It is not as if some of our senators did not have good content; it was the lack of the charisma and skills to effectively power that content that came across in those television captions I saw. Senator Udoma of Cross River and Senator Gbemisola Saraki of Kwara deserve very honorable mention at this point for their cerebral presentation, while Wabara was by general opinion funny and witty the same time without being mean. With certain reservations, the speech of the Senate President on the final day of debate resounded with many at home and abroad. But Common! Even the lawyers among them were found wanting. The professor of law in their midst sounded like a motor park tout in between his sycophantic maneuvers to rescue OBJ and his third term mission. Senator Chukwumerije that is often known for his use of bombastic language left me hanging in the final moments of the debate; may be it was a feeling of déjà vu since he already had his card well planned to be played later that day. I will forgive him for once. In view of the fact that English is the official language of transacting business in the National Assembly, may be it is high time legislators not only declare their assets but also their grade in O’ level English language exam; May be.
It will not suffice if I just rant on and on about a very glaring problem without proffering a solution. In this case, three forms of solution directly tied to their possible length of implementation come to mind. That is a short, medium and long term solution to the quality of poor debate on the floor of the legislative body. They are as follows:
- Short term: Create a National Democratic Institute in the mould of the same institution in the Third Republic to train and retrain current legislators, ministers and their aides in the art of democratic governance, debate and history. A clause should be included in the electoral bill to make it mandatory for all first time legislator elected on the federal and state levels to attend a two to four weeks training in the rudimentary rules of parliament, debating and English language, service delivery and human rights as well as Nigerian history. Refresher courses lasting for about a week or two should be organized for returning legislators and should be made mandatory before the oath of office and consequent taking of the seat can be allowed. I personally will volunteer to take them through rudiments of a good debate by organizing press clubs in Secondary Schools across the country to engage in mock debates with our intending senators and hopefully floor them in the early stages of this program to their own dismay and may be shame. Good citizens, make good leaders and great leaders strengthen great democracies; educating our ruling elites will be ultimately beneficial in the quality of thought and skills that go into the policies they will propound and implement while in office. It is not surprising that most of our legislators lack common debating skills and zero colorful delivery since it is impossible to give a good speech without an in-depth knowledge of what you speak of. May be requiring a minimum allotted time at the National Assembly library for legislators to retain continuing membership will also be a step in the right direction just like attendance is kept, gosh!
- Medium Term: Restore Parliamentary system on Local and State levels. Since this will require a constitutional amendment, it will definitely take time. But I think it will be a smart thing to do. Presidential system does not only encourage intellectual laziness but actually breeds it. Under a parliamentary system, the legislator constituency is small probably a legislator to 50 000 individuals at the maximum, which gives him more face time and more need to use grammatically convincing skills in order to remain in office. Regular legislative debates between the party in power and opposition will naturally be a good training ground for future leaders. Indeed, the parliamentary system on state and local level will cut waste since it will only offer sitting allowances instead of the current system of full time remuneration to legislators. Furthermore, it will also influence the next generation of leaders that will move up from this level to the federal sphere and rid them of the evil of over bloated sense of importance that have made Nigerian lawyers turned federal legislators look like shoe cobblers that never saw the four walls of the university.
- Long Term: The apparent long term solution to this problem lies in correcting the defects in our current educational curriculum and educational system. The current crop of legislators went to the dilapidating structures of today called schools when the decay begun. They missed out in the glory days of Kings College, Queens College, Queen Amina Secondary School and Government College Ibadan. They were taught by those lazy and non committed Nigerian teachers lacking proper phonetically correct intonations that took over after the Ghana-must-go nonsense that turned English education in Nigeria to a joke: even BBC predicts that a new form of English that will not be understood by the rest of the world is slowly emerging in my country. Haba!
I know some people will scream colonial mentality but please let us be real. Even Chinese people are learning English as quickly as they can today because it is the language of business in the world. India has built itself into an outsourcing and service powerhouse with a combination of an English speaking, technological savvy population living in a democratic society that respects the rule of law. It is time to retool our curriculum to emphasize debate and oral English as well as encourage teaching history and politics from primary school through the university level. Here in the United States, it is common knowledge that up until the college level, History and Government is a compulsory course for all students attending most public colleges and universities: at least in Texas for all schools regardless of whether they are publicly funded or not. It is high time we use the same approach. Why should modern Nigerian history and politics be an option in the senior secondary level and totally ignored or minimized before then?
Beyond all these however, the reason why I was most ashamed was I. I was ashamed that I allowed substandard individuals legislate over my affairs and that of my country while I build another man’s land. Heck, since I watched that fateful NTA broadcast ( I still watch that propaganda never mind) featuring those substandard debates and presentations by our senators, I have started giving it serious thoughts if I won’t be packing home to stand for councillorship sometimes in the very near future. Indeed, why can’t Professor Mobolaji Aluko of NDM fame be the distinguished Senator of Ekiti-South senatorial zone representing the constituency of my matriarchal inheritance? Why? Why leave the business of state to the undeserving? Why let our country rot under the leadership of less qualified people? What is the use of our degrees and certificates if they cannot be used for the purpose of uplifting our motherland? All I know is that when all is said, it is up to you and me to fix it!
Nigeria we hail thee.
“The death of democracy is not likely to be assassinations from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1977)