The forthcoming April 2007 general elections will be quite crucial to the future of Nigeria as a fully democratic and progressive country. While Nigerians continue to demand the highest standard of service from those that will be elected at the elections, it is the view of this writer that Nigerian citizens have an active collaborating role to play in the process through full participation in the elections. As a way forward, this author also suggests the introduction of the Nolan Principles of public service into governance in Nigeria as it will complement other ethical codes currently available but which may be grossly unused.
Perhaps this year (2007) would be Nigeria’s chance or perhaps not. A humble guess may probably reveal that majority of Nigerians would wish that the outcome of the April 2007 general elections should consolidate Nigeria’s slow but steady match towards national rebirth. If we miss this forthcoming opportunity, we may be leaping backwards into our darkest past, unable to finally take our place amongst the global community of nations as one of the re-emerging economies and stable democracies in the world. The consequences of such a failed opportunity could only be imagined, and may even seem more sinister than the scenarios projected by America’s intelligence agencies concerning Nigeria’s disintegration within the next 15 years.
It is not enough for Nigerians to castigate the Americans for their prognosis; we should rather aim to get our acts together using the forthcoming elections as a litmus test, that way we will not be playing into the hands of the American intelligence agencies by fulfilling their prophecies for them.
I will urge the Nigerian people to take the forthcoming elections seriously because it is about time that Nigeria stepped out of the shadows and claimed its rightful place on the world stage. We have to endeavour to capture back our leadership position at least in Africa, a position that South Africa has since snatched from us, and rightly too. Apathy would not help and the days of throwing up our hands in the air and surrendering to the selfish elements in the polity to continue to direct our affairs should also be finally coming to an end. Those who have registered should make their votes count. This is not only the morally correct thing to do, but also the most sensible option; the other option is a retrogressive match to the place we have been before as a nation, an unfortunate harrowing place that we don’t want to be in again.
We need the active collaboration of Nigerian citizens, parents, young adults, men and women, professionals, market women and men, artisans and students to realise these dreams. Citizen participation is very important in this process, not only as voters but also as watchdogs in our various communities and wards. Technology has now empowered us to write and report whatever is going on in our neck of the woods before and during the elections; we can no longer reserve this watchdog role to the professional journalists, to international election monitors and foreign observers.I will enjoin all Nigerians with access to the internet to become citizen journalists and reporters, you may wish to register a blog and write an online election diary. Several blogging websites such as wordpress.com, blogger.com etc offer such services freely on the internet. You can also network with other like-minded individuals and share information and best practice on the forthcoming elections.
This new freedom of expression which empowers citizens also comes with a responsibility, that of honesty and truth. In assuming this new role of citizen journalists, we should avoid crying wolf and making frivolous allegations of rigging where there is none. If we resort to such cheap tactics to score political points, we would not be any different from the same people we are complaining against. Nigerians could also send in their election news, stories, tit-bits, reports and pictures to websites such as nigeriansinamerica.com, nigeriavillagesquare.com, gamji.com, nanka.org, saharareporters.com, chatafrikarticles.com, etc., for publication. These websites which complement the efforts of the traditional newspapers and media houses are helping to bridge the information and communication gap between Nigerians in the diaspora and those living in the homeland. Every effort matters because when citizens get involved, those who plan to rig elections may feel anxious not knowing who is watching and monitoring their illegal activities. Perhaps the reason for the near – perfect electoral process which the developed countries have is as a result of the active participation of their citizens who play watchdog roles in their individual capacities. They build networks and freely share information using emerging technologies freely available, perhaps we should borrow a leaf from them.
As we go out to cast our votes, we should vote right and let our conscience guide and lead us to a better path. The days of collecting bags of rice, tins of vegetable oil and snuff money to cast our vote should be over. Selling our vote will amount to mortgaging our future and the future of our children once again. We should vote only for candidates that we think are credible, candidates that have good intentions, men and women of integrity who would work for the people rather than for themselves.
Writing on Democracy and Governance in Nigeria, Dr. Ovo Oghuvbu advices Nigerians to vote “people of conviction who are making themselves available and accountable to us (there are many about the place even if in the ‘wrong’ party). We should be questioning and investigating records and make it clear that we will no longer accept the “short selling” of our dreams and aspirations for a better life.
We should mobilise to unmask the most dangerous cohort of them all – the children of these charlatans (biological or adopted). They are more sophisticated than their “fathers” and their only agenda is to “finish” what their “fathers” couldn’t. Some of them are amongst us in various guises; they have not the interest of our nation at heart”.
Continuing, Dr. Oghuvbu opined that “April 2007 can be a watershed for our nation, the enthronement of a paradigm shift in the evolution of our political and democratic culture. There are saboteurs, ‘chancers’ and agents of calumny who are threatened by this potential. They could become an extinct or neutered breed in our body politic but only if we want them to be. We can either allow them do what they have always done or checkmate and rid our governance space of them”.
