Harnessing Parliamentary Democracy for Good Governance in Africa

Published on 14th March 2018

I have reflected over the longstanding relationship between our countries; and the budding foundation and collective vision of our leaders past and present. It is 59 years since Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's historic visit to Nigeria - in 1959 - in those heady days after the first All African People’s Conference, which Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe hailed as the beginning of a Federation of Independent West African States.  Noting that Ghana and Nigeria’s struggles were identical in many respects, Dr. Azikiwe  had  declared that, " The very diversity of our peoples, and customs and languages, means that we have much to contribute to each other."  He  looked forward to our two countries becoming " models of honest and democratic government " capable of giving  hope to all  of  Africa.

Typically, when we hear of a 'special relationship' between nations, it is with regard to Britain and America; and as the Reagan  and  Thatcher era  showed forth,  these are relationships  that  outlive governments.  Ours, too, is a special relationship, which should outlive us and be a reference point of special relationship in Africa. The onus and leadership rests on us. What we do now, lays the basis for the continent’s future.

With unity and democracy as   standard, we can lay the groundwork for good governance and development.  We are thus presented with the opportunity to work for democracy, using the instrumentality of parliament.

It is hardly a coincidence that every country in ECOWAS is governed by a democratically elected government.  Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and The Gambia have seen peaceful transfers of power from incumbents to the opposition. We have crossed the  Rubicon in West Africa;  and I have no doubt that   ECOWAS  has helped catalyse  the  thinking,  that democracy  is  the way forward  for  Africa.

The legislature, by reason of its composition, represents the interest of the people; and serves as counter-balance to executive power. Parliament is therefore the best representation of the diversity of the nation, and the fulcrum for harmonising initiatives that express the will of the people, while providing clarity on how best to implement those initiatives.

If Africa is to be fully integrated into the global economy, its constituent nations must be governed by the rule of law, and we have to commit to making the required adjustment now. The strength of democracy starts with the strength of parliament. It is our responsibility to instil in the body politic the time-honoured principles of participation, transparency and accountability, and to fight corruption, always making the space for stakeholder participation. This is the modern model of governance.

Parliaments are a stabilising force in democracy, especially with regard to our oversight responsibility. We must be courageous; even when some of our initiatives fly in the face of special interest, ours is to do what is right for our people.  To do this, we must defend democracy. We have seen for ourselves the beauty of democracy in its infancy. That should give us the inspiration to steer it to a level where it can compete favourably with older democracies in the developed world.

Democracy is not a destination, it is a journey. We cannot therefore take it for granted. Unless we are eternally vigilant and alive to our duties to provide our people with effective and responsible governance which guarantees that we listen to them at all times and ensure that their needs are met we run the risk of derailing our hard-end democracy in the region. The recent events in Zimbabwe make this eloquently clear that bad governance is the Achilles heel of democracy. To ensure democracy is well and strong in the sub region, the legislature which is the most critical institution of democracy has a very vital role to play. If we play our role properly, we can expect to be back here celebrating 50-100years of uninterrupted democratic governance, nothing can be taken for granted in democracy and events across the world point to this fact.

As a community of democratic West African states, ECOWAS makes it that much easier to build consensus; and the organisation can serve this purpose very effectively on security and the economy. As many regional challenges indicate, our people suffer when the needed policies are not in place. We simply have to put the right policies in place in ECOWAS. In Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgency and Herdsmen-and-Farmers conflicts come with regional dimensions. These are further aggravated by porous borders that advertise the weakness in trans-national security, while facilitating irregular migration and human trafficking. There is a need to strengthen our security apparatus so that together, we can fight terrorism. It is a threat to government, education and economic development.

We have much to build upon. Trading relations between Nigeria and Ghana have begun to peak. Collaboration between the Nigerian film industry - Nollywood - and Ghanaian actors, directors and producers, remind us that age-old competition in football and even music – for who can forget the glory days of E.T. Mensah and his co-travellers in Highlife? – all of that, can be channelled in truly great and creative directions.

