Iceberg with Lordson Okpetu
…the column that talks about the underlying cause of topical issues.
The democratic system of government is beautiful; when it is working efficiently. Democracy, on the other hand, can be a pain in the neck of electorates when one of the vital ingredients needed to make it work efficiently is missing.
One of such vital ingredients that is missing in Nigeria’s brand of democracy is the lawmaker-electorate relationship. The gap between these two major players in democracy is so wide in the Nigerian system that only a privileged few in the society get access to the lawmakers representing them.
For many Nigerian lawmakers, their relationship with the electorates end the moment the election umpire, INEC, declare them winner. With the election won, and the election victory celebration over, the typical Nigerian lawmaker builds an invisible wall around himself, with their campaign office also going into a deep coma.
Existing medium of communication with electorates, if any, are severed, their aides and personal assistants ensure this remains so. No feedback mechanism is set up with the people they claim they are representing.
One can’t but wonder whose interest Nigerian lawmakers are representing. That of the people in their constituency who can’t even reach them for any form of discussion or their own selfish interest? The answer, more often than not, is not far-fetched.
One does not need to look too far to understand why Nigerian lawmakers seem to be passing bills upon bills that have no direct impact on the electorates they claim to represent. The simple explanation is this; Nigerian lawmakers are sincerely out of tune with the needs of the people they are representing.
Interestingly, the disposition of the average Nigerian electorate explains why this evil trend has continued this far. Nigerians don’t seem to care about how they are being represented by their lawmakers, partly because they do not really understand what they are losing by being left in the dark by their representatives, and partly because many do not even know that the law allows ordinary citizens to sponsor bills, but which can only be presented to the house for debate by the lawmaker representing them.
In all honesty, the current scenario should not be the case. This trend has to change if Nigerians want masses-oriented dividends of democracy.
If Nigeria as a country must truly enjoy the dividends of democracy, then it does make sense for the country to be a good student of countries whose democratic system work like the hands of a clock.
A good example of a working democracy is the UK, the country that colonised Nigeria till late 1960s when Nigeria’s struggle for independence yielded the desired result.
Technology-aided lawmaking promotes efficiency and transparency
In the UK, lawmakers are just a few mouse clicks away. A Briton concerned by an issue that qualifies as a public affair can get in touch with the member of parliament (MP) representing his/her constituency in the house of commons (equivalent of Nigeria’s house of representatives) in less than 5 minutes.
To clear your doubt, the lawmaker representing Hackney North &Stoke Newington is Ms Diane Abbot. Her official line is 020 7219 4426, her e-mail is email@example.com, website is dianeabbott.org.uk and twitter handle is @hackneyabbot. It took less than 5 minutes to get these details from the British parliament website (www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/). Same applies to all the 650 MPs in UK’s house of commons, with all their names arranged in alphabetical order.
With this kind of communication flow established, electorates can easily relate their concerns, needs and expectations to lawmakers representing them. The resultant effect is visible to the blind; efficiency in governance.
Back to Nigeria, I can bet that nine out of ten Nigerians don’t know who is representing them at the national or state assembly. The few who know don’t have an idea how to reach them (their representatives), the author of this column inclusive.
Yes, I inclusive. Please forgive me if I tell you that I don’t even remember the name of the house of rep member representing Etsako East/Central /West federal constituency of Edo State where I hail from, talk less of know how to contact him if the need arises.
To clear any form of doubt, I’ll spell out the resultant effect of this kind of disconnect right here and now; passage of bills that pass anti-masses tests in flying colours.
Lawmakers need the help of electorates to succeed
The biggest mistake any lawmaker can make is to assume s/he knows the needs of the people s/he represents. This seems to be the mistake Nigerian lawmakers are making and this must be corrected for Nigeria to move forward.
Helping a lawmaker win an election is just the beginning of the lawmaker-electorate relationship. For democracy to yield appropriate dividends, lawmakers must devise stress-free ways to get the inputs of their electorates.
Referencing the UK example once again, electorates are encouraged to get involved with law-making by starting online petitions right on the UK parliament’s website.
All that a petitioner need to start a petition is to answer a few questions on the parliament’s website and provide 5 email addresses of supporters of the petition.
Make no mistake about it, these petitions are not a waste of electorates’ time as the popular ones gets debated on the floor of parliament.
Once a petition gets 10,000 signatures, it gets a response from the government. Petitions that become popular and get 100, 000 signatures are almost always considered for debate on the floor of parliament.
A petition committee set up by the house of commons has also been empowered to press government for action on successfully-debated petitions.
Now, back to Nigeria’s brand of democracy where lawmakers assume they know all the needs of the masses, only a handful of Nigerian lawmakers make genuine efforts to engage their followers and seek for their input on issues concerning them.
Very few Nigerian lawmakers are active on social media, and from the social media activities of the active ones, one can safely conclude that they think such channels are only good for bashing their political opponents.
It is a big shame that with all the technological advancement, and gazillion means of communication and engagement at our disposal, Nigerian electorates still don’t have a voice in issues concerning them.
Their only connecting link with governance (through their lawmakers) has been successfully cut off, either deliberately, by negligence or by a combination of these two factors.
Do you still wonder why some aggressive Nigerians pick up arms to get government’s attention to issues really bothering them? Not anymore, I guess.
However, at the risk of sounding proud, I’ll like to state that, being a bit more rational than the average Joe, I don’t think that picking up arms against your country can be justified by any measure.
But truth remains that one of the major reasons the NigerDelta agitators keep putting forward is that they don’t have the ear of the government. Can one really blame them? I think, no. That’s because, to the best of their understanding, armed agitation is their last resort to bridging the communication gap with the government.
So, to forestall situations where electorates have to resort to picking up arms against the government just to have a say on issues bothering them, the leadership of Nigeria should look inwards, study how democracy work in advanced economies and make necessary amendments.
No explanation can justify why a lawmaker would be inaccessible to the people they claim they are representing.
For this reason, as we march into 2017 with optimism, it is imperative for the leadership of Nigeria’s state and national assemblies to work out plans to bridge the lawmaker-electorate disconnect.
This must be done with a sense of urgency as a working lawmaker-electorate relationship remains one of the chief cornerstones of all working democracies.
Failure to address this challenge, and the CHANGE we all crave for may end up as yet another afflicting illusion; to be pursued, but never attained.