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Opinions of Thursday, 27 February 2020

Columnist: Samuel Akinnuga

National assembly and the farce of representation

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The events of the past few days have called for reflection and an assessment of the patriotic credentials of the members of the National Assembly. And this is particularly so when we consider their stance on the need to consume what we produce, and their decision when it was time to put words to work. Their actions have unfortunately capped how we keep saying the right things and doing the exact opposite. They passed off another opportunity to demonstrate patriotism and leadership of a high order needed to prove to Nigerians, even if by pretence, that they are on our side.

They could have done this by an unusual decision to order Nigerian made cars as official vehicles for all members of the National Assembly. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. Apart from the open confirmation of lack of trust in a Nigerian product, so many things are wrong with the decision of the members of the National Assembly. In their failure to lead by example, it can be expected that no innovative legislative instruments would be put in place to support the Nigerian manufacturing sector.

The members also failed the test of concern; to take a decision reflective of our current financial situation. We are practically borrowing from everywhere possible to run the country and the members of the National Assembly are cruising like we are free from the shackles of the debtors. The move to purchase those vehicles is condemned and should be reversed in the interest of Nigerians. How can members who pride themselves as ‘representatives of the people’ be so callously blind to the plight of Nigerians? How do we even explain this expense in a time when millions of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty? Which class of Nigerians are members of the National Assembly actually representing? C’est le Nigeria!

A lot of Nigerians are daily losing the strength to believe in the country. They are daily being failed by their representatives who do everything but represent them. Even as this commentary is being put together, I cannot restrain myself from the thoughts of the hope and belief that would have been rekindled in the hearts of millions if their representatives put their words to work. The hope that they still have leaders who will place their interests first; leaders who would always readily stand up for them when it matters most. An easy guess is that members of the National Assembly could not care less about proving anything.

If eventually, the National Assembly purchase the official cars as planned, they would have lost every moral right to advocate ‘made-in-Nigeria’. They would have confirmed that they don’t even believe in Nigeria or anything made here. Made-in-Nigeria shouldn’t only be about eating rice or wearing clothes made in Nigeria. The world has moved past that. It should extend to driving mostly made-in-Nigeria cars, using made-in-Nigeria computers, deploying made-in-Nigeria military hardware, and even flying made-in-Nigeria planes. It would take some time, yes, but I believe it is possible. At the current state, no one would expect us to arrive there in a day but we could slowly arrive there someday if the right things are done today.

We complain about our over-reliance on foreign goods but the people whose actions can immediately turn the tides are doing nothing decisive about it. The leadership should awake from their disguised slumber to the realities of the 21st century. Oil has since ceased to be the in-thing in the global economy. The world has left us behind in almost everything and it appears we still don’t get it. These exotic cars will not lift the almost 100 million Nigerians out of poverty nor will it add a point to our economic growth. The cars won’t solve the menace of insecurity, the disaster in our health sector and the collapse in our educational sector. Let’s get serious here. Every member of the National Assembly should be awake to the real challenges that stare at us unmasked. We cannot continue to play catch-up to the rest of the world.

If we truly consider the made-in-Nigeria mandate worth pursuing, it must be driven by a solid mesh of policy and political will to revamp our manufacturing sector. The goal must be to produce at least 65% of what we consume over the next 15 years. By consume I mean that by 2036, 65% of our tangibles and technologies should be made in Nigeria. I’m convinced we have an abundance of resources – both natural and intellectual to make it happen. Many countries with much less have done far more. Let’s put our resources to work. I hope that before that time, the official cars of the president and senior government officials would be made in Nigeria. I also recommend that starting from 2021, we commit at least 7% of the annual Appropriation Bill to fund Research and Development which will be managed by a Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

My message to the leadership of the country in general, and members of the National Assembly in particular: show the way, go the way and Nigerians would readily follow. Until then, this perilous cycle of do-as-I-say, not do-as-I-do will continue unabated. The leaders, at all levels, should get busy in providing the leadership that is desperately needed in these times. But then, you cannot give what you do not have.