Current National Assembly really diminished our democracy
Hon. Chijioke Jonathan Edeoga, Enugu State gubernatorial candidate of Labour Party (LP) and former member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, spoke to LEO SOBECHI, on pitfalls of the country’s democratic governance, stressing that a robust legislature, creative local government system and transparent budgeting are crucial to good governance.
The executive versus legislative relationship has always been the bane of Nigeria’s democracy; what will be your attitude to the House of Assembly under you?
As much as possible, I will expect that they should be robust, they should engage me meaningfully and be representative. I don’t want a rubber-stamp parliament. When I was at the National Assembly, I didn’t agree to become a rubber stamp parliamentarian. That was how we removed Salisu Buhari, who was going to be pliant to the President and put in Ghali Na’aba, who made the place really democratic.
So, you can see what pliancy does to a democratic system in the example of the outgoing Senate President and the outgoing Speaker. Their pliancy and their willingness to respond, how high do you want to jump.
Mr Senate President has really diminished our democracy and made President Muhammadu Buhari not perform optimally. I say so because if they were engaging him, he (Buhari) would have brought out his best. He would have extended himself, but when they say, “carry go” it breeds complacency, it breeds indolence, it breeds a lack of imagination.
So, by the grace of God, when I become governor, I will encourage the legislative arm not to be combative really, but to be truly representative of their people. We will discuss everything, but honestly, I don’t want a pliant legislative arm. I am not averse to discussions.
Now, there are two critical issues in governance that have dogged the Nigerian democratic experience, namely Local Government administration and the budgeting process; how will you address, one, fund wastages and leakages, the corruption in local governments and budget padding?
The Local Government system is the way conceived to deliver services at the lower places, where the people live, at the grassroots, and in rural areas.
But, like most things in Nigeria, it has been mismanaged in the sense that substantially welfarist dimension has been added to the idea of local council service, where they just keep on employing people without regard to what those people ought to do or should do. So, people are employed for the sake of receiving salaries, not for the sake of being located at the point, where their services are needed.
So, for instance, in the Local Government system, you have well over a thousand persons who are in the administrative cadre, what are they doing there? Why won’t more people be relocated for instance to the agricultural sector, where they are involved in actual farming, involved in mechanised farming, where they are involved in collectives, where poultry or different kinds of farming going on.
Monies are sent to the council areas and there is no supervision, there is no follow-up on how these monies are used. So, monies that are sent that are meant to pay teachers’ salaries and attend to rural infrastructure, roads, and healthcare could just be diverted into the engagement of numerous hands, either paid assistants or employment.
So, what are we going to bring into the Local Government system? We are going to bring guidance and discipline so that some sort of leadership or a guide will insist that laid down policies are followed. We will insist on priorities being given and followed, will insist on benchmarks and milestones being set and achieved and recorded, so that the chairman doesn’t just begin to behave according to his own whims and caprices; and there is no monitor and there is no evaluation and there is no common yardstick.
So, I am going to have a Local Government system with a commonality of roles, an agreement on the things to be done, when they will be done, how they will be done and what monies will go into those projects. There would be some sort of serious supervision by persons who are grounded in public service, who are men of integrity and character, who will not compromise or be bought over by the Chairmen, who look away while they begin to misapply the councils’ funds.
The same things apply to budget. Budgets sometimes are based on the hope of what is to come and sometimes they are even over placed, sometimes those expectations are not met. Hence, we must have realistic budgeting, we must have budgeting that is tailored, even close to what is reasonably expected and there is also supervision and virement is reduced.
As such, there must be selection, there must be intensity and there must be prudence. Those are changes one can bring in the governing process with regard to Local Government and the budgeting process.
Based on your exposure to governance, how will you tackle this issue of what they call political approvals? That is when there are no funds available, approvals are given…?
Governance should be about character, credibility, communication and values. If you are properly brought up, you will know that one should cut one’s coat according to what is available. You should not live above your means, you should know that your word should be your bond. Don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.
If you must make promises, you must tell them that it is conditional. You say, for instance, if money is available, we will do this, or when money comes we will do this, but for now this is what we can do. One must not tell a lie or try to impress everybody to become a good governor or a good administrator.
So, those life-enhancing values, or values that differentiate the good man and the man who is not good, are also relevant in public service. Your ‘yes’ must be your ‘yes’, your ‘no’ must be your ‘no’. You should not promise what you cannot fulfil. You should not give what you don’t have or live above your means. Those are elementary norms or values that go a long way in deciding who we are or what we become.
