It Is Up To You To Fix It


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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It Is Up To You To Fix It




Michael Oluwagbemi II




“Naturally, in the course of my long political activities, I have attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and adversaries…This as it should be…It isn’t life that matters, but the courage you bring to it”

Chief Obafemi Awolowo (11th September, 1963 – Nigerian Supreme Court)



May 18, 2006



The quote above was adapted from a speech delivered by Pa Awo at the conclusion of his trial for treasonable felony which marked the end of his career as the leader of opposition in the federal parliament in 1963. In classic Awo style, it was uniquely and eloquently delivered; points well marshaled and ideas pointed like two edged swords at the heart of friends and foe alike. I have been reading the trilogy of Awo in the past few days following the train wreck the Third Term Agenda suffered i.e. The Voice of Reason, Voice of Courage and Voice of Wisdom. In each of the books (a compilation of his speeches in active political life) of this trilogy, you can have a peek to the workings of one of the best minds that the Nigerian nation ever produced. But what a contrast?


I speak of contrast with the debates that have been going on in the hollowed chambers of the National Assembly for the past few days in mind: five days to be exact. In those five days, senators were given the opportunity to air their opinion in parliamentary styled debates and allowed to provide an insight into how they will vote on the D-day. By all accounts, and by my own witness these debates were at best pedestrian and at worst a shame! Listening to our legislators almost made me puke. Even a primary school debater will floor many of our distinguished and undistinguished senators and representatives in an arranged session. Many of them lacked coherence, clarity of thought and none of the senators could be described by any margin of my imagination as an orator. Indeed, oratorical power is not a requirement to serve in the legislative body, but of 109 senators plus 360 representatives we could not find a man that can wow an average crowd? I am ashamed.


As a close watcher of the proceedings through the pages of the newspapers I must say that I was at first impressed by the quality of words that supposedly emerged from the mouths of our legislators. But don’t be deceived: it was the media doing wonders. The media purposely made most of the anti-third term legislators’ sound better than they really did on the floor while speaking live. Most of them could not even marshal two sentences without stammering, lacking for proper adjectives and construction to qualify their thoughts no matter how noble. Even the veteran columnist, Reuben Abati mentioned it last week and was attacked by many. But in truth, after I checked out the debates on NTA network news especially the last day proceedings, I could not just but be perplexed? Are these chaps legislators or just pretenders? They sounded like WAEC English failures, not as if I will be surprised if the pass rate for English in the National Assembly is even below national average-which by the way is in the low 20s. I will be waiting for Sowore to do that exposé.


Communication is very important to building a successful human operation: from the beginning of the world, languages formed the plank through which alliances are built and society prospered. The story of the tower of Babel comes to mind. Certainly, in a modern democracy it is not just enough to have good ideas but communicating those ideas effectively can be directly tied to the success of a noble program or its failure. In the absence of proper communication, mistrusts and rumors prosper. I mean, the third term Agenda is a case in point: hatched and concocted in the dark corridors of power, the inability of the President to summon courage as a true soldier and General by addressing the Nigerian people directly about this issue can directly be linked to its eventual death and gladly so. In fact today, President Bush and President Obasanjo have a critical problems of communicating their programs and are in similar quandary of high public disapproval of their job performance regardless of the strides or little baby steps of progress they might have achieved in office.


Undeniably, as a politician occupying an executive post you can easily get by with little or no communication skills: both written and oral. You can hire personal assistants, media consultants, speech therapists, and image washers etc. to do that job for you. There is always a Fani Kayode out there for the asking; men who will insult their mothers for as little as a bowl of garri. But as Senators or Congress men your bread and butter should be speech making, debate and an innate ability to use words colorfully, masterfully, beautifully and wonderfully to keep your friends, win your foes and shame your detractors. Pa Awo was a quintessential debater and spokesperson for the cause of the common man especially during his dint as leader of opposition in the federal parliament. Using a well choreographed approach of listing the strengths of his opponents’ debate and then tearing them down by using the power of logic laced with subtle emotion; he will go down in history as first among equals when it comes to using this parliamentary privilege. Other orators have been born in our country; some were legislators others were not. Indeed, may be no one will ever come close to the Cicero of Esa Oke - Chief Bola Ige, in the use of all languages ranging from flavored Yoruba, to peppered Hausa, and classic Latin, German and French spoken with the dexterity and coolness of a gentleman and an orator whose lineage is often traced back to one of Rome’s best.


