Friday, May 15, 2009

British Parliament - The Nigerian Perspective

The last few days has really been sad for democracy. Earlier in the week, I criticised Nigerian legislators for their ineptitude and lackadaisical attitude they have shown recently in carrying out their statutory responsibilities – all at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer. On the other hand, the British Parliament is trying very hard to restore its moral integrity following series of allegations bordering on corruption and fraud. Some members of the British Parliament (cabinet Ministers inclusive) are now being subject to all sorts of public ridicule because of their expenses claims. The subject of controversy in Westminster relates to the ‘second home allowance’ worth up to £24,000 (for MPs representing seats outside London) and incidental expenses allowance worth up to £22,000, which is aimed at costs incurred in the course of an MP’s duty. Following revelations from Freedom of Information (FoI) campaigners, we now know that some MPs have being abusing their privilege as Parliamentary members when it comes their expenses claims. So far, none of the MP have been found guilty of any wrongdoing, however the allegations in the media borders seriously on fraud and corruption. It is therefore not surprising that people are now questioning MPs moral authority.

I find this issue worrying for two reasons. Firstly, the British democracy that prides itself on transparency and integrity is now subject of financial sleaze. This sort of allegations does not help a country that is arguably one of the biggest exporters of democratic values. A democratic institution that should be setting high moral standards for a nascent democracy such as ours is now enmeshed in series of allegations of fraud and corruption. One question I have asked myself is, how will the British Home Secretary - who has been accused of ‘flipping’ her home address in order to exploit the system - tell Mr Aondoakaa to deal with corrupt Nigerian politicians? Anyway as the Yorubas say, “Ko si bi ti ise o si”, meaning “the grass is never greener on the other side

The second reason, which I find more worrying, is the attitude and response of some Nigerians to this issue. Instead of learning from these unfolding events, some are busy using it to rationalise the endemic corruption in the Nigerian society. Some are busy saying, “after all corruption is not limited to Nigeria”, or that “Nigeria is not the only the corrupt nation in the world”. I totally agree that corruption is not peculiar to the Nigeria democratic institution alone – hence the Yoruba adage. But we wouldn’t do ourselves any justice if we continue to pursue such lines of argument.

Based on my own personal experience regarding fight against corruption, I have more faith in the British democratic system than the Nigerian system. I’m confident that if any MP is suspected of engaging in any wrongdoing, he would be charged to court and probably sent to Prison. British Ministers and Parliamentary backbenchers have jailed in the past, so it is nothing new. You will all remember Jeffery Archer and Jonathan Aitken. However let’s ask ourselves, how many Senators or House Reps members have been charged to court and convicted in the history of Nigerian politics. What happened to the likes of Adolphos Wabara, Ghali Nabba, and Bunmi Etteh? These were people who had serious allegations of corruption hovering over their heads. Their tenure as leaders of the legislative assembly was ensnared in sleaze.
As far as British politics is concerned, I’m confident that the MPs are fully aware that they are not above the law. Their cases do not need to be referred to any ‘special’ anti-corruption agency. The Metropolitan Police is enough to deal with such MPs. Also, the Prime Minister or Justice Secretary does not need to set up an ‘Investigation Panel’ with an 8-week ultimatum to look into such matters. In the British society, these are matters for the Police to deal with. So what I am saying, we can always trust the British system that the law will take its course.

We also need to appreciate the transparency in the British democracy. Let’s remember that information on the MP expenses were obtained through Freedom of Information Act. The FOI Act was passed in November 2000 by the British Parliament and it gives people a right of access to information held by public bodies. The range of public bodies covered by FOI can be very wide. The legislation represents the foundational right-to-know legal process by which requesters may ask for government held information and receive it freely or at minimal cost.. One can therefore say that the Parliament is now a victim of a legislation, which it passed. I do agree and that is the way it should be. Legislators should be enacting laws that are based on national interest and not personal. In Nigeria, the FoI Bill has been going back and forth between the legislature and executive in the last 4 years or so. For me, this issue reinforces the urgent need for the passage of the FoI Bill in Nigeria.

Our democratic institution lacks any form of transparency. Thank God for technology and the internet news media, who have been successful in revealing some of the scandals in our democracy.

For now we can all sit back and make mockery of the British Parliament. At least we know what the British MPs are claiming in expenses/allowances, and efforts are now being made to correct the system. The question is, what about us?
Food for thought………………..

1 comment:

Aminata said...

Brilliant write up and spot on. We tend to compare the two when in fact the systems in the UK are far more open and transparent than those in African countries. Even Ghana, which for many in the west is a beacon of democratic and transparent processes are fallible in comparison...yes food for thought indeed, thank you!