He challenged Nigerians to “take action now” by encouraging intelligent voting (the candidates are there he says), and shun primordial voting. “Protect the vote by all means available and be a part of a revolution that the giant may yet arise”, he concludes.
Echoing similar views, Victor Dike, author of Democracy and Political Life in Nigeria also places the onus on the Nigerian people, the citizens and the common man on the street for the impending change in our polity. He wrote that for Nigeria to build a strong foundation for true democracy, “There is need for the society to promote ethical standards in politics, good social and moral values, accountability and
transparency in governance”. According to Dike, for this to be possible, “the people should be politically educated and mature. This would enable the people to begin to question the sources of the wealth of the politicians’ who become “very rich” immediately they step into political office”. Dike also quotes Mahatma Gandhi who said that “politics without ethical principles is among the social sins of humankind” to buttress his point.
He however reiterates that “it is not too late for the politicians (and the people) to modify their political behavior and learn to play ethical politics that add values to the system”. He concluded that “If Nigeria wants to transit peacefully from the democracy-experiment to democratic consolidation the politicians (and the people) should adhere strictly to the code of ethics and any person that goes contrary to the rules (operate outside the law) should be punished without fear or favor”.
It is very important that Nigerians de-focus on the federal government a little in the coming dispensation, they should re-direct their attention to the states and most importantly the local governments whose governors and chairmen have struggled in the past to justify their monthly allocations from the centre, which usually run into millions and billions of Naira. Part of the thinking in the creation of a local government system of government in Nigeria and the continuous carving out of new local government authorities from existing ones is to bring government closer to the people. This objective has remained unfulfilled, it is therefore very important that people being voted into these positions pass certain standards and tests set by the people. Truly, development could also occur bottom-up as is the case in the United Kingdom where the boroughs have responsibilities for basic services such as roads, housing, education, health, welfare and so on. This frees up the central government’s time which could then be devoted to more strategic issues and projects.
Nigerians should demand a service charter from the next local government chairpersons; these chairpersons should also on their own create one not only as a token but as a symbol of their commitment to improving the lives of the people living within their jurisdiction. State governors should do the same; they should even go a step further by emulating the examples set by the likes of Governor Donald Duke of Cross River state who has put his state on the world tourism map with the Tinapa project as well as other developmental initiatives. The new set of governors should work hard to clean up the image of the state governor as a criminal and treasury looter epitomized by the likes of former governor of Bayelsa state J.S.P Alamiesegha, Rivers state governor Dr Peter Odili amongst many others. Some of these governors have been indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commision (EFCC) for corrupt practices.
Service delivery should be made more efficient at the state and local government levels, borrowing from the activities of SERVICOM at the federal level, the incoming government should promote accountability, service, honesty and integrity at all times. This is the only way the confidence and trust of the citizens can be won back, and the only way they can receive the support and cooperation from the citizens which they desperately need in order to function.
The Obasanjo government may have laid the foundation for a new Nigeria, rescuing it from the claws of military oligarchs in 1999, but now is the time to move on. We have to build on the institutions and good intentioned reforms of the last 8 years. The race is not yet over and has just begun. The incoming leaders should consolidate on the debt relief as well as debt repayment efforts of the outgoing government. They should also build on the achievements recorded in both the financial, education and other sectors. They should not drag Nigeria back into the Paris and London clubs through frivolous borrowings. Enough of playing politics and Russian roulette with our collective future.
Perhaps this may be the best time to incorporate the Nolan Principles into governance in addition to other codes that may already exist. The Nolan Principles of public life which originated in the United Kingdom is preferred because of its simplicity and because it covers the key areas that have remained the bane of successive governments in Nigeria. The principles which are reproduced here could be hung in offices as reminders of the people’s expectations. Abbreviated pocket-sized versions could also be produced and given to civil servants who sometimes function as clogs in the wheels of progress and development.
The Nolan Principles of Public Service
Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
Perhaps the time has come for Nigerians to shun the ‘Nigerian factor’ psyche and expression. This expression seems to have provided a ready excuse for us in the past to justify our misdeeds and poor judgements. There should be nothing ‘Nigerian’ about selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. These are all universal principles and virtues without any black or white flavourings and colourings. If we indeed want to come out of our socio-economic doldrums, then we should all rise to the challenge knowing that there is no compromise to these principles.
Finally, we need the vigilance of all collaborating agencies and institutions for this process to work, if indeed this will be our chance, the Independent Ele
ctoral Commission (INEC) must play an impartial role and ensure that elections are free and fair. The onus is on them to conduct an election that will rekindle the trust of Nigerians in government agencies.
The emerging leaders post- April 2007 and the entire citizens of Nigeria should not let this opportunity pass us by. This may indeed be our last chance.