By Akanimo Sampson
SPEAKER of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, has started to warn the electorate in Nigeria against blind voting in 2019, saying democracy is not something that is gained from the ballot box.
According to the leader of the Green Chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral Legislature, ‘’the ballot box sometimes has produced some enemies of democracy, those who have completely discarded the tenets of democracy’’.
Continuing, Dogara said, ‘’we have to invest more in building democracy and democratic institutions. Where institutions are strong; democracy itself will be made strong. And to be very candid, Parliament is the hope of saving the people from dictatorship.
‘’Where democracies fail; it is common place to blame it on Parliament, it becomes the fault of members of Parliament who are not willing to stand up to principles and be defenders of those democratic institutions’’.
The speaker was speaking in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, while playing host to a parliamentary delegation from Liberia, undertaking a study tour in the country, comprising of members of Joint Committee on Public Accounts, Expenditure and Audit, led by Senator Henry Yallah.
Decrying the delicate nature of democratic institutions all over the world , he advocated for the establishment of a body that will be vested with the responsibility of defending democracy against dictatorship.
‘’Democracies all over the world are very fragile and that includes even democracies in advanced countries that we regard to have advanced democracies. Even in the United States we are beginning to see that there is the fight to keep the loyalty with the people rather than to any form of democratic malfunction.
‘’Even things that we thought were completely impossible to happen in advanced democracies, we are beginning to see them, like breaches. That therefore tells us that we even need to institute a body that may be known as the defenders of democracy, I don’t know how we can go about that, I’m just thinking loudly about some of these issues.
‘’But to be candid, though it is not the best form of government, it is the best that is known to man. Anybody who doubts this can try dictatorship. Those who have lived in a dictatorship will tell you how bad it is.
‘’Where the will of an individual is the law, as a matter of fact you don’t even need the Parliament, in which case all of us will be jobless as it is just the will of an individual that is the law. It is the will of the individual that is argued out in the courts’’, Dogara said.
According to him, ‘’a performing budget is also needed to sustain democracy and achieve stability. To win citizens’ confidence, government must deliver to the people’s yearnings and expectations, especially in terms of security and welfare.
In a seeming veiled reference to Nigeria, the speaker said, ‘’a performing budget is needed to sustain even the very idea of the democracy itself, because it has to be a government that delivers to the people in terms of expectations, in terms of security and welfare.
‘’When you have few people mismanage the resources belonging to government; the end result will be that the expectations of the people will be cut off: No quality service, welfare and that obviously will result in distress, and we have seen this distress manifest in so many African countries where the entire process of expenditure, transparency and accountability is a bit opaque’’.
‘’In Nigeria, Public Accounts Committee is headed by a member of the opposition. We do not give it to a member of the ruling party, obviously the reason is on account of transparency. It deals with the task of over-sighting expenditure, so we can’t have the same members in charge of over-sighting the way expenditures are made. If that were to be the case, you can’t run away from the incidence of conflict of interest.
‘’As it is one of the critical requirements and central pillar of our jurisprudence, justice must not only be done, but be manifestly seen to be done. So, when you have the people of the same political party investigating themselves, no matter how fair-minded they are, there is no way a reasonable person sitting outside there will say they have done justice in that manner.
‘’That is the foundation upon which our Public Accounts Committee operates and in most cases they are in tandem with the Auditor-General of the Federation which we are set to empower and to insulate using the Constitution Amendment exercise which we are currently embarking on.
‘’It encompasses the operation of all agencies, including the National Assembly, and the reports are submitted to the Public Accounts Committee of the House. Once they receive the reports from the Auditor-General; they embark on thorough investigation of the figures, as I said before this is to ensure transparency.
‘’I know that it is so in fledgling democracies like ours and that will be the case in your democracy which is much younger than ours, we also need transparency, we need to ensure that we have entrusted resources and allocations with integrity. But where you see that resources are better managed and allocations are fairly done across board; you’ll see that there’ll be some elements of stability in those countries”.
‘’I once again want to welcome you and charge you that corruption itself is not something that can be totally exterminated. Experience has shown that in even better democracies of more advanced countries so to speak, it is difficult to totally eradicate corruption.
But experience has also shown that we can tame it by taking deliberate actions like we are doing now on how to combat it. I believe that as you come across the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria and indeed the Auditor General and so many other experts who have been lined up to talk to you; you will learn a lot as to how we are still in the process of dealing with the problem. But you’ll come across challenges and I hope that you will use our own experience to learn, you don’t have to wait to learn by your own experience.
‘’You can build on our own experience and examine the pitfalls so that you can build on the strengths and weaknesses of our own Laws, so that you can better build your own Laws that will better serve the interests of the people of Liberia and the wider ECOWAS community.
‘’We are members of the same community, you are always welcome to Nigeria, our doors as a Parliament are always open to provide assistance and to see that you are up to speed with some of these reforms that we are trying to advance even in Nigeria.’’
Leader of the delegation and Chairman of Liberian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Public Accounts, Expenditure and Audit, Senator Henry Yallah told the speaker that they were in the country on a study tour with the aim of building their capacity as a young democracy.