On Wednesday, 25th November 2015, the President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki launched the Senate’s suggestion box in the Senate complex. It was a proper ceremony with a speech and tape-cutting exercise. Whilst many Nigerians are upset by the concept, I want to be bold to say, it is OUR fault that this idea came into being.
Why it is our fault?
We don’t know them: During the 2015 general elections, it was common for most of us to vote personalities for the Presidential & Gubernatorial tickets but for the legislature (both state and federal levels), we voted along party lines.
The result is most Nigerians do not know the names of THEIR representatives in the State House of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate. Also, we don’t know anything about OUR representatives (their profile, their constituency office, the committees they are involved in, etc.).
We don’t engage them: A key product of not knowing OUR representatives is that we don’t engage them. We don’t bring issues in our constituency to their attention, seek feedback from them, seek to know their agenda for their 4-year term, demand regular communication from them, etc.
This is why the Senate President said as part of his speech, “It is my hope that as we use this suggestion boxes and engage much more closely with you our constituents we are able to build a much closer relationship and a much better National Assembly.”
Is it not our fault that OUR representatives are seeking our engagement via a suggestion box?
They are not representing us: Yes, this is really the reality. We didn’t choose them but we chose their political party so OUR representatives represent their godfathers and their political and personal interest.
This is why they don’t seek to communicate with us and seek our feedback or requesting our contribution. So, to look like they are people-oriented, they are calling on us to send suggestions through a box and not through them – OUR representative.
It is clearly our fault.
We don’t know their functions: Most of us think all OUR representatives do is share money or at best screen the appointees of the executive. So, we’ve developed an apathetic attitude to this critical part of governance. As long as we remain ignorant, we will be kept in the dark and miss out on the true dividends of our democracy but also, incompetence and impunity will remain the norm.
What can we do?
Know YOUR representative: This is a democracy which means people representation. Therefore, it is time we know who OUR representatives are, their profile and their constituency office.
As a starting point, visit www.nassnig.org/constituency to know your Senator and House of Representative member. You can conduct further research to get their contact details (constituency office and email address, Facebook account, Twitter handle and phone numbers).
Engage them We are not meant to engage through suggestion boxes but through direct interaction with OUR representatives. We gave them the mandate (the legitimacy) to operate as OUR representatives and must make them realise that THEY represent US.
We at the Nation-builders Movement have simplified the process of kickstarting engagement with OUR representatives by creating a format which involves us sending letters to them on your behalf. Visit the campaign page for more details – http://www.thenationbuildersmovement.org/campaigns-2/
Know their function: OUR representatives make laws, have oversight of certain government MDAs (Ministry, Department and Agency), act as a court of law, can impeach a member of the executive arm, receive our petitions and present such before the plenary and the specific committee, approve the executive appointments and budget, etc.
The Nation-builders Movement created an e-leaflet to provide us with good background knowledge on the function of our legislature. Download the pdf here. Knowledge empowers us for qualitative action.
Give more attention to who represents us in the legislature: The work of building a developed Nigeria is not solely in the hands of the executive arm of government. An effective engagement with OUR representatives will ensure we input into the programmes of the executive arm of government and also demand more transparency and accountability.
More attention on the legislature will also ensure improved quality of candidates at future elections, leading to improve quality of OUR representatives. Maybe some of us with credibility and a heart for service will consider putting ourselves forward as candidates.
It must be added that many of us will need to participate in the activities of our political parties to influence the production of credible party candidates for both the executive and the legislature positions at future elections.
Until citizens harness the numerous opportunities offered by our young democracy, we continue to operate a civilian rule and not a democratic dispensation. If it is true that democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people, it demands that YOU and I (the people) must engage the process.
Knowing and engaging OUR representatives in the legislative arm of government is OUR responsibility. We are the ones OUR representatives should be approaching for suggestions. Get involved.