By Dele Momodu
Our dear Federal Legislators, let me start by congratulating you all on your recent victories in the elections of the various Senatorial Districts as well as Federal Constituencies of this great nation. As you know, your election is not just a private victory and the fulfilment of a personal ambition, but it is most importantly a call to national service and duty by your dear countrty.
I must also commend the peaceful and democratic manner you conducted the elections of your principal officers and how you managed the aftermath of the fallout from the controversial way the Senate President and his Deputy, as well as the Speaker and his Deputy, pulled some veritably mysterious stunts to out-manoeuvre other gladiators. I’m a firm believer in, and an ardent advocate for, an Independent Legislature that is totally unencumbered by subterranean forces.
As you must have noticed in the past, our fellow citizens had always believed that our National Assembly has failed to live up to expectations for very obvious reasons. The first is that it is populated by an ill-assortment of politicians who may know little or nothing about what the job entails, and are just there to decorate and warm their seats, while receiving stupendous salaries and unexplainable perks of office. The second is that your predecessors spent more time away from the Chambers and devoted less time to what they were handsomely paid for. This is why many have argued and suggested that your work should be part-time, at a reduced cost. The third is that even when they were at work, your erstwhile colleagues wasted most of the time in session, to promote jejune and primordial bills and resolutions rather than the serious business of the development of the country in all its facets.
You may also not blame those who view the National Assembly as a gathering of anti-people elements who merely act as rubber-stamps to the Executive recklessness that has become the boom and bane of our long-suffering nation. We’ve watched in wonderment and amazement how so many investigative panels set up by your distinguished and honourable selves have failed to unravel and exorcise the daredevil demons milking our dear country dry. Rather many of your colleagues have become predators and accomplices to the daylight robberies with little or no attempt to curtail the malfeasance.
Indeed, as if to perpetrate the notion that being a politician in government service is a licence to plunder our haemorrhaging treasury, past legislators had budgeted mind-boggling amounts for themselves outside of that earmarked for them by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which has led some to describe this as legitimated brigandage. What is more, the National Assembly is regarded as home to some of the most outlandishly flamboyant politicians. These personages however were far from distinguished prior to taking up their seat in the Federal legislature.
The National Assembly has become a place where a motley crowd of politicians fight tooth and nail to get appointed into lucrative committees while lacking the pre-requisite knowledge or legislative experience to work in those committees, and what that means is an open invitation to treat. I plead with you to change this perception that will simply belittle your great efforts and onerous tasks as patriotic citizens.
Our country has indeed come a long way and as we enter the seventeenth year of our latest democratic adventure more would be expected from you. This is why I’m excited that you have well educated and widely exposed leaders at the helm of affairs. Any cursory observer would have noticed the body language of the international community who seem determined to lend support to you and ensure that you do not fail your country this time around. This renewed hope and expectation, built on the singular efforts of patriotic Nigerian Citizens who set out their stall for change, must be upheld and sustained by all means.
I have a few suggestions to make with all due respect. Please, make yours an open Legislature. You may want to tune in to the British Parliament, my favourite in the world, and watch how their affairs are conducted publicly. I love the way the Prime Minister is made to explain policies without thinking he is Lord of the Manor. A public servant is elected or appointed to serve and can never be allowed to turn his fellow citizens to slaves as seems to have been our case in times gone past. Whilst there is no possibility of replication of the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time because of our Presidential system of government, there is ample opportunity to insist on monthly question time for Ministers and heads of important executive bodies like the NNPC, Central Bank, Security Agencies, Customs, Ports and NDDC amongst others. Nothing also stops you from engaging the President and/or his Vice periodically to asking questions similar to the media chat to which you expect that they will provide cogent answers. In essence, you must make serious and not pecuniary demands from the Executive arm of government. Anything other than this would cost you so much in terms of how you are perceived or treated, whether with disdain or deference. The choice would be yours ultimately.
You will achieve much if you are able to carry the people you represent along. They should never be kept in the dark because they sent you to Abuja to protect their interests by making laws that uphold equity and justice. Your road is going to be rough and bumpy as you can sense already. Nigeria is currently in dire straits and the people are desperately seeking ways to ameliorate the intense suffering and deprivation in the midst of plenty. This is the reason for the hullaballoo over your so-called wardrobe allowance. You seriously need to consider having a committee dedicated to feeling the pulse of the nation and responding weekly to those matters that Nigerians are complaining about, particularly those that concern the way and manner that you conduct yourselves.
