Recently, just as the Danish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Torben Gettermann was making his exit out of Nigeria at the end of his tour of duty, he charged the Nigerian electorate to hold their political office holders accountable for their electoral promises.
He gave the admonition against the backdrop of failed promises of Nigerian politicians, which have, no doubt, partly left the masses wondering about not only the credibility of politicians but also the acceptability or otherwise of the things they say and the promises they make.
In order to change the tide, the former envoy urged the masses to hold politicians, institutions and individuals accountable if they must win the anti-corruption war in the country.
Gettermann was not theorising on democracy. He was actually giving a testimony to what helped his country and transformed it into one of the least corrupt countries in the world today. Denmark assumed that status in the world because its citizens hold their politicians and companies to account. Today in Denmark, politicians, individuals and companies do not only subscribe to the ideals of transparency and zero tolerance for corruption but also actually live it out.
To all intents and purposes, the Gettermann challenge, for that is what it actually is, could not have come at a more opportune time with the 2019 elections sprinting to the D-Day and the people filled with trepidation regarding what to make of the electoral promises politicians are already bandying around as if the people have no choice but to believe. But, indeed, the people do have a choice which they are in a position to make with their voter’s card, a symbol of their power as defined in a democratic setting such as applies in Nigeria. It doesn’t matter that a Dane is reminding them of the political implication of letting politicians talk glibly to them, manipulate them into exercising their power wrongly and get away with it.
But will the electorate listen when they are already selling their rights for a mess of porridge? Since the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), lifted embargo on presidential campaign a week earlier, candidates and political parties have embarked on their familiar pastime, which is to hoodwink the voters and sweet talk them into forgetting the real essence of democracy, which essentially is choosing leaders who will take the welfare of the same voters to heart when in office.
But the promises are not anything new; they are the familiar platitudes, pledges of providing infrastructure, creating job opportunities and securing the lives and property of the people. Politicians, over time, especially since 1999, have been coming up with promises they know they did not intend to fulfil. Yet, they get by because no individuals, groups or institutions call them to order or strenuously demand that they present their scorecard for scrutiny and verification, not just on the eve of another election but in the course of exercising the mandate they were given earlier.
It is important that as the electioneering campaigns are ongoing, politicians should be mindful of the promises they make. They should only make promises they know they intend to keep, and the electorate should also scrutinise those canvassing for their votes and support only those who can deliver. We need to emphasise that it is part of the game of politics for the players to use every trick in the books to get the voters to choose them one way or the other. But the greater job is on the part of the people to refuse to be taken for granted.
In our opinion, the major challenge of our democracy is the failure to hold whatever government that comes to power accountable for the implementation of promises as contained in their manifestoes.
Keeping tabs on legislators and actively participating in the political process is the first step to holding politicians accountable. When the time comes for election, it is important to know how well the leaders kept the promises previously made.
But interestingly, it is only an infinitesimal percentage of the electorate that know the names and the phone numbers of their representatives. Knowing your state and local representatives and how to contact them is key to holding politicians accountable and energising the civic engagement.
There is also the need for the electorate to participate in local politics and show up at community events. Journalists and members of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should also play their roles more effectively in this regard.
It is the view of this newspaper that holding the elected representatives to account for their actions and inactions is one critical way of growing democracy, making it assume its dominant position in the nation’s development process that is geared towards enabling the people to reap the dividends abundantly.