NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: A GROTESQUE PASSION FOR GREED
'Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity, and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking'
VERY often, Nigeria politics is lived backwards, not forward. It is a farce to follow, not a fun really. The primary motivations of the politicians are first and foremost, self-interest, self-justification and the relentless pursuit for wealth. These vices, it must be said, have become the currencies of influence in the pursuit of power.
But, unknown to them, according to American renowned leader and visionary, any exercise of power undirected by high principle or purpose, ultimately spells calamity. Nigerian politicians will likely scoff at this, because for many of them, it is more of personal interest and greed, more than anything else that drive them to almost always, want to be at the 'centre of things', not issues that elevate politics but matters that put democracy at risk.
This is why our politics and politicians inspire little confidence. Sad enough, this ugly state of affairs has been on for years. But the present class of legislators at the National Assembly, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives, present a conundrum. They have made themselves a laughing stock. This pack of lawmakers, it must be said, represent a commanding height of this farce in lawmaking. It has been for Nigeria, and Nigerians, a sad journey for eleven years.
Their actions say it all, and no wonder, the torrents of invectives and public outrage trailing their curent attempts for personal aggrandizement. And one begins to ask: are these lawmakers at the National Assembly, representing the people or themselves? It is not unkind to say that deep down in their hearts, few of these legislators can say with supreme confidence that they truly were elected through the ballot box. This is one of the worst assaults on democracy. And when this is the case, politicians are given to forget the primary responsibility of lawmaking – that of public service, not personal interest. But they will hear none of this, because, for them, politics has becomes a veritable platform for cutting deals, not for the good of all, but for a few.
This is where power begins to intoxicate and breeds isolation. Unlike alcohol, a man intoxicated by power seldom recovers. And the isolation inexorably leads to abuse of power, which in turn, breaks down the normal channels of communication that ought to exist between them and the people they claim to represent. The most pathetic and sad evidence that the legislators at the National Assembly have become rabble-rousers and twice as greedy have become very glaring in at least four broad areas. All are self-serving. They are bound to evoke a pained frown.
First is their quest to have 'automatic tickets' in the forthcoming elections, controversially dubbed the Right of first refusal. In practical terms, it means that all serving legislators should have automatic tickets unless such members decline to go for re-election. This proposal they had wanted to insert into the Electoral Act still before them for amendment. For now, it appears, the 'distinguished senators' and 'Honourable' members of the House have jettisoned this pursuit when they found out that it is not cutting any ice with the presidency.
It is not because the 'people' in whom power ought to reside with are opposed to it, it is simply because in their reckoning the people cannot determine their fate. Besides the utter disregard for the people, their pursuit for the clause of right of first refusal is their bold attempt to checkmate their state governors who may not want them to return to the legislature next year. Beyond that, the first refusal option is part of their bargaining chip with President Jonathan for delegate status in the forthcoming presidential primary of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Perhaps more contentious attempts by the National Assembly than the Right of first refusal, are in their ongoing efforts to introduce a law for special pension benefits for former presidents and vice presidents, ex-heads of state, their children and spouses, heads of federal legislative houses and their deputies and former Chief Justices of the Federation. Can you spot the motivation behind this bills? Sheer greed, the pursuit of pleasures and the fear of the future. Most politicians often get lost in the foothills of style and tactics.
Will President Jonathan cozy up to these greedy, selfish lawmakers and sign the Bills? The world is watching. What these legislators are asking for runs against section 84 of the existing constitution, which approves special pension benefits to only ex-presidents and vice presidents. Every layer scrapped in this grand plan for self-aggrandizement by the lawmakers reveals yet another, more nauseating piece of legislative somersault. Again, this can be seen in their recent amendment to the Electoral Act through which the members of the National Assembly are proposing that their principal officers must be automatic members of their parties' highest decision-making organ, the National Executive Committee (NEC).
The real intent of the bill is to checkmate the power of both the president and the governors from deciding who will be chosen as delegate at the party's national convention. The idiocy in this Bill is not just the worthlessness of it, it is also the intent of the sponsors to make it apply only to the ruling PDP members. It shows how skewed their strategic brain can be.
If private interest is not what the lawmakers are seeking in wanting to be active participants in their party's decision-making organ, what can we say of their drive to be at the centre stage of the Presidential inauguration preparation? Well, money is the reason and nothing more. You know why? Hush funds, plenty of them, will be involved. Often such funds are unaccounted fund. It's like a bazaar and how much one can grab. That's why the legislators are putting their imaginations off vital legislations that can help deepen the democratic process. That's why despite the fact that a vast majority of their compatriots are living below poverty line; their personal interests must supplant collective national interests.
What a shame. The devils are here. Members of the National Assembly, especially the senators have constituted themselves as assault guns against the constitution and against the people they are supposed to serve. Were it in sane climes, this band of legislators would be receiving cheques of final rejection instead of the 'right of first refusal' which they are seeking. So, what can be done to checkmate them from further polluting the democratic process? Chase them away? Pelt them with rotten eggs. All of these may be good options, but they are not the most desirable options. Ideally, the desirable way out is to show them the exit door through the ballot box. But the question is: can we trust the ballot box to deliver a credible and transparent outcome?
One sure way to curb the excesses of the present crop of legislators is through a transparent selection process. It is not in doubt that the emergence of most of them was anything but transparent.
They were not by any means the best that Nigerians can send to the National Assembly. Leadership is about behaviour first, skills second. But the character of most of the legislators is anything but decent. Good leaders are followed mainly because people trust and respect them. Can that be said of most of the legislators legislating for the country? The truth is that the process of leadership ought to begin with the individual's self-discovery of a purpose. And the purpose must not be self-serving.
It must be for the good of the larger society. Few of the legislators, both at the NASS and states understand this purpose outside private interests. And the power they wield, they seldom understand: As political historian, Andrew Hamilton noted, 'power may be compared to a great river, while kept within its bounds, it is both beautiful and useful, but when it overflows its banks, it becomes too impetuous to be stemmed, it bears down all before it and brings destruction and desolation wherever it comes' The conduct of the members of the National Assembly should awaken to this biting reality.