‘Nigerians Should Know that Our Democracy is Not 60 Years Yet’

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Hon. Benjamin Kalu, representing Bende Federal Constituency in Abia State in the Green Chamber tells Udora Orizu that the legislative arm of government is the real fulcrum of democracy

As a legislator, what message do you have for Nigerians as the nation clocks 60?

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary, it’s important for Nigerians to know that our democracy is not 60 years old, the infancy of our democracy must be highlighted, because it will provide a guide to a very less comparative analysis that have been done between us and other democratic clients. People tend to mismanage their expectations of governance using the wrong yardstick to measure what we’ve become. Yes we know we’re not where are supposed to be. But we are heading somewhere, and with the kind of effort Nigeria has put into sustainable democracy, I’m pretty sure that there’s hope we will achieve. It takes time. While we think of American democracy and celebrate their achievements, it’s also important for us to know, gauge their achievement over their age, the age of the American democracy is about 200 years. Our democracy is at infant stage, our independence is 60, but our democracy is not 60. This is why when democracy came back in 1999, because it had been on suspension when the legislative arm of government was suspended. The voice of the masses was replaced by the dictates of the military. The executive, judicial arms were there but there was no legislative arm.

There was no democracy then because the fulcrum of democracy remains with the legislative arm of government. Nigerians are trying to understand what the legislative arm does, but it’s important to note that there are a lot of misconceptions about the legislative arm. People don’t seem to understand that there’s a disconnect between what we are, what we’re able to do in line with the mandate of the constitution that provided for us in Section 4, and what we’re supposed to do in Sections 88, 89 and this misplaced expectations has placed the legislative arm on a pedestal of perception that has been misconstrued thereby placing a burden on those who seek to understand what we do and also a burden on our side to continuously prove that we’re the people’s parliament with the intention of making sure that the people’s democracy is a priority. We hope to clear this misconception for Nigerians to believe us more and understand that we’re here to sustain democracy. There’s a future for our democracy because there’s a future for our legislature. Any day the legislative arm stops having a future, that will directly rob off on our democracy. The life of our legisture is directly proportional to the life of our democracy. And that will be the celebration of our independence that’s real. So when we fight for legislature, we fight for democracy, when we fight for democracy, we fight for ourselves because democracy is there to serve people. Democracy is the reason our forefathers fought for the independence of this country. Remove democracy from the objective of independence, it means that the independence we secured is worthless.

Mention a past lawmaker who made the most impression on you in the first, second or third republic, and why you admire this person?

It’s Femi Gbajabiamila, I’m not saying it because he’s the current Speaker. People from my constituency will tell you this, during my campaign, some prominent persons in my constituency said we’re of the PDP, we’re only going to vote for you if you promise us you’re going to behave like Gbajabiamila. He has been my role model in the legislative arm because I have been understudying the legislative arm for about 17 years and go and check his history, he’s a man who has gone from minority leadership to majority leadership and then here. All those times there was no single scandal on him.

Secondly, his power of eloquence, his display of confidence and courage on issues he believes in, he will stand on the floor and it doesn’t matter if the members of the House are against him, Femi will stand his ground and offer intelligent debates. He’s thorough when he stands to talk, he speaks from the point of a researcher who has done his homework well. His carriage as a member of the parliament is next to none. His mode of dressing is also next to none. He’s a picture of what Nigerian parliamentarians should look like. Also his interest on national Issues, his legislations has to do with what affects the people, less privileged ones, education sector, health, name it, and that is what representation is supposed to be. Though he was in the minority, he didn’t allow the majority to swallow his voice, I admire his knowledge of law. I became a passionate follower of his political and legislative philosophies and I chose him like a mentor. He’s bringing a new style to the legislature, to the way leadership in legislature used to look. He’s thinking outside of the box. He does something unconventional but very productive. He’s accommodating and transparent. As long as I’m going to be in parliament, I’m going to always project his legislative philosophies. So Femi Gbajabiamila is a man I have monitored for a longtime and I admire his approach towards legislative work and I’m following it so seriously, I hope I will be able to achieve what he has been able to achieve in the legislative arm.