Thursday, January 28, 2010

Governance by Deceit

Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men.
––Abraham Lincoln, in a speech to Illinois Legislature in 1837.

Ubiquitous these days are myriad of billboards pronouncing the so-called ‘dividends of democracy’ that a governor or local government chairperson has provided for his or her people. A flip through the newspapers and magazines will inundate you with advertorials on the supposed ‘great works’ of our elected political office holders; the citizenry are equally being regaled with similar stories on television and radio. While there’s nothing bad in a government showcasing its achievements, a critical analysis of these advertised projects will reveal that many of them are either photo-tricks or provided at mind-blowing amount that is not commensurate with the magnitude, quality and number of projects executed.
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka recently expressed displeasure with the governance-by-billboards in his home state. While delivering a lecture in honour of the birthday of Chief Sobo Sowemimo in Abeokuta in November 2009 or so, he observed thus: “Traversing our state these days, a visitor cannot but remark at a phenomenon that triggers off memory of that phase of Abacha’s desperation for self-perpetuation, one that resulted in the sprouting of sycophantic excrescences on the landscape and airways of the most stomach-churning kind, the unbridled praise-singing that seeks to conjure up universal appropriation even from trees, rocks, hills and valleys –extending even to infants!
“At least, Sani Abacha had a purpose, however sinister and warped. To what end is the present inundation of such fulsome choruses in Ogun State? Is govern-ance no longer supposed to be by performance and example? Or have we settled for a culture of govern-ance by billboards?”
Governance via slogans, billboards, posters, advertorials, and promissory notes are a common phenomenon in our polity. In fact, added to the list is governance by telephone, the epitome of which is our ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is currently on health tourism in Saudi Arabia. Since that fateful November 23, 2009 when he was flown to King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah, Nigeria has not been at ease.
Fuel queues are yet to disappear at our petrol stations; the 6,000 megawatts of electricity promised the populace in 2009 could not be met. As at the first week of 2010, report said electricity generation hovered between 3,600 – 3,700 MW. There is also high state of insecurity as armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and sectarian violence became the order of the day.
Two key factors responsible for Nigeria’s governance deficit are: defective election process and the absence of the rule of law. We all know that election is a farce in Nigeria. In many instances, the votes of the electorate do not count. Many so- called elected public office holders are actually lackeys of godfathers or cabals. Hence, accountability to the people is compromised. How a candidate sources his or her campaign fund will also largely determine if such a person will run good governance.
The cost of electioneering is too prohibitive for people of average means. It is on record that a former Senate President admitted that many political office holders had to sell their property in order to prosecute their election campaign. In such instance, it will be foolhardy to expect someone whose election was funded by a political godfather or who had to auction his or her property to raise fund for election not to recoup such investment with interest. They not only recover their political investment by fair or foul means, they also engage in primitive accumulation of wealth in order to take care of their uncertain future. Hence, governance suffers.
On the absence of rule of law, it is ironic that the government who prides itself on this doctrine is the same that is trampling on it. The theory of rule of law as propounded by Prof. A.V. Dicey has three major components, viz: Supremacy of the law; Equality before the law and Fundamental Human Rights. Right now, there is no constitutionalism to validate the notion of supremacy of the law in Nigeria. We still pick and choose when to follow the Constitution as a nation.
The ongoing controversy over the prolonged absence of Mr. President would have been unwarranted if the constitutional provision had been followed. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria was very unambiguous about what a sitting president is supposed to do when going on vacation or unable to discharge the functions of his office. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua has refused to toe this honourable path since his assumption of office in May 2007.
Section 14(2b) of the 1999 Constitution also stipulates that “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” But where is security or welfare in Nigeria as we clock 50 years of nationhood? Nigeria now typifies a Hobbesian State where “life is short, brutish and nasty.”
The doctrine of equality before the law in Nigeria can be likened to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where “All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others.” In this country, the truth is that laws are like cobwebs where the small flies are caught and the great ones break through. The score card of Nigeria on fundamental human rights is not fascinating, as many of the rights are being curtailed directly or indirectly.
The road to good governance must be paved with constitutionalism, transparency and accountability, credible, free and fair elections, as well as high standards of living for the citizenry.