One major problem that has bedeviled the nation’s democracy since inception is poor representation from those elected at the local, state and federal levels to represent their constituents.
Although the idea of constituency briefing was conceived to ensure that lawmakers draw idea and support from those who own the mandate they are enjoying, such meeting rarely takes place.
Ideally, an average lawmaker is expected to hold such meetings quarterly to share his achievements, challenges and plans with the people he represents as well as seek their input and direction, which will later form his opinion at the hallowed chambers.
Sadly, over twenty one years after the reversion to the current democratic rule, this all-important obligation had been jettisoned by legislators at all levels without dire consequences.
Since they are not favourably disposed to organizing such meetings, many of them go ahead to turn down invitation by concerned persons or organizations.
Many reasons have been adduced for this. Many commentators including Comrade Obi Ochije, have blamed it on the manner the representatives are elected.
“Some of them bought the mandate they have. They paid through their nose to get elected. So, as soon as they are sworn-in, they are faced with the necessity to recoup the huge sums they have spent during electioneering and there is no stopping them.
“Constituents who had been paid in advance during elections have no moral justification to challenge such law makers”
Perhaps the only reason legislators hold constituency briefing once in a blue moon is when they are sure the audience has been screened in such a way that that no one will throw deadly missile during the interaction or they have an empowerment programme to showcase for vain glory. Even at that, such constituency briefing and empowerment comes at irregular interval.
Comrade Ochije speaks further: “Lawmakers who don’t hold constituency briefings are bad markets for their constituents.
They will never be able to represent the people in a manner that will meet their yearnings and aspirations. Such lawmakers give to people whatever they deem fit and not what the people actually want”.
A Civil Society Advocate, Mrs Eucharia Anekwe, highlighted reasons most legislators don’t like to host or attend constituency briefings.
Mrs Anekwe said, “They don’t like doing it because of corruption: the constituency funds are meant for projects in their constituencies but they divert it for personal gains which at the end steal their courage from facing their constituents.”
“They are always scared that they will spend money on entertainment, announcers, transports etc but that is never the case. Most people are ready to attend the program just to know what is happening in government.”
“Out of all the promises they made to the people in order to get their votes, none was fulfilled. They always switch off their phones or change their numbers immediately after swearing-in and never receive calls from the public, accusing them of begging for money, so they wouldn’t want to respond to any question from their constituents.” she added.
Out of concern for the helpless constituents especially in Anambra State, a Non Governmental Organization, Hope Givers Initiative, has undertaken a campaign to educate residents in selected communities about the essence of constituency briefings and the need to hold duty bearers to account using appropriate and accurate data.
The project entitled “Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive Development (ECID), supported by Christian Aid Nigeria, has a goal of reducing poverty and improving the well-being of marginalized people through evidence-based decision making and effective collaboration.
Mrs Onyeka-Okey Udegbunam remarked that essence of the ECID project is to educate the people on the ideal way they are supposed to relate with the lawmaker representing them to ensure that the representation serves their common interest.
“This is a dialogue session between the member representing Anambra East Constituency in the State House of Assembly and his constituents. The whole essence is for them to understand the role of the Honourable Members.
“They should know that legislators are not there to fund burial ceremonies and other personal matters. They are there to legislate and represent them. They are there to represent the interest of the entire constituents.
“And so, the people must be able to supply them with issues they want the lawmakers to take up on their behalf. And if the honourable members don’t hold constituency briefings, it is also an anomaly. This meeting is a platform to educate each of them on their roles.
“The ECID project is being run in two states of the federation namely Kaduna and Anambra State. In Anambra State, we do it in four local government areas. The pilot phase is taking place in Anambra West, Awka North, Ayamelum and Ogbaru LGAs. We shall go to other LGAs after Anambra West”.
The President General, Olumbanasa, Comrade Lawrence Nnato, appreciated the quality of exposure the meeting had provided on the relationship between the lawmakers and their constituents.
He charged those in attendance to rise up to the challenge in the interest of their various communities and Anambra West Local Government Area.
“We have been educated and we should swing into action. Let us put the interest of our communities and local government area above personal considerations in our relationship with our lawmakers. We shall cooperate with Hope Givers Initiative to improve representation in our local government”.
Representative of the PG of Nzam, Hon. Martins Nwanbu, expressed bitterness that people who produce food had become impoverished to the extent of relying on others for survival. He stressed the need for the people to take their destiny in their hands.
Chief Jideofor Nwabuwanne was grateful to the organization for bringing them to the knowledge of the ideal way to relate with their representatives.
“In my own capacity, I am going to help spread the message. Many of us did not know about all these. Some of us knew about them. But, today, we have all been informed, we will use our power to demand accountability from our representatives”.