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ELEVEN YEARS OF DEMOCRATIC RULE

By NBF News
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In this last treatise on our eleven years of democratic rule, I am still beaming the searchlight on our legislative arm of government. I argued last week that their duty should be on part time basis because most of their seats are empty at sittings. They must be engaged in other gainful duties when they are absent at the House.

In view of the scenario, I am suggesting we have a single legislative body at the centre as we have at the state and council levels. There is nothing wrong in having a single house. It will make for more efficiency. It will conserve tax payers money used to service the bi-cameral legislature. Let us stop these wastages. The present two legislative houses at the centre are wasteful and at times too big to manage.

The legislative duty should be on part-time basis and allowances be paid as per the hours put in by a legislator. That means that only those who attended a sitting would be paid. That is how to bring sanity to our legislative arm of government. And those present should not sleep while sitting is on. They should not be bench warmers and chorus singers of voice vote of ayes and nays. They should be active participants at every sitting.

If the legislators at the national level have not done much, more pitiable are those at the state level. The state legislators have been bought over by the governors so that their biddings can become law. In some states, the legislature is virtually non-existence except for ceremonial occasions. Some of them do not really understand the need to make laws that will benefit the electorates. Many of them go to the House just for the economic benefit that would accrue to them.

And many of them have made enormous wealth by neglecting their oversight functions.

If our democracy is to endure, there is the need to overhaul the legislative arm of our government with a view to making it effective. An effective legislative house needs not be the rubber stamp of any governor. The legislature should serve as a check on the overbearing of the executive. The, framers of our 1999 constitution did not make the legislature to agree with everything the executive says. They did not envisage a timid legislature that we have in place now.

Next to the legislature is the judiciary. In our 11 years of democratic rule, one can say that the judiciary has tried to defend democracy through some of its fearless judgements in the electoral tribunals. Such judgements have proved the judiciary to be the hope of the common man and the defender of justice. It has also given us some laughable judgements that really made the law an ass. Such judgements have shown glaringly that justice can be bought. They have demonstrated that justice goes to the highest bidder.

In some of the judgements, there were instances of serious abuse of the court processes. We have had cases of corruption of judicial officers in the electoral tribunals and other cases. The mere fact that our electoral results are either annulled or upheld at these tribunals compounded the entire problem. Eleven years of democratic rule has shown that judicial officers are not immune to corruption. It has shown their human side. It has also shown that our judicial officers are part of the Nigerian society with other corrupt professionals. The rot in the society also affects its legal system.

But can you blame the justices for acting Nigerian? How much does a judge earn in a month that he can resist N10 million bribe or more? Nigerian workers including those in the judiciary are not well paid. The poverty in serving Nigeria can explain why some judges overlooked ethical issues and accepted mouth-watering gratifications during the election tribunal cases. Regard it as a boom for some of them that are corrupt.

But accepting such unethical practices is not justified. It puts question mark on the integrity of those concerned. Those in charge of the nation's judiciary should look into these bad areas and do a house cleaning and weed those not willing to abide by the ethics of the profession. If the judiciary is to be taken seriously, its officers must eschew corruption that is fast eroding its credibility.

The judicial process should be streamlined in such a way that election petitions have deadlines. A situation where an election matter drags for three years before the winner gets justice is criminal. It is more criminal when the person that usurped the position is not made to pay back whatever he received in his stolen office. It is absurd when such a person still bears the title of the stolen office. That amounts to double offence.

Electoral matters should terminate at specified judicial level. On no account should all manner of electoral cases be allowed to reach the Supreme Court as some tend to do now. The journey embarked by Governor Peter Obi and Senator Alphonsus Igbeke of Anambra State to get back their seats should not be the norm. It does not speak well of our dispensation of justice. In the case of Obi, his tenure was intact. Can the same thing apply to Igbeke at the national assembly? If Igbeke spends one year at the Senate, what happens to the other three years Joy Emordi spent? What is the justice of four year tenure reduced to one?

Another malaise of our nationhood is corruption. Our eleven years of democratic rule has not made it to abate. Corruption is still the main issue in Nigerian politics. From the 10% of our first republic, corruption has graduated to 30% and even beyond. Corruption is the major reason why our youths are unemployed. It can explain why there is restiveness in the Niger Delta region. There is no doubt that corruption fuels the current kidnapping rocking the entire country, especially the South-East.

It is the reason our educational and health institutions are not working. That our roads are not paved and there is no food, water and electricity can be traced to corruption. It is also the reason for mass poverty in the land.

There is no end in sight to corruption. It will remain with us because contracts are daily being over-inflated. Remember the highly inflated contract of the second runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. It is not an isolated case. There are many like that.

Our eleven years of democracy has not translated to giving Nigerians the expected democracy dividends. It has not led to the good life and prosperity that Nigerians yearn for. For this to be realized there is the need for serious behaviour modification on the part of political office holders. They need to see politics as an avenue to serve the people and not a business venture for profiteering.

One noticeable ugly trend of our eleven years of democratic rule is the death of local government administration. In almost all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, the independence of local government as third tier of government in Nigeria is not guaranteed. It is no longer functioning. What is in place is local government that has been swallowed by the state governments. Governors now control the affairs of the councils hence there is zero development at the local governments. This practice is against the spirit of the 1999 constitution that provides for the existence of local governments.

Most states have not conducted elections into these councils for six or more years. Where there is one, the ruling party ensures it takes over all the seats. Absence of governance at this level is the reason our local areas are undeveloped. It is the same reason for rural poverty and rural-urban population drift.

If our rural areas are to develop, it is time to ensure that government at the local level subsists. It should not exist on paper. The money allocated to the councils should be utilized by elected leaders of the council and not governors' appointed sole administrators or whatever they are called. No governor should dip his hands in the funds of the councils as some of them are doing now.

President Goodluck Jonathan should reform the electoral system and make our votes count. We should strive to elevate democratic ethos that would translate to good life to all Nigerians.