Nigeria is certainly warming up for its next general elections, what with the clamor now for electoral reforms ahead of the 2011 elections getting stronger and stronger by the day: agitations, demonstration’s by pressure groups and so on; notably the call for the adoption of the recommendations of retired justice Uwais report on electoral reforms.
The point is that the current electoral system is flawed and thus redress is being sought ahead of the next elections so that credible leaders and more importantly, leaders of the people can be elected. In other words, the people are essentially demanding or calling for a system that provides each individual a level playing field and thus allows genuine and credible individuals to get a fair opportunity to emerge from the Hustings. This is absolutely laudable, and those involved in the process so far deserve plaudits, in as much as they have demonstrated high responsibility to their country.
Granted, a reformed electoral system that will produce the desired candidates in a fair and credible manner is not the end in itself. In other words, good or bad candidates could eventually emerge in spite of fair and credible elections, since it is the choice of the people that ultimately prevails in such a system. But then, we are interested in good governance, since this is what is ideal and is what will ultimately bring about the common good. Incidentally, this is what is driving the clamour for electoral reforms.
However, it could be argued that the emergence of credible leaders alone is not good enough for good governance. After all so – called credible individuals have emerged in the past and have misgoverned.
Significantly, the clamour for electoral reforms is because the current system has produced many terrible leaders who have not been too concerned for the common good. Even some of those who were considered good have even become Frankenstein’s. In other words, they basically no longer listen or respect the wishes of people; rather they even try to suppress the people with the power of office. Thus it is desirable that a system be put in place that is calculated to predetermine the kind of leaders the populace desire, and who will do them service while they hold office.
Ideally, in order to get the leaders who will to do what will benefit the people, a social contract will have to be signed with them at the campaign stage of the electioneering process. This document will of course impose control on the leader and will serve to deter the calculating type: those who look to their interests. But then it not as if the people will literally sign a document; after all a manifesto is supposed to be a social contract. This manifesto will then be submitted to the electoral body for record purposes as well as a governance inspectorate office.
Moreover, this social contract - which will consist of the activities, programmes, etc. that the government which emerges will implement in office, - is calculated to preempt ineptitude in office, thus upholding efficiency and effectiveness in governance- good governance.
Importantly, since the sort of system being advocated inheres of efficiency and effectiveness, it recognizes the fact that public office holders have only a limited period to spend in office to fulfill their obligations to the electorate. Thus, the period in office can be liked to a project time frame, with certain activities that are expected to be carried out. Thus, the period in public office is effectively a project, which has a start time and a finish time, with certain activities that are scheduled to be carried out. It is these activities that essentially constitute a project and have predetermined timelines so as to as allow for efficiency and effectiveness and of course prevent slackness, slippages, overrun and so on.
In order to be successful any given project, in this case, the project of governance it is desirable that project management principles be employed to ensure that the scheduled activities are achieved .Crucially, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms must be put in place for the entire course of the project so as to ensure that where necessary, corrections are made where deviations have occurred or unanticipated problems have arisen.
Thus, at the beginning of any administration, a particular period of time, desirably the traditional first hundred days, will be devoted to develop a roadmap or blueprint (what can be achieved as well as its approach). It will based on based on the pre -election outline, effectively the manifesto. Since society is in a state of flux, any other programme of the Government, outside the blueprint, should of course involve the peoples input, considering their natural stake holder status. Also, since the populace will ultimately experience the leadership style of the government in power they hold the ultimate responsibility for monitoring and evaluation.
Therefore, an independent office for monitoring and evaluation must be created. It is the blueprint or roadmap of the administration - consisting of timelines, projects, etc. - which will be used for monitoring and evaluation, and at the end, assessment of the performance of governance.
Thus, with a road map or blueprint in place, there will be a limit on the latitude the government has to govern, and this will ensure efficiency and effectiveness in governance. Otherwise, the populace could be taken for a ride in the sense that the Public office holders would just do as they wish or pander to their whims and caprices, and then give excuses or explain away nonperformance or underperformance; and eventually leave office after the tenure is over. But, this hypothetical state of affairs will exist to the extent that the system has checks and balances and whether those saddled with such responsibility would or would not be impeached if found indictable.
A case in point was the early period of the Yar’dua Administration. The experience of the populace was generally frustration, disillusionment, demoralization and even despondency. I mean, despite the seven point agenda there was no sense of direction. And it couldn’t have a case of groping in the dark for the path to development or being bereft of ideas, after all the personnel of the presidency obviously did not consist of bunch of ignoramuses. The plausible explanation: simply lack of political will, which translates into incompetence and which deserved impeachment. Besides, if there was simply a vacancy of ideas or absence of a roadmap to those lingering problems, notably the floundering power project, they simply could have outsourced it to professionals, whether in the country or abroad.
But this state of affairs went unchecked for such a long time because of the loose system of governance in place that offers so much latitude to political office holders to use their initiative to instigate policy. Moreover, they could misgovern and get away with it because of the absence of a system that constrains them to a particular path for development.
Beyond the malfeasance, the political office holders believed they could get away even after leaving office, just like many former public holders have embezzled public funds and got away with it up till today or with some light and ridiculous sanctions. Thus, such latitude of office is clearly potentially problematic to the polity, since a term of office is a period of time that a leader is supposed to achieve set objectives that have been predetermined to be the most appropriate for the polity during that period of time. Therefore, a credible leadership and a good system are inextricable for good governance.
To correct this terrible state of affairs, it will require a system that puts pressure on public office holders to perform creditably while in office. The appropriate system will be that which effectively gives the responsibility of office to professionals - technocrats – such that if they don’t perform optimally they know that they will forfeit their license. And with such realization that they will forfeit their license and even loose what they perhaps they had embezzled with even jail sentence they will tend to perform in office. In essence, it puts both pressure to perform as well as deterrence to embezzle.
The objective of the foregoing is in effect to make sure that a manifesto becomes a document with a clearly stated approach or methodology about the plans, such that it commits any leader to good governance. By the way, the system being proposed is workable whether the electoral system is weak or not, in as much as it seeks to preempt the electoral process as well as the style of governance. Thus, it is a win –win system or one- size-fits- all or an all- season system against ineptitude or incompetence in office. But for such a system to work ultimately it will require a vibrant civil society that is knowledgeable and informed about the institutions and processes, and crucially the tools for monitoring and evaluation such as, freedom of information and so on.
Therefore, until all the reforms necessary for fair and credible elections as well as for good governance are in place there should be no elections in this country, no matter how long this takes. Otherwise, we shall continue to go round in circles. After all didn’t the government admit that the electoral system was faulty! Hence the Uwais electoral reform panel. But it’s outcome so far (?) And what wisdom is in doing another election without instituting the necessary changes. So, the system will naturally continue to produce charlatans or clowns who will misgovern, as it has mostly been doing. Just consider the National assembly; the generality of Nigerians have lost faith in them as they are now seen as the real Frankenstein’s, who are not willing to listen to the voice of their masters –the electorate- so long as it affects their interests.
My fellows, we can’t afford to be these abysmal circumstances of development in the 21st century, being hamstrung by our leaders, when other smaller countries less endowed are now streets ahead of us.
Author: Osahon Uwagboe
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