It is a fact of our political experience that when it comes to responsibility towards the electorate, there is almost no difference between political parties with pre-election messianic fervour and parties with known evil intentions. The parties are one and same; the comprising politicians freely move between the two parties with the common intention to perpetrate evil in power. Akin to when the animals could no longer distinguish between the pigs and humans in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Nigerian electorate can no longer differentiate between good and bad politicians – they are two bad sides of the same worthless coin. Nigeria faces a double jeopardy in having bad politicians and an inappropriate political system - a Catch-22 situation where we have inappropriate political system, so we have bad politicians and we have bad politicians, so we have inappropriate political system.
That elected politicians disconnect from the people soon after winning elections in Nigeria is a disease of Nigerian democracy. Election campaign promises (if any) are dumped into the nearest waste-basket as soon as the candidate wins the ticket. One Southwest politician famously spoke the mind of many Nigerian politicians when she said that to be voted for was a short-term contract between her and the people. A contract in which she paid for the services of the people to vote for her. According to this politician, the people collected their payment upfront during the campaign and there were no further contractual obligations between her and the people after the election.
This is the mindset of most Nigerian politicians. After elections, the people are seen as a nuisance to avoid at all costs. These politicians, the ordinary people of yesterday, soon begin to hide themselves in bullet-proof vehicles with tinted glass-windows and harass the people with their convoys and sirens. Their convoys bump along potholed or un-tarred roads in the cities; huge amounts of money are spent on generators and diesel to provide electricity for themselves with no thoughts in their minds that they could and should make a difference. The indifference of these elected politicians cuts across all spheres and levels of expected service delivery and infrastructure development. It appears no Nigerian politician has ever heard of the word, ”accountability” to their electorate and if they ever did, to them it means getting fat constituency allowances into their bank accounts and the occasional distribution of worthless consumables to some of their most exigent cronies.
Experience has shown that there is very little we can do to make our politicians change their ways in the current system and the checks and balance system which the country has in place is subverted at different levels (executive, legislative and judiciary) to render it ineffective. In order for our politicians or change or be changed, the system has to change. Recent news carried some rumours of a coup. This is not the kind of change our system needs. The military can never be the solution to the political crisis of this country. They are part of the problem. They are at the origin of the present chaos. The kind of system change we need is one where the power truly belongs to the people and not to a small group either in civilian or military outfits. We need a paradigmatic system change away from the current situation where an elected individual believes that he is above the people and the laws of the land.
Democracy exists in different functional forms in different countries – the American system is different from the one practised in France, which is different from the one in the UK or in Germany and so on. Each society adapts the system to suit its good governance requirements. The bottom-line of all these versions of democracy is that power belongs to the people and the elected officials of the state see themselves as employees of the people and not as capricious benefactors.
It is unfortunate that Nigeria, despite being the most populous country in Africa and the largest concentration of the black race in the world has not been able to contribute to democracy as a system of governance. Rather, it copied verbatim a system that has proven its worth in another country and corrupted it. The resulting bad governance has become the bane of Nigeria and the cause of its many problems which has led to militancy in all its forms and calls for restructuring and in some quarters, for outright dismantlement of the country. These hardware solutions are tantamount to cutting off the head to cure a headache. Nigeria has not exhausted all possible software solutions that might bring desirable good governance, peace, prosperity and stability to the country.
It is time to rewrite our constitution and exorcise the military from our system. And when we eventually get down to this, here are some useful ideas that may cut the costs of election and improve accountability:
1. Scrap Governorship and Presidential elections as we know it today
2. The people elect Local Government Chairmen and council members through a simple open ballot system.
3. The people elect members of a unicameral national parliament through a simple open ballot system. Scrap the senate; it’s of no use.
4. LGA Chairmen and members of the National Parliament in each State elect their governors.
5. Governors and Members of the National Parliament elect the President for a single term on a rotational basis among the six geopolitical zones.
6. A vote of continued trust is organized every year - 40% votes of no-confidence by LGA Chairmen and Members of the National Parliament of that State can sack a governor.
7. A vote of continued trust is organized every year - 40% votes of no-confidence by Governors and Members of the National Parliament can sack a President
8. 25% votes of no-confidence by the people can sack a LGA chairman
9. 25% votes of no-confidence by the people of a constituency can sack a Member of the National Parliament.
10. All elections and votes of trust are conducted under simple open ballot system.
11. The judiciary operates a jury system at all levels for all cases of bad governance, corruption and crime.
Hopefully, someday soon, accountability will be a rule rather than a rare exception in Nigeria.