CHANGE OF GUARD IN THE UK

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The seamless transition of power in the United Kingdom holds lessons for Nigeria

Mrs. Theresa May became British Prime Minister last Wednesday after being appointed by Queen Elizabeth II, following the resignation of Mr. David Cameron. With that, May became the second female prime minister of Britain after the late Mrs Margaret Thatcher. Speaking after her meeting with the Queen, May promised that the government she leads would be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by that of the ordinary British people. “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives,” she said. “When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we’ll listen not to the mighty, but to you. When it comes to taxes we’ll prioritise not the wealthy but you.”

True to her word, the 59-year-old conservative party leader hit the ground running by displaying the kind of competence we yearn for but hardly get in our climes. Within 24 hours, the prime minister had unveiled her cabinet. Even though she retained the male-female ratio of 70 to 30 per cent in the cabinet, she also balanced the membership among those who backed “Remain”, and those who campaigned for Brexit. In fact, those who backed Brexit, which she opposed, have been given important cabinet positions while just four of those positions remained in the same hands: Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon; Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt; Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns and Scottish Secretary, David Mundell.

There are several lessons to learn from the seamless transition from Cameron to May in the United Kingdom, all of which testifies to the fact that their system works for the people. For instance, Cameron did not go to any tribunal, Appeal Court or Supreme Court to get a stay of execution or to overturn the Brexit referendum outcome. Cameron also did not blame the result of the referendum on some imaginary enemies of the nation or the antics of his opponents. He did not insist on buying up majority of the House of Commons or Lords to keep himself longer at Number 10 Downing Street. He did not rush through some shady contracts or hurriedly appointed his cronies and kinsmen into plum government positions as a last minute act of power incumbency. And he did not wait for contractors to build for him a fortress befitting of a former British leader before leaving office.

Instead, Cameron accepted responsibility for floating a referendum that probably should not have taken place and quickly opted to quit. The microphones picked him up humming a happy tune as Theresa May was elected, indicating he could not wait to go on vacation. He has opted to get on with his life as a private citizen having made the contributions and mistakes to which his tenure entitled him. To the British and other mature and decent democracies, this may not be so remarkable, but for us in Nigeria, and indeed most of Africa, we must learn the lesson in basic democratic good manners.

From the results of the Brexit referendum to the announcement of the October resignation by Cameron to the actual resignation once a successor was known, certain things were paramount: respect for the people, a leader’s word being his bond, and the primacy of institutions. These are basic norms that we must imbibe if our country is ever to develop. But it will be difficult in a milieu where some senators still threaten to beat (and impregnate) colleagues in what ordinarily should be a hallowed chambers for making laws for the rest of the society.

For sure, we have a lot to learn from the experience of the United Kingdom but the quick takeaway is that public service is all about the people.