Governance By Condolence And Summons In Nigeria

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“It also confirms that in all such killings, the response of the government was usually to offer condolences to the affected communities until another attack happens warranting the composition of another delegation with the same message that government would spare no efforts to bring the culprits to book”.

BY TONNIE IREDIA 

From the days of western philosophers – Jean Rousseau, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, the concept of government has been the subject of unending commentary. Today, people see ‘government’ more as a product of the social contract theory which depicts the relationship between government and the people into two main parts of an unwritten contract. These are: (i) the immutable mandate of government to protect the people and (ii) the obligation of the people to undertake certain civic responsibilities. The people must pay taxes, they must vote and participate in community services such as the National Youth Service Corps programme in Nigeria. On its part, government offers a guarantee to ensure that people live meaningful lives without fear of any form of aggression. Nowhere else has this mandate of government as enunciated in the social contract theory been better illuminated than Nigeria where the express words of the country’s constitution in section 14, authoritatively states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

However, attacks on people in different parts of Nigeria particularly since the days of Goodluck Jonathan till today have been direct and patently aggressive with little or no intervention from government in breach of the sacred contract between government and the people. Indeed, many citizens wanted Muhammadu Buhari to replace Jonathan as president in 2015, believing that Buhari a former army general would do a better job securing the people – a belief which turned out to be completely false. In fact, Buhari’s minister of defence himself a former general, visibly despaired when he asked the people to defend themselves, a clear refutal of the justification for the existence of government. Till today, many government officials still erroneously believe that security is everybody business despite the fact that the nation’s highest law unequivocally names those whose duty it is. Government officials are yet to know the difference between appealing to the people for help with information on the movement of criminals and creating an official division of labour between public actors and private recipients of policy dividends.

Talking about information gathering, no one controverts the worthiness of good citizens providing useful information to authorities for the general good; which essentially exemplifies patriotism but if the tense insecurity in the affected localities of Nigeria is discretely considered, government cannot depend solely on citizens who are in hiding instead of using technology to gather crucial information about a particular community several kilometres away before attacks happen. It is unmistaken failure on the part of government with all its instruments of coercion procured from taxpayers’ money to seek to rationalize incessant attacks on grounds of paucity of information. This is more so when a few people who attempted in the past to volunteer such security information were later attacked by the same criminals they reported to government agents. If information gathering is even to be seen as a civic duty, self-help which government calls on people to undertake amounts to taking the laws in their hands in a country whose citizens are generally not licensed to carry arms.

The result of government’s tardiness in addressing insecurity is that everyone now lives in fear in Nigeria. In the past, people avoided road journeys mainly because of the dangers of plying bad roads, today a greater fear arises from insecurity on express highways that are almost as smooth as the ‘German autobahn.’ The only observable phenomenon arising from this is the abdication of government from its primary business which she has replaced with a design of governance by condolence. It has since become the practice of government officials to send official delegations to condole with families and communities of people killed by unknown gunmen. Here, it is unnecessary to name more than a few of such condolences. One of the first assignments of the new governor of Zamfara state, Dauda Lawal was to send a delegation led by Bilyaminu Isma’il, the speaker of the State House of Assembly to commiserate with Shinkafi Emirate over the bandit’s attacks on their communities. In December 2023, vice president Kassim Shettima led the federal delegation to visit victims of Christmas eve’s attack on communities in Bokkos local government area of Plateau state.

It would be unfair to suggest that condolence visits are current developments, when they have been the order of the day for decades. In January 2012 for example, it was President Jonathan himself who expressed his condolences to victims of the multiple bomb blasts and acts of violence which rocked the city of Kano. A broadcast journalist, Eneche Akogwu of Channels TV was among the dead. In 2020, Abba Kyari the then Chief of Staff to President Buhari was the leader of the federal delegation to Katsina state to commiserate with the people of the Batsari local government area where an attack had claimed several lives. Katsina being the home of the then president establishes beyond doubt that no area whether in the North or South has been spared in the free killings in Nigeria. It also confirms that in all such killings, the response of the government was usually to offer condolences to the affected communities until another attack happens warranting the composition of another delegation with the same message that government would spare no efforts to bring the culprits to book. So, in Nigeria, the government has perfected the act of governance by condolence.

Just as the executive has been evasive about governance, the legislature’s approach has been to institute governance by summons. Whereas governance is about service to the people, the legislature in Nigeria offers service to self which explains their decision to appropriate hundreds of millions of naira to buy foreign-made luxury vehicles for themselves at a time of the nation’s precarious financial situation. Perhaps, a more obvious evidence that our legislators are nonchalant about governance is the way they perform their functions. First, they are never diligent about clearing nominees to hold sensitive public offices. Second, they approve fresh budgets without reference to how the previous budget faired. Third, they actively support loans without evidence of sources of repayment thereby plunging posterity into debt in Nigeria. Most importantly, they carry out crucial oversight functions through summoning of public officials who merely appear to hold fruitless meetings with legislators.

Although they have unwieldy committees in charge of every type of subject, at no time have we seen real monitoring leading to discoveries of lapses or poor execution of projects.

Instead, each time legislators visit agencies of relevance to their committees, they eulogise them to the media. It is only when a member of the public raises an alarm concerning some controversies or improprieties in some agencies that both chambers of the National Assembly would begin to fall on each other to summon the agencies for separate explanations to each of them thereby dramatizing the subject. Asking officials to come and explain their activities is not bad of its own especially as the constitution provides for it in sections 88 and 89, but how can the summoning of officials for verbal discussions of any subject be better than moving supervision to the point of assignment for the same officials to demonstrate and illustrate their explanations on the relevant projects? Do our legislators not know that seeing is believing?

The annoying part of the summoning is that it often becomes an issue of ego. Legislators fix dates for agency heads to appear without reference to previous appointments of such heads thereby disrupting the free flow of policy implementation. At other times, summoning is used for blackmail. Officials are summoned either to extract promises from them for favours or to publicly disgrace those who refused to be compromised. The famous Arunma Oteh of the Capital Market fame and the ‘off the mic’ saga of the NDDC stand out. As at the last count, the incessant summoning has been extended to the private sector where voices of concern have now been raised. About 5 months ago, the organized private sector was forced to publicly condemn what they called ‘unbridled invitations and summons by adhoc committees of investigative hearings (OPSN). Claiming that the constitution did not provide for such invitations to be extended to the private sector, they demand that the NASS should stop acting as law makers and enforcers and implementers of same laws. But will they hear and will the executive stop hiding under humane condolences?

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