As Nigerians continue to advocate for the introduction of a part-time legislature, Dr. Elvis Ukpaka, a youth development and leadership expert, tells SODIQ OJUROUNGBE that the country requires legislators who are fully on the ground to address issues of high level that arise daily, among others
As a leadership coach, where do you think we are going wrong in terms of governance in Nigeria?
Let me start by saying that the basis of Nigeria’s problems is rooted in its flawed political and economic system. The system was created by certain cabals during the military regime and passed on to successive governments. This system of government eliminated the regional system of government that we had before the civil war. And that introduced the command-and-control style of government, where regions no longer have autonomy over themselves and their resources as power shifts to the center.
Let me say categorically that our current military system of government, which we label as “federalism”, cannot in any way facilitate sustainable development and emancipate Nigeria from the current quagmire we find ourselves in if we continue to operate in the way we are operating now. .
There is nothing wrong with federalism, but the way we are operating it is the problem. The basic principle of true federalism is that states or regions should be economically prosperous, autonomous in their functioning, and self-sufficient, while contributing their fair share to the upkeep of the government, which is at the center.
Unfortunately, the opposite is what we see today in Nigeria; It is a great shame that almost all of the 36 states of Nigeria cannot function without getting their hands on what I called a “beggar’s cup” to collect allowances from the government for their monthly livelihood. It is a big problem that we are having; many state governors cannot wait until the end of the month to queue up in Abuja.
This is a classic leadership failure. Do we know what this terrible approach has done to the nation and to Nigerians? It’s what I call a stilt: it has forced creativity and innovation, and it has promoted laziness and increased reliance on government at the center. That is what he has done.
Are you saying that true federalism is unattainable in Nigeria?
True federalism can be achieved in Nigeria if we have the right leaders who will do the right thing. And to do that, we have to go back to basics because our constitution has been shaken. So many things need to be put in order so that we can practice true federalism. The constitution that we have now is totally flawed, which is why we had that constitutional conference in 2014, trying to put things in order. Until that area is resolved, forget about it. There is nothing wrong with federalism. True federalism simply means that each state or region, regardless of what it has contributed to the center, also has the autonomy to manage its own welfare. But in this case, it’s not being done in Nigeria. So we have a big problem.
The current government still clings to everything; so everyone rushes to Abuja to collect their share, and this has fostered laziness and torpor. That was not what we had before the Civil War. When we had the pyramid in the north and the cacao in the south, things worked very well and still contribute to the center. But they came up with the idea that since they want unity, we will need to centralize the government to work progressively. It will work that way. Everyone will focus on their areas of strength, while the government at the center will have the power to regulate. Each region will then be able to develop very well while contributing its fair share to the center.
Should Nigeria continue with the bicameral legislature or should we switch to a unicameral one?
Today in Nigeria, those in favor of bicameral legislation have argued that for a country like Nigeria, where we have a multi-ethnic group, people may not be well represented under unicameral legislation, but they are better represented by bicameralism. Others think that bicameral legislation is very expensive to maintain, and for a country like Nigeria, it has caused a lot of waste when you look at the recurring spending in our annual budget that is used to cater for members of the national assembly.
I believe that for a country like Nigeria, bicameral legislation will provide more effective control of government conduct. A bicameral model improves the capacity of parliament. It gives more space for people to be well represented. It makes it possible for better laws to be made in the country. Bills are properly debated for the benefit of all without leaving anyone out. And what is more important, the lower house of the bicameral Senate reduces the workload of the upper house.
But unlike bicameral legislation, the unicameral legislative style is relatively simple, efficient, and less time consuming, especially when it comes to the decision-making process. But the danger of this legislation is that bills can be passed even before the masses know what is happening. Unicameralism is what we have at the state level, and we’ve seen some problems that it’s created in some states where, in most cases, it’s being hijacked by the governor.
So it’s just a matter of getting it right. I think bicameralism is fantastic. But in the case of Nigeria, we have many problems because the spending on that is too much and, furthermore, we have many legislators who are redundant. However, if they are productive and reduce excesses, they are preferable to unicameral legislation.
What is your take on the part-time legislature?
In the part-time legislature, for a country like Nigeria, we need legislators who are fully on the ground to serve the needs of our abundant population and the major issues that keep coming up every day. But unfortunately, when you look at the Senate or the House of Representatives, you hardly find some of our elected legislators on the ground, but they are full-time legislators who receive full salaries and benefits for doing nothing.
The whole idea of those who advocate a part-time legislature is to make the job of legislators less attractive, especially to those who see it as a means of personal enrichment.
The masses would not be advocating a part-time legislature if it weren’t for the apparent lifestyle of so many of our legislators, which has distorted the purpose for which they were elected: to make laws in the best interest of the people, not themselves.
In Nigeria, I don’t think we are ripe for a part-time legislature. It’s just the problem we have on the ground that makes people clamor for a part-time legislature; if we solve the problem, whereby we reduce these excesses of our legislators, the current style of legislation that we have is fine. It’s better to just say that we need to put our efforts together to make it work as it should.
Many people believe that one of the challenges we have in this country is the type of civil service that we operate. What is your view on this? Is it true that the civil service is too inflated?
The Nigerian civil service is in a situation where corrupt practices are at their peak. There is still a lot to be done in the Nigerian civil service, from curbing ghost workers, inefficiency, laziness and all kinds of corrupt practices that have crept into the system. So it’s a big problem.
Given that corruption permeates almost every aspect of the Nigerian system, what is the best way to address it?
In fact, corruption is so endemic because it has penetrated deep into the fabric of our society. It’s so bad that ordinary citizens who complain about corrupt practices or leaders will fare even worse if they find themselves in similar positions.
So the only reason they complain is that they have not had the opportunity to access that same position of authority. So the big question is: how can this monster in our society be crushed and annihilated? The fight against corruption involves everyone. Let’s end corruption before it kills us as a nation. Corruption has done a lot of damage to the social economy of our nation. Just take a look and see the enormous damage it has caused in our society, both in terms of resources and a brand called Nigeria.
So ending corruption is a fight in which we all need to be involved, but the government must lead the fight if we are to make any meaningful progress. The government must first create awareness programs; there must be a nationwide campaign, and it must be brought to the grassroots, even if it is in local dialects. This will be great if those in the corridor of power lead by example.
Likewise, those guilty of corruption must be punished, and it must be made public; it must not be selective, and there must be no sacred cow. All of our agencies and other government parastatals need to make sure they are strengthened. The government should make enough provisions to prevent corruption.
Those are some of the endemic institutional problems that need to be addressed. When we say we want to fight corruption, we first have to put our lives in order. The police on the streets are hungry and their salaries are low. There is a tendency for them to extort. So first we need to kill those things so they can work well.