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The 'State of the Nation' address - The Guardian

By The Citizen

It may be coming a little late, but the passage of the 'State of the Nation Address Law' by the Senate represents a major step forward in Nigeria's search for sustainable good governance. The law basically seeks to promote transparency and accountability in governance, by compelling any sitting President of Nigeria to deliver a 'State of the Nation Address' to Nigerians at a time specified by the law.

A keynote of the law is that such an address is to be presented yearly by the president before a joint session of the National Assembly. Specifically, it will be presented in the first legislative day of July every year, while the president will be given a 60-day notice. According to the Senate, the law is in line with 'making the president accountable to the Nigerian people as represented by the National Assembly by rendering account of his stewardship to the nation.' It is also aimed at allowing input from members of the National Assembly towards good governance of the nation.

These are indeed lofty ideals that can hardly be faulted. Up till now, the president only addresses the joint session of the National Assembly when he presents the annual budget. Obviously, Nigerians deserve better and more regular forums to hear directly from their president how their country is faring on all fronts.

The absence of such a practice in Nigeria, as has been the case in such democracies as the United Kingdom and the United States of America, is a pointer to the low regard, even contempt, to which Nigerian leaders subject the citizens. By failing to furnish their citizens with adequate information about critical issues of governance and development, Nigerian leaders are guilty of taking Nigerians for granted. Regular exchange of information between the leaders and the led has been, and will continue to be, one of the fundamental features of stable political economies the world over. So any nation that chooses to ignore this important issue, like Nigeria, until the passage of this law, does so at its own peril.

It is against this background that Nigerians should appreciate the State of the Nation address law. Such an address is an opportunity not only for self evaluation by the president, but also to present anew, his/her future developmental roadmaps. It is against such roadmaps that the president can be judged every year and at the expiration of his/her tenure. In the absence of such roadmaps, the president may be exposed to all forms of subjective evaluations and attacks. Better still, such an address also has the potential to galvanize the people into a higher level of participation in the political processes of their country.

As innovative and progressive as the law appears, however, there is need for cautious optimism among Nigerians. The problem with the country has never been the absence of good laws. Rather, it has been poor implementation, underscoring the fact that the law in theory is different from the law in practice. As such, the caveat in the law, which empowers the National Assembly to compel the president to honour this responsibility, in the event of 'failure, neglect or refusal' to render his/her stewardship, is a welcome relief. Hopefully, whenever such a situation arises, the National Assembly will be able to muster sufficient political will to enforce this important provision of the law.

Such a law as this, which seeks to promote transparency and accountability in governance should not be targeted at the presidency alone. Other agencies of government, most especially the offices of the Auditor General and Attorney General of the Federation also ought to have platforms on which to explain issues to all Nigerians. Such laws should also be replicated at the state and local government levels, compelling chief executive officers to also give account of their stewardship.

Above all, Nigerians need to begin to ask more questions about their own affairs. Such inquisitive citizenship will not only compel responsible leadership, it is central to the building of a truly democratic state.