One can insist on not making political promises or if by political promises you mean the promises that you don’t intend to keep. What motivated you into joining the race for the governorship of Enugu State?
It is the urge to serve and to improve significantly on the things we met and to leave a legacy. I have a firm belief that we are here for a purpose and God will ask us to give an account of how our time on earth was spent.
If you have been in public service, how did you put it to use? If you have been a lawyer, how did you put it to use? If you are an accountant, how did you put it to use?
I have been grieved of that sense that we are here for a time and we must leave our mark. That accounts for the people who I identified with; Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr John Nwodo, and people who have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers, including Dele Giwa.
So, my life has been marked by that sense that we are here for a purpose and whatever one finds doing, one should do it well. Having gone through public service, so to say, through the prism of the political ladder, Press Secretary to Governor Okwesilieze Nwodo, elected council chairman of Isi-Uzo Local Government; member of, the House of Representatives; Presidential Assistant, a Commissioner for seven years, in Local Government and Environment, one has had a first-hand exposure to the challenges and expectations of our people and to the gaps in the fulfilment of those expectations. And so, one has a sense that one can improve on what one has met in view of learning, my educational qualifications, when you are exposed to theory and thereafter to practice.
So, it is a combination of the innate sense that we are here for a purpose. I must utilise it maximally for the common good. A sense that I have experience and the knowledge and I have seen the problems first-hand, both as council chairman, aide to Governor Nwodo, a presidential aide and a commissioner for seven years.
I have seen the yearnings of our people, I have seen the possibilities, I have seen the potentialities and I have seen the gaps in expectations and service delivery and I have the believe that I can make a difference. That is why when it became the turn of my zone (Enugu East) to produce the Governor to emerge, I said if not now, when? If not me, who?
The combination of my lifelong preparation culminated that this is the time to do it, the time to run for the highest office in Enugu State to be able to leave a mark, to make a point that this thing can be done very well, that the public expectations can be met and met maximally. That the gaps in public service delivery can be filled, that joy, happiness and enthusiasm can return to the people’s faces again.
So, I want to return a sense of enthusiasm, the sense of possibility, the joy that has always been associated with Enugu people when we were all growing up here, return the industries, return the streets to their pristine state, revive infrastructure, especially given the benefits of my travels, my worldwide exposure.
So, in a nutshell, that is what made me join the race.
I look at other candidates who are posturing, I discovered that I’m better than all these gangs in terms of experience, public service record and in terms of exposure to theories in various fields in liberal arts, law and public administration.
If you are to itemise, what are the major challenges you will begin to tackle immediately after you are sworn into office as governor?
Infrastructure renewal in Enugu State is very important. The dilapidation of infrastructure is very glaring. The roads need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. In fact, all the roads, whether they are federal or state, some sort of emergency work must be proclaimed with regard to road infrastructure, waste evacuation and addressing the problems of youth unemployment.
Something must be done drastically to encourage an influx of industries, reduce taxation, to make the place hospitable and welcoming to the enterprise through the reduction of taxation, and improvement in infrastructure, access roads, water and electricity.
We will punish indecency and indiscretion with regard to random and unchecked dumping of refuse. A sort of regulation will come in, sanitary officers will be reintroduced and several innovative responses to environmental degradation in Enugu State will be mapped out as a matter of urgency within the first three months of taking the oath of office of governor.
Sometimes state governors tend to favour their Senatorial zones with appointments and distribution of social amenities with the hope of future electoral benefits. What is your attitude to the distribution of amenities and appointments?
Favouring one’s section in a multi-section society is like favouring one child in a multi-numbered household. Any kind of favouritism is not right at all. Even the Constitution does not accept that you should favour any part or any section, including where you come from. That is the essence of federal character, which could be applied to state or local government as enshrined in the Constitution.
That is also why the quota system is enshrined in the Constitution. That is why zoning is enshrined in the Constitution. That is why equity and justice and fair play is fundamental norms, natural norms of our system as human beings.
So, I will try as much as it is possible to be fair, equitable and just. That is what accords with the human conscience and accords with a reasonable expectation of well-meaning people. Nepotism in any form is not good, so we will try to be balanced, after all, we are all part of one state, we just happen to come from any other place.
The natural law is, to do unto others what you like them to do unto you. Hence, if I don’t like my own section to be cheated or denied, why should I deny others of their own.