The people’s right to know their leaders - By: Dan Agbese | Dailytrust

The people’s right to know their leaders

The masquerades are heading for the public arena in trickles. We have already entered the election season. Soon, the public arena will be crowded by men and women, each seeking the people’s mandate to be crowned our next president in succession to President Muhammadu Buhari. There sure will be a vacancy in Aso Rock 2023 on the say-so of our national constitution that has pegged how long anyone can occupy Aso Rock to eight years. I am sure as the departure date looms far away in the horizon, some tremor is already being felt in Buhariland. 

We should expect to soon be overwhelmed by familiar and strange faces aspirants, both the serious and the jokers, staring at us from beautiful posters and billboards. We will hear no voices and the views of those who seek to rule us. The posters and the billboards are all the exposure that all aspirants to elective offices in the executive and the legislative arms of government need today. 

The media have allowed these characters to get away with their calculated opacity. It prevents the people from knowing those who aspire to lead them. The press refuses to ask critical questions of the aspirants. The people are made to choose as their leaders those they hardly know –with horrendous consequences for good governance in our dear country.

On May 27, 2018, in this column, I published a piece titled “Who are they?” I sought to impress on the media their constitutional duty to respect the right of the people to know their political leaders by telling them who these masquerades, big and small were, their antecedents, what they stood for and what the people stood to gain or lose by acceding to their request. 

The advent of the poster and the bill board has taken the fun out of politicking. It has also replaced true electioneering campaigns by those seeking elective offices. I think it is unfair to expect the people to base their judgement and choice by what they see of the aspirants on posters and billboards. I reproduce part of the column here to underline the fact that the Daily Trust titles and by extension, the Nigerian media, print and electronic, can effect fundamental changes in our campaign narratives. Here we go:

“The constitution of the Federal Republic imposes on the news media the onerous duty of holding the government at all levels accountable to the people. The provision was informed by a) the people’s right to know and b) to constitutionally and legally strengthen the watchdog role of the media. The objective is to have an open government.

“Opacity more or less defines our national politics. The media have been generally remiss in moving the nation towards the ideal of accountability consistent with their fundamental watch dog role. Our political leaders do not feel accountable even to the floor members of their parties. They assume, and exercise powers not conferred on them, by their party constitutions. The consequence is the systemic alienation of the people from their own government.

“I would like to suggest here that the media can do better than merely reporting what the political leaders say and ignore what they do, sometimes to the ill health of the republic.  It should be possible for the Daily Trust titles to break through this fog by beginning something novel in our national politics as the election season looms, setting minds aflutter. 

“We need to know our rulers in the executive and the legislative branches of government. We need to know the antecedents of the men and women hand-picked by the godfathers in all the political parties as president, state governors and members of the national and state legislatures. If we do not know them, what can we expect from them? 

“The role of the media in this instance becomes more critical in the absence of a primary custodian of our electoral system. The electoral act empowers the political parties to field candidates of their choice for elections. This means the party moguls exercise an unquestionable right to impose men and women on their parties. The party members are denied the right to participate in the nomination process. The party primaries are a ruse and a sickening fraud. 

“It serves the political interests of the godfathers to make the system entirely opaque. But it does not serve the interests of the people. In a democracy, the media are part of the weapons in the people’s struggle for an open government. The media, on behalf of the people, must exercise their watch dog role to question the competence, the character and the suitability of those who the party godfathers anoint as our potential leaders. They must expose those with an unsavoury past who are not morally fit to lead us. 

“This is not an unusual burden for the media. It would be in keeping with the primary professional duties of the media to inform and educate the people on who and who are about to rule them in the executive and the legislative branches of government. The cynical imposition of unknown quantities by the godfathers is part of the great damage the party leaders do to our party system and good governance. Leading people is not about wealth. It is about character. Those with dirty money should not be allowed to continue to buy their way into public offices. The character of the individual in a public office defines that office in terms of responsibilities to the country and the people.

“The American news media show the rest of us good examples of how the news media can shine light on the opacity in politics and government and help the people to judge the suitability and the competence of those who seek to lead them or represent them in the legislative houses. Thanks to their tradition of meticulous exposure and questioning of candidates for public and elective offices, they make sure that no one with a questionable past is given the chance to continue to cheat the people and the country.

“Our media too can make this part of their tradition. We too can learn and follow their worthy example. We too have a duty to take our watch dog role seriously. We too must exercise our constitutional right to question our political leaders and go beyond what they say to who they are and what they do. It takes one newspaper to begin this process. The Daily Trust titles, given their penchant for investigative reporting, can lead the way. We must prevent the men and women with soiled hands and tattered reputations from being crowned our leaders at all levels of government. 

Here is what happened in 1999. Salisu Buhari, was elected speaker of the House of Representatives. His political opponents helped TheNews magazine to expose him for what he was. His age and his educational qualifications were found to be entirely false. He was tried and convicted and despite his instant pardon by President Obasanjo, his political sun dipped behind the fog of oblivion. 

“Two senate presidents, Evans Enwerem and Adolphus Wabara, were exposed by the news media too. Had we continued along that line, I am sure that the activities of the political leaders would have become less opaque by now. Our country would have been better for it.

“Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a crack detective who retired as deputy inspector-general of police, once said he was horrified to see some of the drug barons and armed robbery kingpins he once arrested sitting in the senate and the House of Representatives as our law makers. Sadly, he did not carry out his threat to name names. And so, they got away with it because they had the qualification that really mattered to the barons – money. 

“There are men with questionable sources of wealth who parade educational qualifications they do not possess in the executive and legislative branches of government at national and state levels. If the media do not rise up to the challenge of becoming the primary custodian of our electoral process, evil men and women will continue to hold sway. And good governance will be a mirage. 

 “Wake up, Daily Trust editors. Yes, you can help the media put their foot in the door of good governance, an open government and a government accountable to the people.”

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