When Citizens ‘Can’t’ Exercise Their Powers
By Amir Abdulazeez
“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”- Thomas Jefferson
Over the last eight months, Nigerians have been very angry with the National Assembly. Although, the discontent of Nigerians with their national lawmakers over the past 16 years has become habitual and almost permanent, several events in the 8th National Assembly have accelerated this discontent. From Bukola Saraki’s refusal to resign over corruption allegations to the purchase of cars for lawmakers at ‘inflated’ prices down to the inability of both chambers to make their budget details clearly open and lately, to the on-going budget padding controversy; Nigerians have never probably being angrier with their representatives in the legislative arm than they are now. Add all of these to the social media bill controversy, the lawmakers’ quest to give their leaders life pension and immunity and Abdulmumini Jibrin’s latest cameo; then you can say, the sore relationship between Nigerians and their federal lawmakers have reached a point of no return.
One thing that will amaze a typical observer in all these is that no single lawmaker has been recalled by his constituents. Infact, no single formal and significant recall process of any lawmaker is currently on-going throughout the federation and probably, there will never be any. The constitution empowers the citizens to recall any lawmaker whose performance they are not satisfied with, but we probably enjoy only being angry and angrier.
While some Good Samaritan activists have made some attempts to ‘occupy’ the National Assembly in the past, others have employed physical attacks by pelting some of their representatives with stones and other objects in what looks like a bid to hold them accountable. However, it appears all these are not necessary, the lawmakers themselves have become immune to all these. One unpopular lawmaker who was disgraced in one of the Northern States and was alleged to have been physically manhandled by his angry constituents during the constitutional hearings in late 2013 was bold enough to openly seek for re-election within the space of months in the following year because he probably feels that was the only thing the people could do. They can’t go beyond that, they can’t recall him and most importantly they’ll definitely need him for his money. Our failure to constitutionally hold our lawmakers to account also translates to the fact that we cannot also hold the executive arm to account. Though we can’t recall a governor or president, but we can make him fear and respect our representatives and we can control him through them. We ask them to impeach a governor who abused his office or we recall them, simple!
Since 2003, the major political parties in every dispensation have in most cases being imposing candidates and technically selling their tickets to the highest bidder against the wish of the generality of the people. At the end, these parties shut out popular candidates and leave citizens with the narrow options of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. For more than 12 years, Nigerians have been suffering from this without finding a way to free themselves. All we could do is to promote peoples’ candidacy by backing and massively voting for the smaller parties who have no money and power; after all it is through our votes that the big parties became rich and powerful. Popular candidates who decamp to smaller parties in the hope that their personal acceptability will see them through end up getting disappointed just because citizens only want to vote candidates in big parties. One funny thing is that, after deliberately making the wrong choice amidst other overlooked alternatives, people come back to complain of limited choices.
Well, one must wonder, how can such a feat be achieved in a society where the monumental electoral frauds of 2003 and 2007 was not only allowed to take place, but was also swept under the carpet with little or no resistance? You begin to wonder whether we have citizens or just people whose aim is to survive or whether the citizens are actually concerned? As helpless as we seemed at that time, we could still protest by boycotting all future elections in mass until authorities correct the anomalies of those elections. At the end, it took more of the braveness and critical reforms of an astute Attahiru Jega to sanitize the electoral system than the people’s discontent.
Few weeks ago, when the price of a bag of Sugar suddenly sky-rocketed from around N9,000 to N15,000 within few weeks, I was compelled to pay a visit to a friend who was a trader in the popular Singer Market in Kano in order to clarify whether that was inflation or sheer craziness. In the course of our discussions, he confessed to me that it was the latter and that it was somewhat artificial and designed majorly by the marketers; then I kept wondering to myself on whether Nigerians or even Kano people can simply organize themselves and boycott sugar for a week or two and see whether these marketers would behave themselves? Nothing will happen to us if we boycott sugar even for months, we can use honey or just sacrifice taking sugar-sweetened foods for a while. It was from my discussions with him that I also understood that though the current bad state of the economy is contributing to inflation, but a chunk of it is been driven artificially by some traders and enemies of progress and this has been made possible because Nigerians have not thought of developing any significant resistance to all these kinds of illogicality.
The Nigerian leadership system has being taken people for granted for so many years simply because citizens have largely failed to develop a way of dealing with the problem. A typical public office holder feels he can get away with whatever actions he perpetrates while in power because he’ll face little or no consequences from the citizens. Some say we need revolution or an Arab Spring, but the truth is that we can make leaders sit up by simple civil actions without any violence. When you hear governments and leaders resigning over the fear of their citizens, you begin to wonder if such can happen in Nigeria. The Immediate past British Prime Minister resigned not because he had committed any crime or because he was asked to, but because his plans for his country’s future are contrary to that of his citizens and he fears the consequences of such a situation even after his party won massive support in the most recent National Elections.
It is worthy to note that there have been individuals and civil society organizations that have consistently and commendably stood against bad governance in Nigeria over the years. However, the actions of these individuals and organizations get drowned in the general lack of patriotism, support, awareness and inactions of the citizens. The citizens themselves have occasionally made things happen like in the 2012 subsidy removal protest for example, but that was a rare feat which no one can predict when such can be repeated with remarkable success.
Several factors contribute to citizens being unable to develop any resistance against bad governance and other atrocities against them. The chief among them, some will say, is ignorance. However, most of the actions we need to carry out to better our society need only basic knowledge and understanding to execute. What mostly is lacking is the patriotism and sacrifice. Ethnic, religious, political and regional differences are also a major reason why Nigerians fail to unite to fight for their cause. However, when problems come, they don’t select any religion or tribe and when leaders misgovern, they destroy the whole state and not only one region or two. Some other factors include greediness and money worshipping, poverty, laziness, lack of orientation and organization. Our general dislike for law, order and due process is also a major factor preventing us from holding our leaders accountable. It is only when citizens obey the law then will they have the guts and courage to question those on top. We have abdicated our responsibility as the ones who should primarily make our society a better place.
One wonders why public corruption continues to thrive and win in our society in spite of our so-called fight against it. The simple explanation is that we as citizens do not only encourage it, we also promote it. We condemn any appointed or elected public office holder who fails to get rich or distribute money. We demand money from public officers instead of accountability and transparency. We worship and revere looters and abuse those who retire with an unblemished record. If things go down like this up to the end (God forbid); the Nigerian story would not only be that of a failed leadership but of a failed followership as well.
We can change all these; we can make everyone in Nigeria accountable for his actions. Nigerian citizens are brave, strong and resistant. They could achieve many things if they unite, organize and dedicate themselves. The civilian JTF who rose against insurgency in the North east are Nigerians. The different activists and civil society organizations who have consistently and bravely fought bad governance are Nigerians. The people who blocked Obasanjo’s hypothetical third term bid are Nigerians. The people of Azare town who fought and defeated heavily armed robbers without guns are Nigerians. Goodluck Jonathan, the man who bravely sacrificed his ambition amidst uncertain consequences even if he could do otherwise is a Nigerian. Muhammadu Buhari, the man who contested four times and was allegedly cheated out on several occasions but still endured to serve his country is a Nigerian. The pregnant woman from Kaduna state who joined the queue to get accredited during the 2011 elections, went home to deliver and came back to vote is a Nigerian. Chief Ogbonnaya Onu and Bola Tinubu, who have resisted all attempts to join PDP and stayed put in opposition for 16 years are Nigerians. David Mark, possibly the longest consecutively serving Senator in the history of Africa is a Nigerian. Godsday Orubebe who summoned the super courage to outrageously ridicule himself before the whole world is also a Nigerian.