Sunday, 30 April 2017

THE ROLE OF THE POLITICAL CLASS AND RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS IN ENTRENCHING SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF IMO STATE.


A SPEECH DELIVERED BY RT HON. (ENGR.) IRONA ALPHONSUS GERALD, FORMER MEMBER REPRESENTING OHAJI/EGBEMA – OGUTA – ORU WEST FEDERAL CONSTITUENCY IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2011 - 2015), AT SAINT MARK’S DAY CELEBRATION OF ST. MARK’S ANGLICAN CHURCH EJEMEKWURU, OGUTA LGA, IMO STATE.

PROTOCOLS.

Greetings and warm felicitations to the Vicar, the Parochial Church Committee, St. Mark’s Day Planning Committee and the entire members of St. Mark’s Anglican church Ejemekwuru for the honour of inviting me as special guest of honour and guest speaker to the 2017 St. Mark’s Day Celebration.

This gathering offers me a rare and unique privilege to once more share my thoughts with my dear people whose democratic rights and political benevolence availed me the rare opportunity to speak in the Imo state House of Assembly from 1999-2003, and secondly, through your political franchise, elected me “unopposed” as the Executive chairman of Oguta LGA from 2003-2007; and finally, in concert with the good people of Ohaji/Egbema and Oru west, elected me to speak in the hallowed chambers of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where I indeed represented my people in the House of Representatives from 2011-2015.

Today’s programme affords me the opportunity to participate, support and contribute in the running of St. Mark’s Anglican Church Ejemekwuru in particular and the diocese on the Lake at large.

Over the years, churches in Nigeria have remained non committal to the political discourse and participation.

However, it is gratifying to note that the Anglican Communion of Nigeria have taken an exceptional posture to that earlier stand. I support the position taken by the Anglican Church that churches should and ought to be the most relevant assembly and platform to canvass policy matters and especially the issue of good governance.

Remarkably, today 30th April 2017, delightedly, St. Mark’s Anglican Church Ejemekwuru choose me to speak on the role of the Political Class and Religious Organization in Entrenching Sustainable Democratic System in Nigeria: A case study of Imo State. 

In this discourse, I shall restrain myself and avoid the temptations of using this platform to do a critique to any person(s). However, I shall be guided by the fact that as a citizen of Nigeria, with a right to express my opinion and have a say on how I am governed and, in particular, how our commonwealth is appropriated for the common benefit of our people. This is my legitimate obligation as guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

THE POLITICAL CLASS IN A DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM:

The topic of this discourse is very apt at this moment, considering the impact, the action of the political class is exerting on the character of the state and the nature of politics in Nigeria. The competition for power and the control of the state resources amongst the political class is the biggest threat to Nigeria’s democracy and Imo State is having its fair share of this fierce struggle for political power with its attendant consequences.

Who are the political class?

The political class comprises all the key players and stakeholders whose collective actions shape or determine the direction any society goes. This class of citizens usually moulds the opinions of the larger society. Political class can therefore be defined as the aggregate of all individuals who through their activities, thoughts, actions exercises considerable influence on the society or it’s part thereof, and ultimately dictate the direction the society goes at any given time.

In this definition, both the elected and appointed political office holders, Senior Civil and Public Servants, Former Political office holders, Traditional Rulers, Leaders of (1) Religious Organization, (2) Community based Organizations, (3) Civil Society Organizations, (4) Youth Organizations, (5) Women Organizations, (6) Labour Organizations and Leaders of Political Parties.

Interesting, this is a departure from our usual acronym, “Political Leaders” which shifts the responsibility for the leadership to only the elected or appointed political office holders at any given time.

From the description of political class it implies that most of us here belong to the political class in Imo State and therefore share in the onerous responsibility of entrenching sustainable Democratic System in Imo State in particular and Nigeria in general.

Though our level of responsibilities differ, the political leaders (Elected and Appointed Political office Holders), bear the bulk of entrenching sustainable Democratic culture in Imo state and Nigeria as a whole, simply because they have the mandate of the people through election or appointment into office. Consequently they have legitimacy to take actions and decisions. Simply put, they have constitutional and legal authority to take decisions at our instance.

