Lagos Special Status Bill – Right Idea, Wrong Place, Wrong Timing, By Simbo Olorunfemi

…the Senate could not rise above itself… It could not engage in any form of strategic thinking and dig deep to see what this bill speaks to in the context of the current realities of the country and its plan for the future. No thought of letting this scale to the point where it can be meaningfully engaged on its merits, the bill has been thrown out only after the First Reading.

Democracy is not necessarily the most effective form of government. In practice, it makes the decision-making process slow, burdensome and complicated, with the in-built mechanism for checks and balances often becoming a drawback. That is why some analysts do not associate this form of government with speed in development and do not prescribe or believe it is the best for countries yearning for urgent turn-around in economic fortune. The legislative arm, in the spirit of checks and balances that are fundamental to representative democracy, is supposed to be a showpiece for democracy in action, as it is made up of direct representatives of the people who are supposed to have access to them and exercise the power of recall over them, if the need be.

But in many democracies, that body has gradually become the albatross, becoming anything but democratic in thought and practice. In many countries, the soul of the legislature has been sold to vested interests. In developed democracies, lobbyists and special interest parties largely hold sway. In less-developed democracies, it is worse. The arm has been hijacked by all sorts of characters. It has become a retirement pad for retired governors and cronies of serving ones, to while away time, maintain political relevance, while plotting the next move for their political careers founded on the philosophy of Any Government In Power (AGIP). Many members are unable to tell what the role and functions of the body are, beyond the place serving as one to leverage upon for contacts and contracts. Personal and selfish interests rule in place of the corporate interest of the nation.

Even the most progressive and serious-minded people that have been elected into the National Assembly have either found themselves sucked in or simply frustrated by the inherent inability of the body to rise above bottlenecks and landmines carefully laid to ensure nothing gets done there. Should a member elect to fly solo, he must think twice lest he falls into the trap of blackmail with the generous allowances and running grant that came his way. If he becomes heady, it is easy to cut him to size on account of some absurd and petty rules that have elevated privileges of members and the group’s interest over and above that of the country.

Given the notoriety of the legislature as a difficult place to get anything done, yet being an essential place in governance, as it has the power to make laws and approve expenditure plan, we are compelled to tread carefully in dealing with it. The executive arm and citizens must master the carrot and stick approach in dealing with this body to be able to extricate some good from it. That, we have obviously not learnt to do. That is why the National Assembly has become a graveyard for progressive ideas where good bills do not get passed and poorly thought-out ones make it through the chambers.

…the initiator of the bill should have known better and expected such an outcome, given the history of the Senate and its present state of mind, except the intent was just to put into the public domain that a move was made even if it was hastily shot down by the usual suspects.

It would take a deft management of interests, massaging of ego, good sense of timing and a strategic use of the media and the moribund party platform to get any meaningful results from the Assembly. With the parties in disarray and the governing party effectively turned into a minority party in the National Assembly, rallying a common front on any matter becomes very difficult. Indeed, little good can be expected and little is the good that has come.

The Special Status for Lagos Bill by Senator Oluremi Tinubu is one such piece of proposed legislation, seeking an out-of-the-box legislative response to the promise and challenges of Lagos. But, it is caught up in the politics of the Senate, sensitivities of the moment and the heat in the polity. As to be expected, the Senate could not rise above itself. It could not do away with petty rabble-rousing, as has been its tradition. It could not engage in any form of strategic thinking and dig deep to see what this bill speaks to in the context of the current realities of the country and its plan for the future. No thought of letting this scale to the point where it can be meaningfully engaged on its merits, the bill has been thrown out only after the First Reading. But the initiator of the bill should have known better and expected such an outcome, given the history of the Senate and its present state of mind, except the intent was just to put into the public domain that a move was made even if it was hastily shot down by the usual suspects.

At the right time, Nigerians will have to take into their own bare hands, their truncated destiny. We must decide on what to do with this cancerous cell in the system before metastasis fully sets in. We must decide on what to do with the Senate now. The need for a surgical procedure on the legislative arm of government has never been more urgent. The Senate, on account of its malignant tendency, seems to be making a strong case for an imminent death. If we do not apply radiotherapy to it on account of this recession, when will we have a case to address this cell growing out of proportion? If we do not apply the necessary shots of chemotherapy on the cell that has decided on its own course, listening to no-one, but its own flute, it just might send the entire body to the grave, before due date. The only question is: Can the malignant cells still be successfully excised to leave for us a useful body? A decision is being forced on the surgeon with each day. Soon, the street will become a theatre and the procedure might have to be administered without the luxury of anaesthesia.

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

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