NASS: Making peaceful change impossible
Against the groundswell of calls for a restructured Nigeria, the National Assembly still acted true to type, maneuvered its way to avoid inclusion of weighty issues of the day in its ongoing exercise of amending the constitution. Some Nigerians are aghast, wondering why a parliament could be so insensitive and myopic not to seize the billowing and buffeting wind to set sail the stymied Nigerian ship on the part of recovery. Others are not surprised at all. They look beyond today’s political class for salvation.
The 1999 Constitution, as handed over by former military rulers led by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, in 1999 was not what it pretended to be. The constituents of the Nigerian federation for whom the constitution purports to service had no part in its making. A lot has been said of how the constitution was wrapped and shrouded in secrecy, until it was handed over on May 29, 1999, without any prior preview by segments of the populace to subject it to some referendum. Therefore, the constitution lied when it claimed to be a product of the people in its preamble.
However, it was generally envisioned that what the military handed to the new government of Olusegun Obasanjo was a working document that could be subjected to reviews as the democratic journey progressed. Democracy had been put on hold since the fall of the Second Republic and stakeholders were desperate to just commence a process, no matter how faulty the Constitution was presumed. There are of course some, who do not see anything wrong with the constitution, so far it provides them ample space to manipulate and frustrate real growth.
More than seventeen years into this business, when democracy is expected to have deepened and affected governance on a positive note, there has been a steady decline on all indices of growth. For instance, whereas, health facilities in the country were labeled as consulting clinics by coup plotting soldiers in 1983, as part of reasons for their intervention, the new vocabulary in healthcare of today is medical tourism to other countries where governance process has accorded healthcare the priority it deserves. Today, every public officer procures healthcare overseas, while the majority of Nigerians are condemned to the costly trial and error services offered in overstretched tertiary and primary health facilities.
In the education sector, overseas higher institutions have recruitment centres in Lagos and Abuja where they advertise so-called quality services and convince politicians and their contractor friends to send their children outside for quality education. Daily, top politicians and their traditional ruler friends are posting photographs of graduation ceremonies of their wards in overseas schools, so brazenly that you wonder whether this is still a country with rules.
Meanwhile, in these seventeen years plus, the country has been so blessed with favourable international crude market, which fetched trillions of Naira that cannot be accounted for in the budgets. The roads have become death traps, whereas, the Constitution boldly announces in its chapter two, a State Policy that affirms government’s obligation to citizens. It promises better life, but in reality, it is fictitious.
Campaigners for a restructured Nigeria are of the belief that all is not well with the country and that there is an urgent reason to tweak the polity for greater and better service of the people, instead of this restricted service of a few. That is the essence of the calls, to make Nigeria greater than it was envisaged at the beginning, and far better than where it is ditched by today’s rapaciously greedy political class. There is a need to review the constitution to put emphasis on improving the quality of education, healthcare and other social services; so that poor citizens with debilitating ailments will benefit from government, instead of being advertised along traffic jams, in very deplorable circumstances. Because government does not care for them, they are paraded in most dehumanizing form, appealing for help.
The way to go is to first make government less costly to run. Many persons in government take undue advantage of the access they have to indulge. There is too much free money around government. Such excesses can take care of some poor citizens. The argument has been made of trimming the size of the National Assembly. Do we need two chambers of NASS; are there ways to prune the numbers and still retain the quality and capacity to make laws? That is the sort of engagement citizens expect of the NASS, debates that are centered on citizens, particularly the jobless and those in schools. A parliament that is so consumed by itself and its comfort cannot plan a future for the youth population. Parliamentarians should think more of where the country would be in ten years, and upon the assumptions work out policies that are realistic.
But instead, we see a NASS more concerned about appropriating for itself an immunity clause, at a time citizens have asked for cancellation of the immunity provision in Section 308, which removes governors and the president from criminal prosecution while in office. That shows crass insensitivity and lack of respect for the people.
At a time a siting president is on medical vacation for more than 80 days, and is not showing signs of returning to duty without being propped; what should engage the attention of lawmakers other than Sections 144, to remove encumbrances that make it difficult for constitutional provisions to be enforced? The constitutions of serious countries are drawn without prejudice to idiosyncrasies or vulnerabilities of individuals in government; even Section 308 does not make room for the stupidity of persons in government, so why should this NASS not see a good opportunity in this auspicious time to revisit Section 144 and put the matter to rest. What should be replaced in that Section, if you ask me, is the composition of an independent medical team to be raised by the NMA for investigation of the health of presidents and governors should they fall sick beyond certain limits, and to recommend full disclosures. That will save us from making Nigeria the laughing stock of the international community. We are caricaturing and amusing the global community, yet displaying colossal leadership vacuity.
All segments are calling for restructuring. If that sounds too complex for NASS members to contemplate because of regional politics, what is so difficult about amending the constitution to devolve more powers and responsibilities to states? As presently constituted, the federal government cannot attend to all the constituents of the federation. Yet, it presides over ministries that draw a greater percent of the budgets. Should there be agreement on devolution, it will put more money in states and limit the federal to a few ministries and departments. That will affect political contests, because there would now be less free money in Abuja for politicians to run after.
But that proposal does not impress our lawmakers. They are being manipulated by political and regional principalities, which are obsessed with thoughts of crude oil money. They do not want to grow agriculture and tap mineral resources in their states. The idea of restructuring is to them some death sentence.
But how do we appease the next batch of Boko Haram if we do not make government responsive to education needs of today’s almajiris; how do we appease looming calamity of the next batch of sophisticated kidnappers, if a few politicians corner our resources and use it to train their children in the best schools in Europe and America; how can we provide healthcare for miserably poor Nigerians with the present high cost, while politicians buy healthcare abroad?
What the NASS cleverly avoided last week, refusing to flow with the tide and clamour for a gradual attainment of a new Nigeria, is a mere postponement of evil days. I hate to add that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable! JFK said so.
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