The political leadership has access to the state resources and manages our common wealth. Through these constitutional powers, the political leaders appropriate our commonwealth rightly or wrongly. 

The political leaders have the control of the law enforcement agencies. They maintain the coercive force of the state and control the state purse.

The vicar, the Clergy, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s my opinion that both the political leaders and leaders of Religious Organizations amongst others constitute the Political Class. We therefore must evolve strategies for the active collaboration of the political leaders and the rest of the political class. 

We must always be conscious of the fact that our actions and words define and propel the reactions of those who are loyal to us. The privileges the leaders posses also demands from us a commensurate sense of responsibility to act in a way and manner that will always be in the best interest of those we lead and the country at large. 

The global acceptance of “liberal democracy” as a major vehicle in attaining peaceful co-existence in a multi-faceted society, promotion of economic development, individual liberty, human right restoration and preservation of rule of law and freedom of healthy competition in global socio-political activities, necessitated the quest for democracy consolidation especially in society like ours that have experienced dictatorship over the years.

Unarguably, the political class is very fundamental for the actualization of our democratic sustenance, therefore it is vital that we continue to interrogate the role and activities of the political class. We must at all times engage and ask relevant questions as to the continued relevance of the political class in the preservation of democratic norms and principles necessary for its consolidations. Is the structure and formation of political parties in Nigeria effective enough to bring about stable democracy? Are Nigerian political parties institutionalized? Are there freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, free and independent Judiciary and legislature, are there transparent, free and fair elections, are there virile and strong opposition parties. Are the three tiers of government autonomous? Do we have strong and preserved value system? These and more related questions agitate my mind as to the future of our new found democracy without effective and responsive political class.

In Nigeria the role of the political class are always trivialized – 

Simply reduced to the fielding/supporting of candidates for elective positions, campaigning for these candidates, canvassing for votes from the masses and getting their candidates elected to form government. This simple understanding of the role of the political class in our democracy consolidation is the bane of our society and has negated the world wide conception of the modern role of the political party and the political class which is the acquisition of power through electoral process for the promulgation of the interest of a group which seeks to control the government for the enthronement of a well - structured society with established political culture suitable for economic progress and development. 

For Democracy to trive, there must be justice, equity, fairness and financial accountability on the part of the political leadership. 

The role of the political class in entrenching sustainable democratic system in Nigeria.

The political class play critical roles in the effective management of the affairs of the society. While it is the responsibility of the political leaders to initiate and implement policies and programmes, it is also incumbent upon this same political class to interpret and appraise these policies and to hold those of their members in government accountable. This is a very critical factor in the entrenchment of democracy in our system. 

Few weeks ago, the Imo State Chapter of the independent Newspaper proprietors Association demanded from the state government to account for the bail-out loans, Paris club debt payback, the statutory allocations to the state and local government from the federation account running into billions of Naira. This is one of the basic responsibilities of the political class. Unfortunately, instead of the Imo State Government to respond and account for the details of the expenditure of the funds, they resulted to cheap blackmail, threats and intimidation of the leadership and members of the Association. But then, the Imo State Chapter of the independent Newspaper proprietors Association, as a segment of the political class is performing a legitimate duty to hold government accountable and to ensure fiscal discipline. 

Also the oil rich region of Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta Councils of Imo State through their leaders had on several occasions demanded from the state government the account of the thirteen percent (13%) Derivation Fund from the Federation account.

Infact, Oguta Community instituted legal proceedings at the Owerri High court. Legal action became inevitable as Imo State Government refused to engage the leaders and the people from the oil producing areas. Rather the state government doled out large sum of money totalling about Five Hundred Million Naira (N500,000,000.00) only, as Youth Empowerment Fund and this huge sum of money was simply shared amongst the Youths without any viable, sustainable economic programmes or policy on the ground. The flip side is that now the youths of the region have drank from the poisoned pot of cheap and easy money, they are now yearning for more, becoming increasingly agitated and frustrated. The political class has the responsibility to challenge and/or engage the state government to devise a sustainable and concrete policy framework, institutions and programs to empower and re-position our youths rather than their current recourse to financial inducement. Obviously, the sharing of the cash to the youths of the Oil producing areas in Imo State is a serious error of judgment on the part of the Imo State Government.

