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Buhari’s govt: No sign of desired change, say democracy watchers

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Guest Lecturer, Remi Aiyede (right), Dr. Sylvester Akhaine, Odia Ofeimum (Chairman of the occasion) and Ayo Ilesanmi at the CENCOD 13th Annual Democracy Lecture. PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

Democracy watchers and the human rights community, at the weekend in Lagos were in agreement that public accountability in Nigeria was still a far cry from what it should be.

Besides, they asserted that the promised change b y the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) was a mirage as there has not been any difference from what obtained in the previous administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

At the 13th Annual Democracy Lecture of the Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarisation (CENCOD), stakeholders were unanimous that the citizenry has to be mobilized and sensitized, to act in self preservation in other to achieve the desired change that would bring about public accountability in the country’s polity.

Chairman, Board of Trustees of CENCOD, Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine set the ball rolling when in his introductory remarks, he said that no substantial change has taken place because elements of the same ruling clique had only shuffled themselves in the last electoral exercise. According to him, change involves not a modification of existing reality but its transformation.

The question is: what has changed since May 29? Your answer is as good as mine. The same old wine in the same old bottle, apologies to Prof. Issa Shivji. A cabinet that is solely dictated by political expediency is in place; the value of the naira is dipping with no end in sight; fuel queues are back; Boko haram insurgents are free-riding; the legislators are fighting for juicy committees; macro-indicators for the economy are not looking good.”

The government must be ready to commit class suicide and root with the masses of people many of whom marched from Kano to Lagos and Lagos to Abuja to celebrate ‘change’. The change that will be meaningful will entail the negation of the old order,” he added in the remarks tagged ‘This Change Must Be Meaningful’.

Furthermore, he said: “There has to be structural transformation of the structure of state and of government. It will involve strategic infrastructural development; it will involve a re-articulation of a development ideology and the mentoring of a new elite that will help unleash the productive capacity of Nigerians.”

Akhaine suggested among others, the re-federalisation of the units of the Nigerian state for self-determination that entails fiscal autonomy;
Downsize the legislative chambers to one, a massive ideological orientation programme to steer the populace in the desired direction.

To Comrade Wale Abideen of the Security Watch, there is no difference between the APC and the PDP arguing that the problem is not the parties per se but the politicians because they do not operate any ideology.

Renowned poet and polemicist, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, who chaired the occasion was also of the view that nothing has changed in the country between May 29, to date and stressed the need for the populace to be properly organized to effect the desired change.

He lamented that Nigeria has not had a proper electoral system in operation saying that “you can not exclude one third of the electorate who could not get their permanent voters’ cards (PVC) and at the same time you claim to have a free and fair election”.

Similarly, he queried the rationale behind the arguments that the country’s laws are responsible for the inability of the Buhari’s administration to deliver, “ I do not believe that a political party that has a proper programme should have anything to worry about the law in terms of whether it is empowered or not because everything is provided for in our laws.“

According to him, “there is nothing in the way of Mr. President if he wishes to fight corruption or even to transform the economy for the good of all. A man who wishes to fight corruption must start from the basics. There is no corrupt Nigerian today that the law can not handle”.

He said that the elites and the ruling class were incapable of the task presently, and advocated an action on the part of the people. “If we are to be the ones to respond, how do we make that possible? … All of us need to work hard and it means being prepared to make personal sacrifices”.

Furthermore he said: “Anybody who tells you that goodness (for the good of all) is not possible is actually asking you to join the evil ones and this will worsen your predicament”

Ofeimun also argued that poverty was not responsible for the inability of the citizenry to be organized for positive change saying, “organization is possible but it will require sleepless nights”.

On his part, the guest lecturer, Dr Remi Aiyede of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, in a paper titled “Institutional Design, Public Accountability: Nigeria’s Parliament in Perspective”, said that it is actually impossible to say who is responsible for the problem the country is passing through presently.

According to him, “there is likely to be no significant change in the mess Nigeria is presently in essentially because there has been no difference between the political party that was in government before now and the party that is in power now.”
Besides, he said that the problem is compounded by the contradictions within the citizenship as well as by the issue of poverty in the society.

This, he noted would certainly be a challenge in mobilizing the citizenry to ensure public accountability.
In particular, he stressed the need for ordinary Nigerians to play key roles to enhance the value of accountability in the parliament saying, “These are challenges for all stakeholders to rise to the occasion … to ensure the rights of the citizens to know and intervene. Until this is done, we can not have the envisaged public accountability especially in the parliament.”

Aiyede explained that this is imperative because the legislature performs critical functions in representation, public education, policy-making and executive oversight in which it exercises legitimating and decision influence that make it stand out as one of the most significant agent of public accountability.

He argued that the Nigerian parliament has not been quite strong as an institution of political accountability, but admitted that this was not caused by the “weak legislative powers but the character of politics, the underdevelopment of parliament due to prolonged military rule, executive dominance that renders Nigeria a de facto delegative democracy for some years after the country returned to democratic rule.”

Continuing, he said: “Ultimately, parliament has been able to guarantee its financial independence and asserted its oversight powers due to the elaborate constitutional provision guaranteeing its independence and competence. Yet constitutional provisions that ensure the powers and independence of parliament are not sufficient to ensure performance that can lead to improvement of public welfare.”

Consequently, he called for the strengthening of the infrastructure of parliament and the skills and competence of members of parliament to carry out performance and programme audit, adding that a lot needed to be done in terms of constituency representation and strong commitment to development that can effectively reduce the tendency to predation.

The university don opined that because accountability was central to the exercise of democratic power, those who exercise political power must be answerable for the exercise of that power. “In democracy accountability means that the citizens are to be able to punish those in public office when they fail to do their bidding … indeed, exercises of accountability that exposes misdeeds but fail to punish misdeeds are mere acts of window dressing.  Violation of rules do not only need to be detected they must be punished for institutions to become strong.”

However, he admitted that the political environment of politics in Nigeria was not friendly for accountability, noting that this is essentially because politics was not about the welfare of the people.


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