I do not envy you at all as Nigerians are currently not in the mood for profligacy. You are likely to be victimised for the sins of the past and you should understand why. The past regimes frittered away the goodwill that should have accrued to you and succeeded in amassing enemies who can never see any good you do other than that you are being parasitic and sucking the nation’s resources with impunity. You would have to rebrand urgently and this won’t be easy unless you are willing to make the necessary sacrifice for the sake of Nigeria. I suggest that you borrow a leaf from what has been happening in the Presidency and some state governments. As you may have heard the President has just ordered that 9 aircraft in the Presidential Fleet should be sold. In some States like Kaduna and Oyo, the Governors cut the number of Commissioners from 22 to 13 to ensure visible and viable trimming of their finances. However, if you insist you want to live in the past and continue the mistakes and misdeeds of your predecessors, heavens may fall on us all.
Our youths have become too frustrated and disillusioned. They have been empowered by the social media and can communicate and mobilise at the speed of light. They can cause so much havoc before you know it and you should therefore not treat my admonition with levity. Our country may be thrown into chaos and confusion if we do not change how politicians live larger than life. God has given you the biggest opportunity to help rebuild this nation and it can only begin when we jointly reduce the cost of governance. Anything that would exacerbate the present tension and terror in the land must be avoided at all costs.
I quite sympathise with your situation. I have friends amongst you and appreciate what they went through to win the costliest elections probably in the world. Some sold properties because we do not have a culture of receiving donations. Elections here are mostly self-financed. This is why most politicians tend to become anxious to recoup their huge investments lest they end up in bankruptcy. Also, I’m aware of the demands of your constituents and supporters who see you as their cash cows. You are forced to pay school fees, fund weddings and donate at funerals. There is no end to your spending spree, as a stingy politician is hated venomously in our clime. But you must strike a balance between what is requested and reasonably possible. It is thus a Catch 22 scenario for you because if you pay, trouble, and if you don’t, wahala! The solution I would proffer is that you make laws that would ease the pains of our people. Once your laws create the enabling environment for people to be in work and to be paid for working, then, the culture of dependency, on what has practically become alms giving, will be reduced and eventually eliminated. A gainfully employed person is not going to seek to fleece you.
A situation where the budget of the National Assembly would be higher than that of Health and other physical infrastructure Ministries would be difficult to justify and accept. Apart from this, the employment savings engendered by the financial prudence which you can spearhead can be used to good effect. In the name of God and all that is good, I beg you not to ignore the dangers ahead. Nigeria has gone through so much, and is still going through a lot, in the hands of local and international terrorists, we should not add more to the volatile situation. There is no doubt that the army of unemployed Nigerians has grown beyond normal in the last couple of years. This army is readily available for the use of those determined to spread their campaign of hate and regime of fear. You can help to reduce this abnormality by reducing the cost of governance in Nigeria.
Please, permit me to explain what your sacrifice can do for the unemployed citizens. My dream for the Buhari/Osinbajo Administration is to create thousands of new entrepreneurs in our country. This is not so difficult. I twice participated in a television show called the Entrepreneur Series. It was the brainchild of a young Nigerian called Mr Goke Dokun, in 2009. This guy was only 36 at the time and his vision preceded the SURE-P project of the Jonathan Administration which was later enmeshed in ignominious controversy. Mr Dokun’s concept was well put together as he drew credible people majorly from the private sector to act as Angels and Advisors. His dream was supported and funded by ECOBANK, VISAFONE and VITAMALT. He did not have billions but we were able to create opportunities for so many Nigerians with brilliant ideas.
This is where I am going. Entrepreneurship can cost anything from as little as N50,000. Every billion you cut off from your budget and out of the overbloated operational costs of other arms of government would rescue many of our youths from the brink of lunacy and annihilation. One billion Naira would create one thousand millionaire entrepreneurs. 50 billion Naira would create 50,000 millionaires. It is as simple as ABC. Now imagine the spin-offs from this. We need to do all it takes to make this huge sacrifice and make sure we can have a more accountable SURE-P or whatever it would be called. Apart from the unity and security of our Nation, nothing is more important right now than employment generation and job creation for our youths.
There are potential Mike Adenugas, Aliko Dangotes, Rasaq Okoyas, Keem Belo-Osagies, Tony Elumelus, Abdulsamad Rabius and other such icons in Nigeria but they need some push to attain their heights. We must move away from the backward reasoning that most of the unemployed youngsters would by a stroke of miracle get sucked into some offices one day. The truth is many would have to come up with workable business plans and set up their own companies. Nigerians are naturally brilliant and smart but they need the start-up funds to energise their superlative talents.
You can encourage these geniuses by galvanising the much needed economic revolution that would catapult our nation to the next level through your benevolent sacrifice. Believe me, God will bless you and bless our nation more through your singular vision.
The world is watching and waiting.
Culled from This Day