For as long as I have been old enough to understand what goes on in Nigeria, it has always been clear to me that citizens have often been unhappy with the quality of those who govern us.
Nigerians generally feel that majority of candidates our political process throws up for legislative and executive positions are not representative of the respectable Nigerian intelligentsia and 80-90% of professional politicians have no iota of altruism that triggers true service to the people. Admittedly, we have seen some few bright and hardworking elected officers who sometimes seem exceptional. I say “seem” advisedly because we are never sure if they look exceptional because their peers are so dismal. In many cases these “exceptions” cannot handle accolades and end up being pompous tyrants strutting their meagre achievements like one-eyed men in the land of the blind. Putting this tirade succinctly I think the Nigerian electorate simply feel that we live in a country where the least qualified and most inexperienced govern the more qualified and more experienced.
As we continue with conversations about restructuring Nigeria, I think the restructuring should not be limited to resource control but should be extended to include redefining the processes that select candidates and redefining our governance standards. We should try to cure certain mischiefs like the low barriers to entry for elective offices and the general feeling that politics is an avenue for wealth acquisition. These are my token contributions to these conversations:
Firstly, I think the constitutional barriers to entry for legislative and executive elective offices are low. Nigeria is too complicated to be ruled by school certificate holders. We must amend the Constitution to insist that people should have a valid qualification from a tertiary institution to qualify for all executive offices and federal legislative offices. I also think that people who want to run for office as governor or president should have a minimum amount of cognate experience and must have been active in some productive endeavor in the 10 years preceding the elections. We don’t want candidates who have exhausted their options in life and see politics as their willy-nilly escape route. We now know that this is a bad experiment because people get so desperate if they don’t have a mainstay to fall back to should they lose elections.
Secondly, the idea of people being professional politicians should be discouraged. Politicking should not be a full-time job and a pathway to sustenance. Legislators should be re-elected for a maximum of 2 terms like the executive arm. Some senators have been in the senate for as long as we can remember, and their productivity has dwindled with each re-election, but they keep going back because being in the senate has become a veritable source of income. On this note, I think the legislators should function on a part time basis. They should be paid basic allowances and a seating fee for every session they attend. They should be recalled by their constituents if they do not attend a minimum number of sessions in a year. If we saved some of the money budgeted for paying full time legislators in the National Assembly,we can apply it to fix our universities. To put this in context, the 2019 budget for the National Assembly is 125 billion naira whilst the budget for education in the 2019 budget is 462 Billion naira. Note that the 125 billion naira for National Assembly has a zero budget for capital expenditure. If we reduced the 125 billion by 50% it can go a long way to improve university education.
The third thing I suggest is to have a system that gives the electorate the power to reject candidates presented by political parties if they think the candidates are not worthy of office. We have seen over the years several elections where citizens are not enamoured by all the candidates on the ballot box – either for president, governor or legislators. In such situations, some voters abstain while others rationalize and assume that they have a civic duty to pick the best of the bad candidates. I think political parties would be rigorous in their choice of candidates if the ballot paper has a vote for “candidate failure”.This vote allows a citizen to cast a vote that basically indicates that all the candidates on the ballot party are unacceptable. If say 30% of accredited voters indicate that there is a candidate failure, the political parties will have to all go back and offer new candidates. Maybe with this system, god fathers,their thugs, relatives and political parties will subject candidates to greater scrutiny and citizens will feel they have an option when the dregs are thrown at us.
The fourth suggestion is that our electoral system should allow independent candidacy, even if we start with allowing only independent candidates for legislative offices. Why does anyone necessarily need to belong to a party to offer to serve his constituency in the house of assembly or house of representatives or even the senate? This party structure and its paraphernalia is what discourages many independents from vying for elective offices.
Fifthly, must we wait for 4 years to remove an elected officer? Must we depend on the legislators to impeach a governor or the President? Why should we not have a process whereby a certain percentage of the accredited voters from the last elections can signify that they have lost confidence in the governor or president? If 30 million people voted in an election and 2 years later, over 50% of that number decide that the person they elected is a disaster, they should have some independent recourse.
These ideas may sound utopian to many, but the point is that we have serious problems which need drastic domesticated solutions and we should all put on our thinking caps and start now to make our voices heard on restructurings that put us in better stead by 2023.