by Bayo Oluwasanmi
We should salute Dr. Ezekwesili for having the courage and determination and look power in the eye and ask why and how.
It is the most underutilized weapon in the arsenal of oppressed Nigerians. People power – ask the Egyptians and they would tell you how potent and pungent is people power.
Nigerians need some tutorials on people power from Egyptians. From “Arab Spring” into Summer of Discontent, Egyptians successfully overthrew two governments in 30 months through people power.
Nigerians have been lulled into a sense of apathy because they have been castrated by fear to confront the ruling class and for once change the dynamics of governance.
The Egyptians now know they have power of mass of troops made up of ordinary citizens to direct or redirect their national affairs. Though it is too early to assess the benefits of the revolution, it is instructive to note that the people possess immense power to reject and eject any government at any time and install government of their choice. This is the salient lesson for Nigerians from the Egyptian Revolution.
The elected representatives of the people have become terminally diseased with Chronic Stealing Syndrome (CSS). They have been effectively neutered by corruption to be of any good to the people.
The National Assembly – Senate and the House of Representatives – comprised of untutored minds known for oppressive waste. Because of the dishonorable behavior of its members, the National Assembly has become the phoniest piece of baloney. With deliberate delight the legislators are steering the nation toward a descent into imagined hell.
The presidential democracy that we practice is anything but democratic or presidential. What we have now is Hitlerite Democracy that has no room for peaceful protest, voices of dissent, exchange of ideas, and intelligent discourse without hurling insults or labeling critics as saboteurs or unpatriotic citizens trying to pull down the government.
Unlike in advanced democracies, our political parties are not as formalized and ideological, rather are formed around personalities. Instead of dealing with the issues, they fight individuals.
To be sure, governments are necessary but not all governments are good for their citizens. We often assumed wrongly that only governments that are dictatorships, authoritarian, or repressive are bad. Not true. There are many ways for a democratic government to repress their citizens.
Obviously, the objective of any repressive government is to make you a dependent citizen. Why? Because dependent citizens don’t think or rebel. Another way is to keep you guessing the next line of action the government would take. You may never know when you would be thrown in jail. Yet another way is double standard. There is no cause and effect. There are no consequences that are applied consistently.
The above characteristics of a repressive democratic government succinctly mirror our experiment and experience with our second or third fiddle (or is it fourth?) with democracy.
August 19, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili was the keynote speaker at a Civil Society Roundtable on “Cost of Governance” hosted by the Civil Society Legislative Center (CISLAC). The focus of her address was on “unsustainable economic structure and management of public finance.”
To substantiate her claim of prodigal waste by our representatives, she relied on eight years data 2005-2013 on budgetary allocations or transfers to the National Assembly. The source of her data was information displayed by the Ministry of Finance in the public domain. By simple addition, she came up with One Trillion Naira for the eight years under review.
This is not the first time Dr. Ezekwesili would collide head-on with the members of the National Assembly. Not long ago, she provoked the ire of the representatives and the presidency when she accused them of squandering the foreign reserve. On each occasion, she was vilified, harassed, insulted and threatened.
There seems to be a great confusion what the word democracy means to our representatives. Simply, it means the government of the people. It implies that every Nigerian including Dr. Ezekwesili should be able to have their say in one way or another in everything that affects their lives. We are not under dictatorship. We are in a democracy!
Citizens’ input and contributions that would inform or shape decision making process of our legislative bodies could best be exercised through representative democracy. Representative democracy would be meaningful and relevant only if our representatives would really make all their decisions only after consulting their constituencies thereby having a clear idea about the views of their constituents on a particular issue, and trying to accommodate these views as best as possible.
Sadly, the Nigerian brand of representative democracy is not true democracy according to the above definition, rather is actually just elected dictatorship. Nigerians only vote every four years, they do not vote any issues.
All Nigerians do is elect their so called representatives who then until the next elections have no obligations by law and little or no incentive to base their decisions on individual issues on the wishes of their electorates. Because the representatives hardly ever bother to consult them on various issues, the “representatives” act in a very dictatorial manner between elections.
Is anything wrong for Dr. Ezekwesili asking to be heard? What part of her opinions or views on accountability and transparency constitute present and clear danger to democratic process? Has she any right to engage in debate or ask for one on how her representatives run the country? Why are the representatives so defensive and antagonistic? What do they have in their closets that they are hiding from Dr. Ezekwesili? By the way, who is afraid of Dr. Ezekwesili? And why?
