Last week as part of efforts to celebrate Nigeria at 59 which took place last Tuesday, we brought on this page the trouble with Nigeria as captured 32 years ago by the Political Bureau set up by the then military regime and its review by Thisweek magazine as the main question was: what has changed between then and now? Today, we will be looking at the prescriptions made at that time by the magazine and see if some of them are still very relevant to us today. I was a part of Thisweek at that time and I can confirm how patriotic and rigorous the debates were and I can say with every sense of responsibility that many of the suggestions remain the best even till this moment. Before we take them on, it is important I restate that the constituents of present day Nigeria must meet to renegotiate Nigeria. Those who hold the view that the unity of Nigeria cannot be negotiated are the greatest enemies of the New Nigeria we all want to see. Nigeria as presently constituted, talking about the terms is not sustainable, those who hold contrary opinion would soon see because the signs are everywhere.
Now back to the Thisweek prescription: sound electoral system is at the root of development of democracy. The electoral body is central to proper development of democracy. The body should be separated from control and influence of government. The tenure of members of the electoral body should not tally with the tenure of public political office holders. It should manage its affairs and choose her staff from within. Key positions should be advertised and qualified applicants shortlisted for screening and approval by the judicial commission and final confirmation by the National Assembly. Or in the alternative, the electoral body should comprising representatives of all political parties should be in place.
Law, not lawlessness: if the Executive Branch in the Second Republic got the blame for leading the country into present difficulties, the legislature must also stand condemned for its unwillingness or inability to act as an effective check on the Executive. The National Assembly, and to a lesser degree, the state assemblies, displayed such flagrant disdain for their respective roles that they allowed the Executive to get away with mass murder. By a sickening system of patronage and outright bribery, the Executive co-opted the Legislature in the desperate race to despoil the land. Many members of the legislatures were busy chasing government contract, import licenses, land allocation and distributorship for themselves that it is surprising that they hardly settled down to do the real job. Many Nigerians were understandably incensed by what they perceived as the profligacy and indolence of the legislators appropriating every available perk they could think of. Even worse, many of the state assemblies cannot escape the charge that they were no more than rubber stamps of executive decisions especially in states where the success of the dominant party ensued a virtual one party system.
To remove these undesirable elements in the next democratic experiment, the Political Bureau recommended that the next legislature should not only make laws for the good governance of the polity but should also be a vigilant check on the actions of the Executive Branch. It recommended that the next set of legislatures serve on a part time basis, earning no salaries but receiving sitting and other allowances. It was believed that the removal of perks would curtail the numbers of fortune seekers and encourage only those with genuine interest. Thisweek said this is not true, legislature expenditure was not responsible for profligacy of this arm of government in the defunct republic, but the outrageous allowances for housing, vehicles and offices. It said it is necessary to pay modest salaries instead of sitting allowances, reasonable housing allowance comparable to what obtains in the highest brackets of public service. Its tenure should be staggered in such a way that it would not be tied to the life expectancy as the president or the governor. A minimum educational achievement of school certificate is called for.
An impartial arbiter: the judiciary should and be seen as the last hope in the resolution of disputes. The generality of the people seems to have lost confidence in that important arm of government. This stems from how in the past political interest overshadowed the dispensation of justice. Much as the judiciary cannot be exempted from these lapses, the government shares of the blame because of its attitude and the misapplication of the constitution. It is difficult to hold a second opinion about the right granted the government in the appointment of judges by the constitution if one does not want to trample on the principle of checks and balances; but the disheartening phenomenon is the misuse of the privilege so given. From the error, the mechanisms for the appointment itself is defective in that government seems to have lost sight of the constitutional provisions concerning the qualifications of a prospective judge. These qualifications either through omission or commission had been substituted with preference, social connection, allegiance to the government in power and the inability to be too critical. Government control of the funding of the judiciary is a glaring attempt to draw the head to itself, to dictate the tune. For a successful judiciary it is necessary that the executive be divested totally from funding as this is the only way to discourage influence.
Education and Sscial mobilization: this is very important, there is need to learn about Nigeria and what it means to belong here. There must be some ethos, in our history, our experiences and our dreams. There must be a store of hope for modern Nigeria, we are a merger of major African civilizations. It is the business of the state to educate, we are not looking at the spending of fortunes to move people from one level of illiteracy to another pedestal of ignorance. The education we need and deserve is the knowledge and growth resulting from a process of instruction that leads to improvement of judgement and faculties that can ease mental, moral and material development. There is nothing exceptional about providing free education. The truth is that many of these prescriptions are more relevant today than they were yesterday and the bane of development in our country is that our development lacks rationalization and pattern and that is a critical problem. Part 3 in case we have one person that can read and comprehend at the commanding height of leadership.