By Adimwe Ononuju
Says a federal legislator in an interview, “Most times, lawmakers are seen as people who don’t do anything. They just sit down and at the end of the month they take salaries. Fat ones as they say (general laughter). In fact, somebody called me sometimes last week and he said he heard we take wardrobe allowance and where is his share? I don’t know what is called wardrobe allowance and all kinds of things people concur.”
Is he correct? Even if they give him benefit of doubt, dispassionate Nigerians will do so only with generous pinches of salt. Aside of the “jumbo” salaries and allowances, the great cynicism of the general public arises from the inherent inability of Nigerian legislators to deliver on their sworn mandates.
Take the federal legislators in the Lower House; the operative principle of their offices is “representation”, which arises from their positions as representatives of the people of their federal constituencies.
What is the quality of their service in this regard; that is to say, how well do they represent and articulate the interest of the people whose votes transported them from various obscure places and situations to the green chambers of the National Assembly in Abuja? As already stated, it is the generous analyst who will accord them a poor pass.
This grave situation was captured recently in a press statement by community leaders in Ideato, Imo State. In a widely publicised press release, they called on their community members to review the process by which they have chosen representatives for the Ideato Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives since 1999. It goes without saying that their dissatisfaction is veritably a national malaise.
From Sokoto to Calabar, Lagos to Maidugiri, the cry is resounding. The electorate are disillusioned about the incompetence and inefficiency of their elected representatives. For the people of Ideato Federal Constituency, the pain is harder in the Lower House of the National Assembly. “The Ideato Voice has been drowned,” their statement reads, “from 1999 when ThankGod Ezeani went there, till even now Austin Chukwukere is there; there has not been any bill credited to any of our representatives.”
Decrying their embarrassment at this state of affairs, the community leaders posed a sanguine question: “Are we then cursed, or does the problem lie with the process of the emergence of those lawmakers?” The Ideato electorate have to look inwards and provide the right answer to their predicament. It is a truism however that they are not alone in this travail. As such, proactive community leaders around the country must embark on the same soul searching journeys to curb the incidences of sleeping lawmakers in the state and national legislatures.
Their lamentation about the loss of their Ideato voice resonates very strongly with the ideal of representation. A representative must give voice to the yearnings of the people and provide them with a sense of belonging by making valuable contributions to debates on national issues. A sleeping, or less than active, legislator is no credit to the constituents he or she represents.
All the same, it may not be exactly correct to say that Hon. Austin Chukwukere completely lacks voice in the House as one of his more ardent critics averred recently. Indeed, as an APC legislator, the honourable member was loud in querying the lopsided distribution of principal offices by the victorious APC leadership in the House of Representatives. Following a reshuffle later in 2015, he and Chike Okafor, being the only two APC legislators from the South East, were appointed to vice chairman finance and chairman healthcare services committees respectively. In November 2016, he rose up in the House to support a motion by the Hon Goodluck Opia condemning the exclusion of Egbema /Ohaji oil producing communities from a meeting of oil producing areas and representatives of the federal government.
In 2015, the leadership of the House and South East legislators accompanied Hon Chukwukere to Ideato for a civic reception in his honour by the people of Ideato Federal Constituency. It is doubtful now how the romance went awry, but Hon Chukwukere is accused of not engaging in constituency briefings since his stay in the House.
Sometime in 2016, Austin Chukwukere was asked this question by the Times, Nigeria: “Federal lawmakers are fond of disconnecting from their constituency after elections, how are you connecting with your constituency?”
The representative for Ideato Federal Constituency replied: “I don’t see myself belonging to that class of politicians that say one thing and do the other. In the course of my campaign I told my people that we will be doing constituency clinics from time to time. You cannot do that if you do not have a constituency office.”
From the look of things, it would appear that Hon. Austin Chukwukere has lost touch with his home base and needs to undertake an urgent clinical repair mission, if his tenure at the Ideato Federal Constituency is to end on a cheery note.