In Nigeria, the policy making process is weak, our political society is not pluralistic, and checks and balances are poor. These factors render political incentives impotent from promoting public good that favor Nigerian society at large.
A more representative democracy requires mutual, active engagement from political actors, state agencies, and groups of citizens in the daily functioning of the state between elections by way of making policies that address public needs, in providing services to the people in an effective way, in giving feedback for adequate reforms, and giving account to the citizens and their representatives for the way the country is run.
All Dr. Ezekwesili is asking for is democratic accountability. Democratic accountability is ensuring citizens, political parties, representatives, and other democratic stakeholders and institutions and provides feedback to, reward or sanction officials in charge of setting and enacting public policy.
Democracy is not a spectator spot. When good men and women do nothing, idiots thrive. Dr. Ezekwesili’s strident calls and fanatical insistence on the elected representatives to discuss or debate the economic and financial health of the nation, call for openness, honesty, and fairness.
Operating from a state of permanent annoyance in juxtaposition to Dr. Ezekwesili’s demand for accountability, the National Assembly sees Dr. Ezekwesili as a trouble maker, unpatriotic, hell raiser, and as someone who pokes her nose on “other people’s business.” All Dr. Ezekwesili did in her presentation was to amplify the impact of the spending recklessness and misplaced priorities of the legislators.
The elected representatives have exhibited profound ignorance and stupidity for not knowing the basic underlying principles of democracy? Why are their eyes so closed that they can’t see? And their minds shut they can’t think?
Why are the representatives so paralyzed with fear by Dr. Ezekwesili’s invitation to dialogue and debate on the very crucial and critical issue of our cost of governance which is the most expensive in the world? As a matter of fact, she’s doing the representatives a favor by needlessly reminding them of their duties to the people. If anything at all, they should welcome her invitation with gratitude.
Tax payers are responsible for the salaries of the law makers as well as the entire government functionaries. What does it cost the law makers to make their salaries including the president public information without subjecting their employers – Nigerians – to unnecessary and undeserved torture by trying to imagine how much they are being paid for services not rendered? What’s the secrecy all about?
The legislators would never win the argument by intimidating, harassing, threatening, coercing, abusing, and insulting Dr. Ezekwesili. The Nigerian public is on her side. The law makers are frankly and nakedly defenseless by their knee-jerk responses of feeding us with forged, twisted, unsubstantiated, unreliable, and unverifiable salary figures and expenditures of the National Assembly.
Instead of hurling bricks and bats on Dr. Ezekwesili, the National Assembly must come forensically clean of any act or traces of misappropriation and squandering; Dr. Ezekwesili has proven over and again that we are not all dumb after all!
For a moment, let me play the role of an interpreter for Dr. Ezekwesili’s speech on “Cost of Governance” to our legislators perhaps they are unable to decode her challenge for debate on One Trillion Naira budgetary allocations that were transferred (I hate to use that word) to the National Assembly.
Education is the centerpiece of our infrastructure. Without a sound and solid education, the center piece of our infrastructures cannot hold. Dr. Ezekwesili is asking our legislators how much money was allocated for education vis-à-vis the appropriation for National Assembly.
She is asking the lawmakers how much money was appropriated on health, on roads, on water, on light, on security, on social safety net, on housing, on pension, on jobs, etc., compared with the One Trillion Naira expenditures of National Assembly in eight years. The devastating reality is that the legislators have written checks marked “insufficient funds” for these sectors while millions of Naira went into their private bank accounts.
Dr. Ezekwesili seems to be saying to the legislators: “Where is the money? What did you do with it? Where is the proof? Where is your vision? Where is your conscience? Where are your values? What are your priorities? Where is your commitment to the Nigerian people?”
Civilized legislators in a civilized democracy would have acted with a deliberate speed by providing answers and proofs how One Trillion Naira was spent. But, this is Nigeria! We should salute Dr. Ezekwesili for having the courage and determination and look power in the eye and ask why and how.
Dr. Ezekwesili reminds me of Esther’s faith-inspired statement: “If I must die, I must die.” God has placed Dr. Ezekwesili in a strategic place at critical moment to be the instrument of deliverance for Nigerians. Her presence in Nigeria at this time is not by accident, but by divine appointment. Who knows perhaps she is the Esther for just such a time as this?
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.