It is not as if some of our senators did not have good content; it was the lack of the charisma and skills to effectively power that content that came across in those television captions I saw. Senator Udoma of Cross River and Senator Gbemisola Saraki of Kwara deserve very honorable mention at this point for their cerebral presentation, while Wabara was by general opinion funny and witty the same time without being mean. With certain reservations, the speech of the Senate President on the final day of debate resounded with many at home and abroad. But Common! Even the lawyers among them were found wanting. The professor of law in their midst sounded like a motor park tout in between his sycophantic maneuvers to rescue OBJ and his third term mission. Senator Chukwumerije that is often known for his use of bombastic language left me hanging in the final moments of the debate; may be it was a feeling of déjà vu since he already had his card well planned to be played later that day. I will forgive him for once. In view of the fact that English is the official language of transacting business in the National Assembly, may be it is high time legislators not only declare their assets but also their grade in O’ level English language exam; May be.


It will not suffice if I just rant on and on about a very glaring problem without proffering a solution. In this case, three forms of solution directly tied to their possible length of implementation come to mind. That is a short, medium and long term solution to the quality of poor debate on the floor of the legislative body. They are as follows:


  1. Short term: Create a National Democratic Institute in the mould of the same institution in the Third Republic to train and retrain current legislators, ministers and their aides in the art of democratic governance, debate and history. A clause should be included in the electoral bill to make it mandatory for all first time legislator elected on the federal and state levels to attend a two to four weeks training in the rudimentary rules of parliament, debating and English language, service delivery and human rights as well as Nigerian history. Refresher courses lasting for about a week or two should be organized for returning legislators and should be made mandatory before the oath of office and consequent taking of the seat can be allowed. I personally will volunteer to take them through rudiments of a good debate by organizing press clubs in Secondary Schools across the country to engage in mock debates with our intending senators and hopefully floor them in the early stages of this program to their own dismay and may be shame. Good citizens, make good leaders and great leaders strengthen great democracies; educating our ruling elites will be ultimately beneficial in the quality of thought and skills that go into the policies they will propound and implement while in office. It is not surprising that most of our legislators lack common debating skills and zero colorful delivery since it is impossible to give a good speech without an in-depth knowledge of what you speak of. May be requiring a minimum allotted time at the National Assembly library for legislators to retain continuing membership will also be a step in the right direction just like attendance is kept, gosh!

  2. Medium Term: Restore Parliamentary system on Local and State levels. Since this will require a constitutional amendment, it will definitely take time. But I think it will be a smart thing to do. Presidential system does not only encourage intellectual laziness but actually breeds it. Under a parliamentary system, the legislator constituency is small probably a legislator to 50 000 individuals at the maximum, which gives him more face time and more need to use grammatically convincing skills in order to remain in office. Regular legislative debates between the party in power and opposition will naturally be a good training ground for future leaders. Indeed, the parliamentary system on state and local level will cut waste since it will only offer sitting allowances instead of the current system of full time remuneration to legislators. Furthermore, it will also influence the next generation of leaders that will move up from this level to the federal sphere and rid them of the evil of over bloated sense of importance that have made Nigerian lawyers turned federal legislators look like shoe cobblers that never saw the four walls of the university.

  3. Long Term: The apparent long term solution to this problem lies in correcting the defects in our current educational curriculum and educational system. The current crop of legislators went to the dilapidating structures of today called schools when the decay begun. They missed out in the glory days of Kings College, Queens College, Queen Amina Secondary School and Government College Ibadan. They were taught by those lazy and non committed Nigerian teachers lacking proper phonetically correct intonations that took over after the Ghana-must-go nonsense that turned English education in Nigeria to a joke: even BBC predicts that a new form of English that will not be understood by the rest of the world is slowly emerging in my country. Haba!


I know some people will scream colonial mentality but please let us be real. Even Chinese people are learning English as quickly as they can today because it is the language of business in the world. India has built itself into an outsourcing and service powerhouse with a combination of an English speaking, technological savvy population living in a democratic society that respects the rule of law. It is time to retool our curriculum to emphasize debate and oral English as well as encourage teaching history and politics from primary school through the university level. Here in the United States, it is common knowledge that up until the college level, History and Government is a compulsory course for all students attending most public colleges and universities: at least in Texas for all schools regardless of whether they are publicly funded or not. It is high time we use the same approach. Why should modern Nigerian history and politics be an option in the senior secondary level and totally ignored or minimized before then?


Beyond all these however, the reason why I was most ashamed was I. I was ashamed that I allowed substandard individuals legislate over my affairs and that of my country while I build another man’s land. Heck, since I watched that fateful NTA broadcast ( I still watch that propaganda never mind) featuring those substandard debates and presentations by our senators, I have started giving it serious thoughts if I won’t be packing home to stand for councillorship sometimes in the very near future. Indeed, why can’t Professor Mobolaji Aluko of NDM fame be the distinguished Senator of Ekiti-South senatorial zone representing the constituency of my matriarchal inheritance? Why? Why leave the business of state to the undeserving? Why let our country rot under the leadership of less qualified people? What is the use of our degrees and certificates if they cannot be used for the purpose of uplifting our motherland? All I know is that when all is said, it is up to you and me to fix it!


Nigeria we hail thee.


Last line:

“The death of democracy is not likely to be assassinations from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1977)



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.