Distinguished senators with no distinguished image.
Our National Assembly has finally realised that it has an image problem. The leadership of the senate has at last decided to do something about its negative perception among Nigerians. According to Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan, the strategic objective of the image laundering initiative is perception change. He says measures are being packaged by the National Assembly, NASS, in collaboration with the National Institute for Legislative Studies.
They have come up with a program called Open Week, through which they want to enlighten us about the workings of the National Assembly. Because according to them, their functions are grossly misunderstood by the majority of Nigerians. They say the planned Open Week will serve as a platform for the public to interact with federal legislators at close range so they can understand the constitutional functions of the National Assembly, particularly as regards constituency projects.
It is obvious that our senators do not know why we have such a poor opinion of them. They have not bothered to ask us why we carry a negative perception of them and why we hold them in such low esteem. This is where I think they should start from, instead of a meaningless open week during which they want to explain their constitutional duties to us. If you perform your constitutional duties diligently and with integrity and the huge responsibility that your role demands, you will make a positive impact on the lives of Nigerians. So please, spare us the rigmarole and get down to the serious business for which you were elected.
Our dear senators, let me explain to you some of the reasons why you have a negative image. You are overpaid. And you know it. All Nigerians know it. Of course we are not happy about it and you know this. In a nation where the minimum wage is 18,000 naira, you have allocated to yourselves unjustifiable salaries, perks and allowances. Each of you earn a salary and ‘running costs’ that will pay 750 Nigerians the minimum wage. You are the highest paid senators in the world. This is in addition to N200 million annual budget for each of you on constituency projects, most of which are never implemented. With so much money at your disposal, many of you live ostentatious lifestyles while your constituencies wallow in extreme poverty. In spite of protests by many Nigerians, you have never deemed it necessary to slash these allowances to reflect the realities of our economic situation and the lives of average Nigerians. And you expect to enjoy a positive image?
With all due respect, some of you are irresponsible. The affairs of state are serious and weighty, requiring the highest levels of sobriety and exemplary conduct. Unfortunately, some of you are busy attending parties and recording musical videos of themselves. They’re either seen cavorting with women of easy virtue or simply displaying their undeserved wealth. Is such behaviour acceptable from so called distinguished senators? When you see these things what do you do? In most professional bodies, there are strict rules to guide conduct and stiff penalties for erring members. But when your members bring the image of the National Assembly into such depths of infamy, what do you do? How do you ensure that they are brought to their senses? We know the constitution provides for senators to be recalled but as a body, how many times have you taken a stand on such excessive behaviour by your members?
You are lawbreakers. I hate to say this about the lawmakers of my country but it is the sad truth. In a country where the labour laws stipulates ‘no work no pay’, you regularly fail to sit for the number of days required by the constitution and still collect your full salaries. Foremost human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN once asserted that in a particular year, you sat for 96 days instead of the 181 days stipulated in the constitution you swore to uphold. Lawmakers in far more developed countries sit for more days in a year than you do, yet they are paid far less. Every now and then, you pay lip service to addressing the issue of absenteeism. But nothing happens. You constantly go on recess at every flimsy excuse. Yet you never fail to collect your full excessive pay. Is it surprising that you have a negative image?
You sit on the budget for months on end. The perception is that you never approve the budget on time. Many people say this is because of the humongous amounts you always vote for yourselves. The perception is that you are selfish and greedy. And unless you have these huge amounts for yourselves in the budget, it will not be approved. You blackmail the Executive into agreeing to your demands. This is the perception. To correct this, you must be more transparent in all your dealings, especially when it has to do with the national budget.
How can you have a good perception without having a good reputation? You cannot buy a good reputation. You have to earn it. And to earn a good reputation and the good perception that goes with it, you need to rebuild trust and earn the respect of Nigerians. You need to change your ways and begin to conduct yourselves in a manner that delivers value to our democracy and the dividends thereof, to the majority of our people. You need to behave in a manner that justifies the appellation ‘distinguished’ by which you are addressed. You need to show the way in making public officials live up to their titles. You all are addressed as ‘Distinguished’ and ‘Honourable’. But in all seriousness, do you conduct the affairs of this nation and carry out your duties in a distinguished and honourable manner? Having a good perception requires that you live up to your name.
Now, you are organizing an Open Week, through which you want to explain your constitutional functions to us. Meanwhile, the constitution requires you to sit for at least 181 days in a year, which is far less than the numbers of days we ordinary Nigerians have to work. Yet, you never meet this constitutional requirement. And you want to explain your constitutional duties and functions to us? What, if one may ask, is it that you want to explain? And how is this explanation going to suddenly give you a positive image?
Your bad reputation is a huge embarrassment to our nation. I am happy that you want to launder your image but please, do the right thing. Let your actions and conduct begin to have a positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians. You cannot buy a good image. You have to change your ways.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.