The Pan-African vision of Joseph Casely-Hayford's National Congress of British West Africa was only one great beginning in regional cooperation. We may recall some institutions that thrived during the pre-independence era. The West African Airways Corporation, West African Frontier Force, West African Currency Board and many others. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) has stayed relevant down the years. It is my belief, therefore, that we can achieve the unity and cooperation needed to build even more effective institutions, and strengthen them for the challenges of today.

We are the richest continent in resources and yet we are the poorest, because we have allowed ourselves to be pigeonholed as the supplier of raw materials to the world. The leaders of our two countries are clear in their stance on the raw materials pivot of our economies. President Muhammadu Buhari has said that, “Our vision is for a Nigeria in which we grow what we eat." And President Akufo-Addo is unequivocal: “We must add value to [our] resources, we must industrialise and we must enhance agricultural productivity.”

African parliaments have to come together to cross-pollinate ideas about how to move the continent forward.  There is an urgent need to fast-track development so that our people can feel the impact of responsive government.  But what is the place of law in the development trajectory of Africa?  It is by guaranteeing freedoms, rights and opportunities.

The rule of law and accountability are the hallmarks of democratic legislature.  We must, therefore, begin to look at the implications of laws passed across the continent.  Integration   is about frameworks, and this is largely legislative in nature.  There is a relationship between the laws we make and the development our people can see. We cannot shirk the responsibility of creating a more integrated African development paradigm.

ECOWAS already has the framework; it is left for us to make it work for regional integration, and even use it to actualise the African Union (AU) agenda.  ECOWAS has the capacity to drive the economic prosperity of Africa; and in order to have a diversified economy, long term issues cannot be driven by policy but by legislation.  We must rise to the challenge, so that we can get our people out of poverty.

Let us stir up that spirit of regional integration and cooperation that moved this great continent once.  It is  in this  vein  that I propose  the creation of a legislative platform comprising the leadership of  our two legislatures,  one  where cross- national  dialogue  can   flourish,  and recommendations made   to  aid  integration and development.

Africa's population of 1.3 billion will double by 2050, and youths will account for more than half of that increase.  We already have the largest concentration of young people in the world, according to the United Nations. Half of Uganda's population is under the age of 15; almost 80 percent are under 30. Here in Ghana, 57 percent are under the age of 25, according to the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE); 18-35 year olds constitute about 65 percent of the population. As for Nigeria, we are set to become the third most populous country on earth by 2050, surpassing the United States; no fewer than 68 percent of us are in the 18 - 35 age bracket.

And yet, the demographic dividend that is expected to accelerate the growth of Africa is undercut by the apparent capitulation of frustrated youth. We are witnessing the phenomenon of young Africans trekking through the Sahara Desert and on to the Mediterranean Sea into horrors including slavery and death.  Of irregular migrants in limbo in Libya, Ghanaians number 59,870, while 44, 608  of them  are Nigerians.  Our youths do not see a future for themselves on the continent and are willing to go elsewhere or die trying.  We must reverse this unfortunate trend; and we can only do so by making our continent a place of opportunity.

It is unacceptable that Africa's trade with Europe far outstrips that between African nations. British foreign investment in Africa totalled $54.1 billion in 2014. China had an estimated 2,650 projects ongoing on our continent in 2015.  Meanwhile, Africa's share of the global trade stands at 3 per cent, inter-Africa trade is 11 per cent - this is unsustainable.  The attention of British investors is expected to shift from Africa to Europe, post-Brexit.  In the United States, the clamour is all about America First.  Let us ask ourselves: what about Africa?  Not a moment can be spared in our efforts as Africans to cover our flanks in trade. We must devise an economic model that produces and manufactures primarily for the African market, and then use that as a basis upon which to engage with the wider world.  Africa's engagement with the wider world will be stronger where the world perceives that the legislature is actively involved and on the same page with the Executive.

Travel within Africa is another area of concern. If we do not make the necessary investments in transportation, and remove encumbrances that make it easier for Africans to travel across Europe   than within Africa itself, we would not be able to take full advantage of the opportunities that abound on our continent.

Happily, the launch of  the Continental Free Trade Area  by the AU should  open up the continent to  greater integration,  particularly  in  trade between African countries.  The Lagos - Tangiers Highway Project; the Trans Sahara Pipeline and new Railway projects to connect East African countries,   are all encouraging developments.

