Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon Chukwuka Onyema, on Friday, said it was unfortunate that Nigerians prefer bags of rice to quality legislations. Onyema who spoke at a round-table conference organised by the House Committee on Civil Societies and Development Partners, decried that people are more concerned about material things they stand to gain from their Representatives, than the quality of Bills being passed by the National Assembly. Well, thanks to the current administration, Rice has become even more ‘gold’ than before because of the hunger that has befallen the economy.
He represented the Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Yakubu Dogara at the conference which had the theme, ‘Bridging the Gap Between The Elected Representatives and Their Constituents’. According to him, “Nigerians want you to go and steal all the money in the world and come and give them, then you have done well. But even if you pass over 100 legislative Bills, to them you have not done well. “That is very wrong. We have to get it right. For instance, if you go to your constituency and tell them I did this and that at the parliament, they will just be looking at you, like what is this one saying. “But if you tell them I gave this and that scholarship, or there are bags of rice outside to be shared, they will applaud you that you have done well.
“This is totally wrong and must be corrected. That is not our work. I think it is high time we started realising some of these things. This is why I think this kind of forum is very very important”. Meantime, in a paper he presented at the event, a former Minority Whip at the House of Reps, Hon. Samson Osagie, insisted that the National Assembly is the most vilified, misunderstood and unappreciated among the three organs of government. “This is why the Legislature and its committees should do everything possible to reinvent itself”, he added.
He said: “The ever growing expectations of the constituents from their representatives necessitates that the latter must evolve strategies to meet with those or at least some of those expectations. “Of course, the nature of our economy does not make the job of a representative an easy one. With the high rate of inflation and huge unemployment, the Legislator is in a very difficult position on how to meet not just the social needs of the communities he represents but the basic individual needs of his constituents.
“Regrettably is the gross misunderstanding of this herculean task that the Lawmaker has to face. As earlier stated, the members of the National Assembly are the most hated, vilified and unappreciated by many Nigerians on account of the alleged salaries and allowances that they earn, yet they are confronted with huge responsibilities to discharge. “Therefore, it is imperative that a Lawmaker must device some strategies to constantly carry along his constituents”.
He further decried the influence of money on politics in Nigeria, saying it was the major reason behind the do-or-die attitude of politicians. “At the end of the day you are judged by how much million you are ready to give to people. “They follow you to the election and at the end of the day they want you to make them millionaires. “I left office over a year ago. Someone told me that the problem I had was that I did not make people millionaires. “The syndrome of god-fatherism is another factor. When one man decides who will be the representative of so many people.
Now if you don’t have money you don’t go into politics. That is what it has turned to. At the end of the day, when you sale all your things and contest election, it becomes a problem. “In conclusion, it is suggested that as a way forward, our electoral system must be reviewed and implemented. “Political parties must also evolve strategies to make elections particularly at the primary levels less expensive and competitive. They must also ensure that government implement it’s manifestos.
“Voter education must be the collective responsibility of nothing government, electoral umpire and political parties. This must be done regularly. Above all, representatives must maintain very close and cordial relationship with their constituents”. In his speech that was read by Hon. Onyema, Dogara, said the conference was timely and apt.
“It is also coming at a time in our nation when there is a genuine misunderstanding of the duties, responsibilities and activities of elected representatives and their desire to attract projects and services back to their constituencies, by way of constituency intervention projects. “There can be no effective representation if an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion exists as to the intentions and rational for the actions of elected persons. “The desire of elected representatives to make an impact in their constituencies is borne out of the need for service.
No elected person worth his salt would be satisfied if he is unable to point out at the end of the day, what he has been able to accomplish within the period of his mandate. “This Roundtable is particularly important because there is a yawning gap between the activities of Representatives and the recipients of his services. To bridge this gap, greater effort should be made in communicating effectively the activities of elected Representatives.
We should have regular town hall meetings, regular consultative processes, and regular media engagement, if this problem is to be solved “The legislature is often misunderstood because its role is unappreciated. The work of the legislature is mainly intangible but the public hunger and measure of performance relates to tangible things.
If a legislator works on a bill and gets it passed, the constituent may not take note, if a Legislator speaks ‘big grammar’ an makes meaningful contributions in Plenary or Committee, it is hardly noticed by his constituent. “Time has also come for democratic institution like the National Assembly to communicate better, its processes and activities to the public.
Time has come for the National Assembly to publicly answer any questions relating to its activities and funding. “It seems to us that over the years the legislature has adopted the policy of non-response when its activities are called to question. Most often a simple explanation is what is required. “But when none is forthcoming, mischief makers, ignorant and misinformed pundits are left to fill the public space with lies, falsehood and misinformation”, Dogara added.