By Isaac Asabor
It is not an exaggeration to say that Nigerians have at every political dispensation witnessed a situation where a politician made a clear and specific campaign promises ahead of an election only to see the same politician arrogantly leaves the promises unfulfilled when he or she is elected to office. The practice has no doubt become a vicious cycle of empty promises that when politicians now speak to the electorates they are hardly believed or considered to be sincere.
There is no denying the fact that the somewhat political culture is not in any way bettering the development of democracy in the country. Against the foregoing backdrop, the question now is, “Would it not have being reasonable to have in our legal system a law that would allow a voter or voters to sue a failed politician in a court over broken promises, and obtain some legal remedy?
Usually, when somebody lets you down over something important you can threaten to get the law involved. Without resorting to give political leaders a bad name in this context, it is obvious that the act of making campaign promises and end up not fulfilling the promises is similar to the crime committed by a fraudster, who in our local parlance is called a “419ner”. The reason for equating what can in this context be regarded as electioneering fraud with financial fraud cannot be farfetched as the fabric of both issues has a common thread that is woven around trust.
For the sake of clarity, a Nigerian scam, also known as advance fee fraud or 419 fraud, is a scheme in which a sender requests help in facilitating the transfer of a sum of money, generally in the form of an email. In return, the sender offers a commission, a large amount, sometimes up to several millions of dollars depending on the perceived gullibility of the target. The scammers then request that money be sent to pay for some of the costs associated with the transfer. If money is sent to the scammers, they will either disappear immediately or try to get more money with claims of continued problems with the transfer. Against the foregoing descriptive backdrop electioneering fraud is no different as it has to do with making promises that are at ab initio made not to be fulfilled.
At this juncture, it will not be unexpected to see readers question the rationale and motivation for this view. To answer any reader that might find my view in this context to be inappropriate, it is expedient to say that as internet technology has unprecedentedly gathered all newspapers published across the world together on virtual space, so much so that their contents can be easily accessed at the tap of a button on an android phone that I was privileged to read a story that is bereft of a byline published by Daily Pioneer (an Indian newspaper) with the headline “The Delhi High Court has told political leaders that they must honor the promises they make.” Without much ado, the headline is explanatory enough for a reader to know that the reportage bothers on a court ruling.
As the news report goes, “It took 89 pages of a Delhi High Court judgment to tell politicians holding high positions in Governments that they cannot go on making promises to people and not honoring these. The judgment, in a case relating to a promise made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, sends the message that it is important to bridge the gap between law and morality and let the authorities, who are either elected to public positions or who hold positions of power, realize that they “are answerable to the people, especially once they undertake or agree to do or not to do a particular thing” and that the citizens would expect that the Government would implement the promises made. The judgment, by Justice Prathiba M Singh, opens with a telling comment that reflects the mood of the society: “The saying ‘Promises are meant to be broken’ is well known in the social context.” The judgment unambiguously says that promises made by the Government or its officials are “judicially enforceable” if these are broken. The judgment reminds the political leaders of things enshrined in the business of governance but forgotten in the melee of politics. One is that good governance requires the said trust to be maintained between those who govern and those who are governed. Two, the sustenance of this trust coupled with the legal certainty of an assurance given, cements the relationship between the citizen and the Government”.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to say that our lawmakers should borrow a leaf from such a meaningful legal provision as a means of checkmating politicians who have imbibed the retrogressive culture of deceiving the electorates from one political dispensation to the other without being held to account for their failures.
It is expedient we replicate such law in our legal system as Nigerians are wont to look forward to promises made by most of those who hold government positions without seeing them honor their promises. To aptly put it, it is disappointingly becoming ritualistic.
There is no auspicious time to express this view that political leaders should be held accountable for their collective failure, particularly when seen from the perspective of the fact that they are failing even in most important things that directly impinge on the wellbeing of the people. After all, politicians are elected to deal with the crucial areas of policy that affect the people, which in most cases are matters of life and death (fighting insurgency, banditry and kidnapping or funding a health service) or matters that will determine a society’s standard of living (the economy and law and order).
But alas! Errant politicians in this part of the world seem to be above the law. The candidate who unambiguously commits to one course of action when seeking people’s vote, will upon his victory at the poll begin to exhibit behavior that contradict his beggarly disposition when he was canvassing for votes during electioneering campaign that the people threw their collective weight behind him.
This undemocratic and retrogressive attitude that is common among politicians have compelled political observers to always advocate that it was time both the electorate and civil society organizations began to demand good governance from those elected into political offices in order to have a better country. In their advocacies, they are wont to stress that the demand for good governance should be at its peak and that politicians and those appointed into political offices should be held accountable to deliver on their promises.
In the same vein, they have often noted that it was time Nigerians began to reap the benefits of democracy, which they listed as tolerance, rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability, and transparency of government officials among others.
Conclusively, given the fact that a bill can be initiated by anybody for a member of the house or a senator to introduce it on the floor of the house or the senate, I am through this medium calling on Nigerians that are abreast with the processes of initiating a bill and pushing it up to the National Assembly to consider this opinion and push a bill that would criminalize the act of broken campaign promises.