Interrogating Southern lawmakers’ representation of constituencies
Lawmakers in Nigeria are elected to represent a constituency to protect their people’s interest and take constituents’ grievances to the centre for effective representation. Though they are to be committed to the unity and welfare of Nigeria, their constituents expect that they engage issues on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence.
But recent activities of lawmakers from the Southern part of the country in the National Assembly seem to pass them off as failing in taking the interest of their constituencies to heart.
For instance, a political analyst recently asked as to how the Special Status for Lagos and the South East Development Commission did not scale through the National Assembly, yet the North East Development Commission, which came after the demand for Special Status for Lagos and the South East Development Commission scaled through.
Also, until the governors from the Southern part of the country made a very strong pronouncement on the PIB, the lawmakers looked unperturbed in spite of the content of the bill having been strongly watered down on the floor of the National Assembly.
Speaking on the seemingly untroubled nature of southern lawmakers to issues that appears to be shortchanging their constituents, the spokesman of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ken Robinson, said a number of factors are responsible for what is going on at the National Assembly, where the lawmakers from the southern part of the country are not pushing bills that will positively affect their constituencies through. He identified historical, political and primordial constrains.
“From historical perspective, the 19 states of the north were a region, while we had the western, eastern and mid-west regions in the south. Already, the south is fragmented. So history is in the north’s favour. And of course, culturally too, they are almost the same people. We are different; we are Yoruba, Ibo, Ijaw and Urhobo.
“Again, the numbers are not in the favour of the southern lawmakers. When we have conversation with them (lawmakers), that is what they often throw up, particularly in the House of Representatives. The truth is that everything in Nigeria is lopsided.”
Robinson, nonetheless, noted that in terms of commitment to representing the people, there had been a lackadaisical attitude among some of the representatives at the National Assembly. He, however, said that there was a new awakening among them, having realised that things cannot continue the old way.
“For the first time we have seen 17 Southern governors coming together. It is a good sign. We are hoping to see the senators and House of Representatives members from southern Nigeria also meeting regularly.
“Just before the PIB was passed, the Northern senators had a retreat, they met with the leaders of Arewa Consultative Forum and I understand the Sultan of Sokoto was represented and they took a common position. And that reflected in what they did at the plenary on the PIB and the electoral amendment act. They work together and have a common agenda. It is for us as a people in southern Nigeria to also begin to forget that we are Yoruba, Ijaw, Ibo to see that we have a common problem and from one section of the country and begin to develop common agenda,” Robinson stated.
Asked if it is for lack of negotiating skills and lobbying that the lawmakers have not been able to push some bills through, considering they could have done trade-offs in supporting and getting their bills passed, Robinson said it is not the lack or absence of the skill, as many of them are enlightened and educated.
According to him, it is more about lack of awareness and synergy with multi-cultural stakeholders. “Let us begin to talk more to ourselves. We see a lot of competition among National Assembly members, the ministers and the governors. It should not be, you are a minister because you are from a state. So, they should stop this political bitterness and work together.”
On his part, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Debo Adeniran said the south has had a problem with representation for long, noting that most of the people in the National Assembly prefer to represent themselves rather than the people.
“There have been several calls, apart from special status for Lagos, the recognition of the 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) that was put together, which the Olusegun Obasanjo administration rejected. The issue has not been resolved even when it is the same party at the federal and state. So, if they are truly representing the interest of the south, a lot could have been done. It is not just for them to say they are representing us, they must show what exactly they are doing to represent our interest.
“Even the so called PIB, they were there when it was being watered down, even our representatives from Ondo State, a oil producing state, did not do anything significant to protect that interest. So, we believe that they can do better than they are doing.”
Adeniran, however, maintained that the constituents are also partly at fault, because if they insist that if they do not deliver the good, they should not come back to the constituency, they would have done things differently. “We should call for accountability, how do they spend their time in the National Assembly, is it just to line their pockets?
“Look at Gbajabiamila, he travelled to all corners of Nigeria while trying to become the Speaker of the House of Representative. He has become the speaker now, what influence has he wielded to safeguard the interest of Lagosians and Southwest. We should put our house in order. Civil societies like ours should raise questions; we should mount pressure on what is dear to our heart and give advice that can help bills scale through. If we continue to welcome them the way we have been welcoming them, asking them to give a share of the largesse from Abuja, may not help.
“The 37 LCDAs should be a priority. The special status for Lagos is because Lagos is a mega city that is beyond the capacity of Lagos State government to cope with and the amount of work load is beyond what it can handle. Unless we force them to be more alert to their duties as legislators, they may be using us to negotiate for their own selfish benefits.”
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