Time to #Occupy NASS


Nigeria copied the presidential system from the United States, but has refused to give our 36 states the autonomy they need to run as a true federation. Why should the national minimum wage be dictated in Abuja when the costs of fuel, accommodation and school fees differ from state to state? Why should someone in Abuja decide if a state should have 23 local governments or 54 when the governor is in the best position to determine the structure that will enable him to deliver the best service at the best value to his constituents?

The presidential system of government is probably the most expensive form of democracy in the world. Of course, Nigeria’s peculiarities make the problem even worse! Our government has three arms – executive, legislative and judiciary. All arms are repeated at the three tiers of government – federal, state and local government – except the judiciary, which is absent at the local government level. Ministries, Departments and Agencies at the federal level are also duplicated at the state level. With the duplication of the office comes duplication of roles, titles, salaries and allowances. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if there was visible value for money. Rather, what we see is a bloated civil service (even without “ghost” workers), a wasteful and inefficient bureaucracy and a sense of entitlement because the whole structure is driven by patronage, not merit.

All this leads to the issue of our greedy legislators at the national level. They were elected, amongst other roles, to make laws that would ensure the efficient running of the country in the best interest of all. However, what they have demonstrated since our return to democratic rule in 1999 is that they care about one thing and one thing only: Themselves!

Civil society organisations like EiE Nigeria, BudgIT, other partners and citizens are pushing for more accountability and transparency from our elected representatives in the National Assembly with the #OpenNASS campaign. Below are some demands on our elected representatives:

The National Assembly’s N115bn budget for 2016 is a first line deduction which means a top priority is granted to the wants of Nigeria’s lawmakers. Their budget is larger than the budget of 12 ministries (including Power, Works and Housing) combined! It is also larger than the individual budgets of 15 states! There should be a breakdown of this budget.

The disconnect between citizens and their elected representatives was best captured recently when Sahara Reporters made public the lawmakers’ mobile phone numbers. Most papers phrased the action as a “leak”. While there are valid issues around privacy, the federal lawmakers made this inevitable. The National Assembly’s switchboard is comatose and the representatives don’t hold regular town hall meetings. As a result, functional email addresses, phone numbers and constituency office addresses should be made public.

We are very familiar with the shouts of “Nay” or “Yea” from the floors of the National Assembly under the cover of anonymity. So, electronic voting should replace voice voting. This will provide a record of votes for each legislator on all constitutional amendments, bills and motions. The technology is already in place, so this will be at zero cost.

The National Assembly should give an account of the over N1tn ($5bn) spent since 2005. In April, citizens staked the National Assembly under the banner #OccupyNASS. Unless we plan to hold court at the National Assembly indefinitely, the “occupation” that will yield results will not happen in Abuja, simply because it will be hard to get the numbers we need from across the country to put the fear of God in our legislators. So, in addition to citizens occupying in Abuja, we have to engage them at “home”.

If 469 people think it’s ok to spend N115bn per year without accounting for it and buy new cars worth over N5.5bn despite the prevailing economic challenges in the country, they need to be kept under pressure to serve the people who put them in office as they return today (Tuesday, September 20) , after a 13-week recess and a year plagued with court cases and allegations of corruption at the highest levels.

So yes, #OccupyNASS we will. Not just as a protest in Abuja, but every day in our different constituencies as an act of enlightened self-interest! This is the only way we can get those who we elected to serve to remember that ultimately, their legitimacy is vested in the approval of Nigerian citizens.

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