The Religious Organization as part of political class should avail their congregations the privilege of informed positions on government policies and programmes. It is the responsibility of the political class to confront our political leaders to explain their actions and inactions. The failure to carry out this basic responsibility breeds bad government. Of course, Religious Organizations should know that they are somewhat insulated from the usual fight back tactics of the political leadership who would necessarily resort to blackmail, crackdown on opposition party leaders, arrest and detention of journalist for publishing facts. Therein lies the strength of our churches.

In a democratic system, the reactions, opinions and responses of the masses to the policies and programmes of the government help to shape the positions of the government. No government can succeed without the active participation of the citizens through their opinions. 

In Imo State, public opinion on government policies does not count. We are all living witnesses to the ongoing state government Urban Renewal programmes in major cities of Imo State. A very laudable programme, but poorly planned and implemented in breach of worldwide best practices. Houses and shops are being destroyed/demolished without compensation to the owners. It is on record that most of the houses destroyed have building approvals from the state government. This action by the Imo State government has inflicted suffering, economic hardship and deprivation to citizens of the state. 

For a sustainable democratic system in Nigeria, the political class must insist on having the right individuals elected into positions of leadership. The question Then, is what constitute right individuals? In choosing our leaders, we must insist that candidates must have good dosage of the following.

(i) Competence

(ii) Capacity

(iii) Integrity

(iv) Track Record/Experience

(v) High Moral Standing 

(vi) Must have fear of God

There must be background checks of people aspiring to be our leaders. And the Religious Organizations being custodians of our moral values must assist the political class in aspect.

The political class as the conscience of the society must insist to voice out the truth to those in leadership positions without fear or favour. Unfortunately, majority of the political class are often driven by their selfish and parochial political, economic and social interests.

The sustainable democratic structures must be anchored on good government. The rise and fall of any government depends mainly on its ability to initiate the right policies and programmes. Poorly designed and hastily executed policies and programmes does not endure. Every policy or decision of the political leadership must be the outcome of a rigorous and deeply thought through process that takes into consideration both the long time and immediate benefits.

Education was regarded as the most triving industry in Imo State. The present state government was magnanimous to introduce free education at all levels in the state. Regrettably, this policy has destroyed the basic foundation of our education sector. There are no teachers for basic subject in most schools in the state. The learning condition and environment is most unbearable. The academic standard is at its lowest level in the state. I must concede that free education is a good programme, but the planning and implementation is very faulty and defective. 

It is obvious from our experience in Imo State that the political class has failed in its responsibility, because many years into our democratic experience, we still don’t seem to have the mechanism and structure to reorient the masses on a broad based ideological political culture. The political class failed to command the genuine respect and support of the majority of Imo Citizens, who view the political class as public office hunters and selfish contractors whose goals are personal enrichment. Without mincing words, we are witnessing myriad of social problems that have ravaged the state and destroyed most of what is held as our cherished values. Unfortunately, the political class saddled with the responsibility of directing the affairs of the state have been the major culprit in perpetuating this act. 

Commenting on the experience of the Nigeria Nation as a whole, the renowned Novelist China Achebe, insisted that the root cause of the Nigerian predicament should be laid squarely at the foot of bad leadership “the trouble with Nigeria.” Achebe argued, is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land, climate, water, air or anything else. The Nigerian Problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership (Achebe, 1984).

In conclusion, I want to state unequivocally that the state of Nigeria’s pitiable socio-economic development has been a direct consequence of the actions and inactions of the political class that has managed the affairs and wealth of the country since independence. Pathetically, the logic of the Nigerian political class has been that of self-service as some of the leaders are mired in the pursuit of selfish and personal goals at the expense of broader national interests, with greater emphasis being placed on personal aggrandisement and self-glorification to the detriment of prudent and good management of national wealth. It is not surprising that the result is that Nigeria, the World’s eighth largest exporter of crude oil, a country endowed with many resources, still has more than seventy percent (70%) of its population living below the poverty line.

The activities of a self-seeking political class are the greatest threat to Nigerian Democracy and Imo State is not an exception.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with such a distinguished audience.

More photos from the Thanksgiving service/celebration of St. Mark’s Day at Oguta, Imo State. 




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Disclaimer: Comment expressed do not reflect the opinion of Isaac Yoma