There’s a good democratic practice I’d really like to be introduced to our politics and if possible that the National Assembly makes mandatory through legislation. The practice I’m thinking of is an adaptation of the Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs) that is the norm in British politics. Whilst we don’t practice a parliamentary system of government, I have an adapted version to the presidential system we do practice in mind. Here it is:
On an annual basis, the National Assembly should summon the President to its complex for a Presidential Accountability & Stewardship Debate (PASD). This annual event will serve as an opportunity for the President to give an account of his stewardship over the past year as well as offer citizens and their representatives the opportunity to ask the President questions directly. The PASD could be held annually on May 29.
The format of the PASD could start with a Presidential address for 30-45min, a 15mins break, followed by a moderated panel debate for an hour, another 15mins break and finally an open question session for 45mins to round up.
Presidential address – 30 -45mins
Break – 15mins
Moderated Panel Debate – 1hour
Break – 15mins
Open questions – 45mins
Currently the President delivers a speech on May 29 from the Presidential Villa. I think that should change and should be delivered at the NASS in front of the representatives of the people. This is symbolic and at least creates the perception that the President is reporting back to those he or she is responsible to – the highest office in the land – The Office of the Citizen.
I’d suggest that the moderated panel debate is composed of the President, Senate President, Speaker, Minority Leaders of the Senate and House of Rep, Attorney General and two representatives of two Civil Service Organisations.
It shouldn’t be compulsory for other Senators and Members of the House to attend the PASD. In fact Senators and Members of the House that are not principal officers should be actively discouraged to attend. Priority of attendance should be given to two representatives of every political party that is registered with INEC. With respect to identifying which civil service organisations (CSOs) are to be invited, the NASS on its website should, at least three months prior to the event, request applications from CSOs to participate in the PASD. Every CSO that applies to participate should then be included in an online poll (the poll could be open for two weeks) to determine which CSO will be part of the Moderated Panel Debate. CSOs should then solicit votes from members of the general public. The top two CSOs with the most votes will be ones that will join the Moderated Panel Debate. Two representatives from the top 20 CSOs from the online poll would then be invited as members of the audience that’ll get the opportunity to ask questions during the Open Questions session.
Besides taking questions from the audience within the debate hall, the Moderator of the event could also take questions from social media submitted by Nigerians.
My hope for the above is that Nigerians get the opportunity, at least once every year, to ask their President questions on stewardship of the mandate given at the general election. No question should be off topic during the PASD. This will ensure that whoever is President will have detailed knowledge of every aspect of their government or on issues plaguing the nation that their cabinet may have shielded the President from being aware of or that the President is wilfully avoiding for ‘emotional balance’.