The recently launched Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is also heartening; it   will open up transport routes for 12 African countries and create over 150,000 jobs, boosting Africa's GDP by an estimated $1.3   billion. Taken together with the agreement by a number of African countries to ease visa requirements for African nationals, the benefit to continental economy is immense.   However, there is the   need to take a critical look at challenges in some ECOWAS treaties that are open to abuse, and review to ensure we   achieve desired results.

Our people’s talent   for innovation and enterprise makes them   our most valuable resources   –   it is our role therefore, to give them opportunities to translate these into going concerns. This will create wealth and enable us to compete globally.  The world community is moving at lightning speed in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and in overall modernisation as well as renewable sources of energy. Africa cannot afford to lag behind. Government has to perform in a way that gives confidence to civil society as well as the private sector, in order to stimulate economic growth and security. We must work to make the sub-region a place of investment. We must generate wealth for the people of Africa.

The 8th National Assembly  under my leadership has, since its inception, prioritised the passage of  landmark  economic  laws to enable SMEs to grow and prosper,  including : the  Warehouse Receipts Bill; Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Bill; Credit Bureau Reporting Bill; we have also targeted laws to stimulate agriculture as a way of steamrolling our diversification agenda through the passage of the Commercial Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme and the  Institute of  Soil Science Bill, the Food Security Bill etc. we have pursued as an overarching policy the revamping of our industrial base through the made-in-Nigeria initiative under the Public Procurement Act  (Amendment) Bill; and the  Federal Competition Commission Bill. We are reviewing our company law regime through the  Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA)  and the   Investments and Securities Act (ISA) in order to reduce the regulatory burden of Nigerian businesses and create a globally competitive market regulatory regime in Nigeria.

Outdated infrastructure related laws have been reviewed and bills passed to increase private sector participation in those sectors. Among these are:  the Nigerian Railway Corporation Bill; the Federal Road Authority (Establishment Etc.) Bill; the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Act (Amendment) Bill; and the National Roads Fund (Establishment) Bill. Creating an economic regulatory framework for the infrastructure laws is the National Transport Commission Bill, which   is on the verge of being passed.

Anti-corruption is a very important focus for us, to cleanse the Augean stables and strengthen institutions. We have stayed the course with laws such as: the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act (Amendment) Bill, and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill.

We are also focusing a great deal of attention to the modernization of our electoral system to make it more accountable and insulated it from politically influence. The National Assembly passed the # NotTooYoungToRun  Bill to reduce the age limits for running for office by a wide margin, to open the window of political participation wider to incorporate our youths in the mainstream of governance. Deepen democratic participation.  Constitutional amendments have also been concluded, the aim of which is to strengthen our electoral processes, to ensure credible elections.

If the people do not feel that they are governing themselves, it is not good governance no matter the goods we deliver. Our two nations can forge ahead by sharing experiences, building upon valued discourse s about the way the world works, and how to make our people beneficiaries as well as contributors to the great leaps of this century.

If we are to deliver good governance to the next generation of Africans, and if the demographic dividend is to come to fruition, education is key. We must invest in primary, secondary and tertiary education – up to the 26 percent of the national budget as recommended by the United Nations. It must be mandatory for every child to go to school; we should ensure that there are incentives for those that send their children to school, and penal ties for those that do not. We have to pull every one of our citizens out of the cycle of poverty and ignorance, and education is the means by which to do so.

My vision for Africa is an optimistic one. I am very upbeat about the continent; I am very upbeat about the future. There is much to build on. Greater educational, scientific and technological interaction can lay a basis for our part of the world to match the rest of the world. Democracy is not just about elections; it is about putting knowledge at the disposal of a people determined to take their future into their own hands.

If the African continent is to be a success story – or even the AU for that matter, ECOWAS must play a key role. And for ECOWAS to lead the charge, Ghana and Nigeria must step up to the plate, and fulfil their leadership role on the continent.

By By H.E. Dr Abubakur Bukola Saraki, CON MBBS,

President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria


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