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Governance suffers as politics takes centre stage

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INDICATIONS have emerged that politics of elections has displaced governance in all the states of the federation  and Abuja, the seat of power and federal bureaucracy.

  Since the beginning of the year when the two major political parties —  the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) —  launched their national campaigns for the 2015 general elections, governance issues have taken second place to politics. 

  The APC launched its own presidential campaign on Monday, January 5 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the same day the PDP inaugurated its presidential campaign Council. The PDP then kicked off its nationwide presidential campaign in Lagos on Thursday, January 8, 2015.

  And from the launch of the campaigns till the elections were postponed on Saturday February 7, the major pre-occupation of President Goodluck Jonathan, his ministers and political appointees, members of the National Assembly, governors of the 36 States, members of the State Houses of Assembly and other political appointees were criss-crossing the country soliciting for votes. The result was that those who had businesses that required approval from concerned top government officials made mostly futile trips.

  This is because for the Federal Government, while President Jonathan and members of his cabinet were virtually outside the nation’s capital along with members of the National Assembly, governors abandoned their state capitals to pursue their own political campaigns or joined any of the two leading presidential candidates, President Jonathan and Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.

  The government functionaries had to abandon governance as this was the most decisive moment for the politicians as they engage in the battle royale. While the political appointees struggled to be relevant in order to keep their appointments, others jostle to outshine them in order to take over. Even chief executives of government agencies spend ample time in their ‘villages’ to be in touch with the grassroots to ensure their people voted ‘right’.

  The result was that Abuja became a ghost city while the campaigns lasted. The postponement of the election only suspended the evil day of sorts. While Abuja is abuzz with their return to work, most of the time of the political gladiators is taken up by mainly political issues. Put succinctly, the nation’s politicians are distracted. For President Jonathan, he has literarily made State House Marina, Lagos, a functional State House, Abuja Annex. And he has started travelling to states, not to meet to address rallies, but to meet with critical stakeholders. Governors are not left out such that even when Buhari travelled to the United Kingdom on Thursday, February 19, some serving governors and members of the National Assembly also left the country to join him. They haven’t yet got the formula to avoid the distractions that the campaigns could cause.

  At the National Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisles have abandoned their primary responsibilities of legislating for the peace, welfare and good governance for the country. In fact, due to politicking and the campaigns, proceedings in the two chambers of the National Assembly have suffered on the altar of unnecessary adjournments, which started from the day Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, defected to the APC and subsequently adjourned the House in controversial circumstances on October 28, 2014. The House resumed December 4, and adjourned immediately.

  The Senate and House of Representatives resumed sitting on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 after labelling the period of adjournment as suspension of legislative activities to enable members participate in party primaries. They adjourned again on December 18 later to enable its members observe the Christmas and New Year break. They resumed on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 only to immediately suspend plenary on January 15 to give its members ample time to engage in their re-election campaigns. They resumed on Tuesday, February 17, 2015.

  It is clear that some of them are greatly distracted by their pursuit of either governorship or re-election ambitions. For example, Tambuwal, his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, chairman of the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Dakuku Peterside (Rivers), Ideanyi Ugwanyi (Enugu) and deputy chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Alhaji Auwal Jatau (Bauchi) are contesting to be governors in their states.

  Even as they reconvened, most of their legislative time, especially in the House of Representatives is devoted to political posturing or flexing of muscles as the crack between the political parties in the two chambers of the National Assembly continues to widen. There is widespread suspicion as partisanship has taken the place of their mandate of law making. 

  Meanwhile, major bills are left unattended to including the 2015 Appropriation Bill laid before both chambers of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by the Minister of the Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Also, since their resumption of plenary, no one has mentioned the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which was presented since 2012.

  For the Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in Abuja, the absence of ministers and other top leadership for most period of this year slowed the functions of government. Activities were restricted to courtesy calls and receipt of awards. The result is that civil servants are often not available on their seats.

  It is only the military, security and other para-military services that are not affected as their leadership are insulated from direct political involvement. The men and women of the Armed Forces are fully deployed in the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeastern part of the country where they are recording successes. Others are involved in other security operations either singularly or as members of the Joint Task Forces in other states of the country.

  For example, at the Ministry of Interior, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Prison Service (NPS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Federal Fire Service (FFS) are functioning as they are para-military agencies. But at the civilian arm of the ministry, which has supervisory role over them, not much is going on as the workers idle away. In some offices, dusty empty seats are common sight.

  At the Ministry of National Planning, the usual interface with development partners who used to pay regular visits and unveiling of economic plans for the development of the country are rested for now. At the Federal Ministry of Works, the Minister, Mike Onolememen has practically re-located to Edo State for the past two months. He is mostly represented at events by the Minister of State.

  The exception to the rule of absentee ministers and political appointees is the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development where the Minister, Musa Sada is fully on his desk and is not involved in the political campaigns except when President Jonathan launched his campaign in Katsina State and he went and stood with him at the podium to explain to the people the “good works” of the administration in the mineral and steel sector. But Sada had earlier abandoned his office for a considerable time in the run-up to the party primaries when he was mostly in Katsina State to lobby for the gubernatorial position. His failure to get the nomination of the PDP saw him scampering back to Abuja.

 There are also the MDAs that provide essential services and are therefore priority sectors. They include those involving the Ministries of Power, Aviation and Transport. Most of its officials are on ground, attending to their duties.

  An official of the Nigerians United for Democracy (NUD), Ezenwa Nwagu, expressed concern on the way the campaigns had affected governance in the country, accusing the nation’s politicians of abdicating their responsibilities in pursuit of “their selfish political agenda.”

  Nwagu regretted that the postponement of the elections had worsened the situation as Nigerians would be made to pay dearly for the negligence of the political elite.

  According to him: “I think that unlike in other places, immediately our people are elected into government, they start thinking about the next election. What then happens is that once you get to the point of the election itself, governance stops. Let’s take the case of the National Assembly, a good chunk of the Senators are going for re-election and because of this, they cannot give serious attention to the issue of law making. In the lower chamber, the Speaker is contesting for the governorship of Sokoto State, while his deputy is contesting for the governorship slot of Imo State. In serious terms, do you think any serious legislative work would go on in that place? The truth of the matter is that at that level, governance is stopped. As we speak now, the 2015 budget, I am not sure there is serious work on it taking place in the lower chambers. So, it’s funny. If we are not running the country on the basis of the law on which you can appropriate resources, then what are you doing?

  “The difference between our political elite and the United States (U.S) where we copied the presidential system of government is the level of obedience to law and order. That you are campaigning for office is your personal business. So, that time you are investing to promote your personal agenda, the state has a way of ensuring that they are not paid for. But the difference here is that there is impunity. People are supposed to sit in the National Assembly up to a particular number of days but who cares. If you begin to interrogate that under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how many times a Senator or House member has sat, they would brand you a trouble maker.

 “In addition, the postponement has its own effect on both the people and the politicians who have invested a lot of resources. Considering that politics in Nigeria is based on use of resources, so it is the resources of the people that would suffer by the postponement of the elections. If people use their money to run campaign, we won’t be bothered. The truth of the matter is that whether it is the President or governors, they, across party lines dip their hands in the resources of the people. When you hear that they spent N200 million to campaign in a certain state, you should know the fund is from the public treasury or from people who benefited through patronage. So, this postponement would put a very huge burden on public funds and would impact negatively through lack of amenities, delay in payment of salaries. This will last for a very long time in the states and even at federal level and they would blame it on system failure.”

 



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