in politics. Professionalising politics isn’t about raising a “barrier to entry” but about improving the quality of “barrier” so that just like the days of the old civil service, some of our best brains with the right servitude are in politics. Also, professionalising politics does not in any way reduce or impact the fact that the general public and ordinary members of a political party are and should be the ‘elites’ of our democracy.

Of course those in politics are entitled to a dignified and deserve to earn a decent standard of living. So we should adjust our nation’s Constitution so that enabling law is created that allows public office holders within the legislative arm of government to embark on “outside jobs”. However, “outside jobs” need be monitored due to the political power and influence that politicians have. No one in politics should be in it to make money, at least not directly from government disbursements.  Public office holders should certainly not be earning more than their entrepreneurial or business counterparts of commensurate level or experience. If money is your motivation, then politics shouldn’t be the career for you. We should make politics as much a career as it is a calling.

Our political structure need not be expensive. In fact, it shouldn’t be expensive. We should structurally design it to be inexpensive. If our political pipeline process is bottom-up, there’ll be no need for e.g. a “Fashola” in contesting for Governor to spend billions ‘talking’ to me to vote him into office. As he would have started from ward level, his record should already be doing most of the talking. So rather than spend ungodly amounts bribing and cajoling people, his record would do it for him. If he’s performed well, the need to spend a lot will not be there. In fact, the more a political aspirant spends on his campaign, the more people should run away from him.

Hard Truths

Entrepreneurs and small businesses should be the life blood of our economy. We therefore need to promote entrepreneurial spirit and fair competition better. We need our economy biased and favourable to those that take direct economic and market risks. We need to promote an enabling environment that ensures small & medium enterprises thrive. I believe this can be better achieved if the control of political power is closer to the people.

In my opinion, the LG should be empowered to generate, administer and disburse 50% of the revenues/resources of the Government of Nigeria, 30% by State Governments with balancing 20% by the FG. Each level of government should seek to maximise its revenue generation opportunities. The sharing of revenues shouldn’t be heavily top down as it currently is. We need to get resource and revenue control closer to the people whose lives are directly affected by such resources. For example, I believe it will be difficult for a LG chairman/person that was elected through the bottom-up process to be unfair in the discharge of his/her duties and disbursement of resources when 1) his/her track record is known, 2) his/her family and roots are known within the locality and more importantly those that voted him into office are his/her neighbours.

Nigeria and Nigerians need to get real. Rather than be looking towards the federal government for “hand me downs” we should be looking inwards at the resources local to us that we have competitive advantage for and seek to exploit such resources for revenue maximisation and economic development. We need to stop being intellectually and economically lazy as a people. The get rich quick mentality has to be jettisoned. As a society, we need to celebrate and encourage hard work. Our greedy focus on “easy” oil revenue has killed and continues to kill industries. The North could be earning as much from agriculture as the nation is currently earning from oil if it hadn’t abandoned the famous “rice pyramids”. If revenues raised from agriculture by the North are largely left to the LGs and various SGs of the North, imagine the number of people that will be emancipated from poverty, the opportunity to develop economically by establishing world leading educational institutions, invest in infrastructure, healthcare etc.

Let me paint a picture of what my ideal Nigeria is. This picture assumes the above political reforms are in force. I’ll use the North as an example.

Resource control is 100% local. The LGs generate and collect 50% of taxes, SGs 30% and FG 20%. Agriculture and textile industries are thriving all over Northern Nigeria. LGs are able to design policies that encourage and support local SMEs, have constitutional powers to do so as well as the revenue resources to effect sound policies. The implementation of these policies has led to the creation of several small & medium sized farms and textile businesses. The SG with a more central view is able to invest in roads to link major towns as well as establish industrial storage facilities for farmers to store their goods. The Northern states armed with the knowledge of the competitive advantage it has over other parts of the country in relation to agriculture, establish a regional development agency to pool resources together to invest in transportation and storage infrastructures that will enable it move its products to other parts of the country. As a result of revenue earned from oil, Eastern Nigeria has been able to develop world class engineering industries, so it pitches to the Northern Development Agency for its transportation infrastructure development project. The South-west with its world class financial centre is able to assist with financing the project.

I know the above is simplistic, but it paints a picture of how cooperatively and by localising resource control, we can work together to create a Nigeria where all of our needs are met. Lets us get rid of the shackle of having an overpowering federal government. Let each locality have control over its own natural resource. Let us compete fairly with each other by having confidence in our resources and associated competitive advantage. Let us agree amongst ourselves the industries we need to protect from external (non-Nigerian) competition. Let the West and East buy its food from the North, the East supply engineering, industrial and infrastructural needs to North and West, let the West support the East and North with its strong financial centre, educational institutions and port services. Let us use trading amongst ourselves to develop our products, industries and business acumen. Once we’ve attained global standard, let us export to the rest of the world.


I believe implementing this reform proposal will be the most difficult part. Laziness (intellectual and emotional), like any bad habit is challenging to shed/overcome. But first, let us agree to a new secular Constitution devoid of all ethnic and religious biases. Let us agree to protect the rights of every Nigerian child to free access to education and health facilities. Let us agree to jettison the “state of origin” parlance from our societal structures and let “residency” be our guiding claim to the locality of our choice. Let us agree to devolve power away from the federal government and transfer most of it to the local government level. Our current structure makes cutting our nose to spite our face too easy. If we localise power, it’ll make it structurally “less easy” for neighbours to spite each other.

Prior to devolving power, there will be a need to establish a “Nation Fund” to help fund the implementation. The Fund could be set-up as loan custodied at and administered by an organisation like, for example, the World Bank. Let us agree that the Fund should only be accessed by LGs at very minimal interest rates as close to 0% as possible to be paid back fully. Let us agree to a timeline, say 100years, by which the World Bank has to pay the Fund back to Nigeria. By setting the Fund up as a form of loan, it hopefully motivates those that access it to see it as a business and developmental tool rather than a “national cake” to be shared without accountability. We could compel the Bank to publish an annual statement of affairs, so that what has been borrowed and by whom is known.

I implore those that read this to, however difficult, try and not waste too much energy finding faults with this article but rather focus on solutions or better ideas that will help move this debate and nation forward.

We need to customise our democracy – 30/05/2014

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