By Ifeanyichukwu Ibezi
Since my involvement in active politics, over sixteen years ago, I have taken time to study a politician's claim to public good. How well he remembers his campaign promises, if ever, after election? My findings show that quite a few remember. A lot more don't. They renege once elected into office. The interest of the people is immediately relegated to the background.
Quite often personal interests were made to look like public interest and pursued with mindless zeal. Fair enough, no one forgets.
My decision to contest in the February 16, 2019, general elections to represent the good people of Idemili North and South Federal Constituency is not without a reason. Long before the decision, I had observed that past representatives of my people in the National Assembly could not live up to the expectations of those who sent them. Basic needs of the constituency were and are still lacking. Things like women empowerment, skill acquisition programme, scholarship scheme, erosion control and the like which the people waited for with bated breath are nowhere in sight. Not even the nagging erosion threat which has remained most severe in the constituency could receive any attention.
It is more disturbing when it is realized that the current representative of the people is a prominent member of the House of Representatives' Committee on Environment. I took my decision to contest not for personal interest and or glory, but to help address some of these nagging problems. And I have, even without being a member of the House, attracted a very huge constituency project to my people. I am only seeking the office formally to avail me of greater authority and opportunity to do more for the people.
If I could attract a N1.2 billion street light project from the same National Assembly which is sited in virtually all the seventeen communities of the constituency, I don't intend to do otherwise when elected. Recall that the street light came long before that of the state government's which also in some cases came to the Constituency at my instance. Road projects were also attracted. The current road constructions going on in the constituency, especially the spur that takes traffic off the busy Eke-Agu Market in Abatete, were on this account. Being a witness to the harrowing experience of motorists during festive periods, I pleaded with the governor of my state, Chief Willie Obiano, to construct a spur that reduces traffic at the market and he graciously obliged me. This is without discounting efforts in other areas like empowering youths of the constituency through appointments in government, employment in the federal civil service, a scholarship grant to some indigent students, among others.
I was brought up to appreciate that the people wield enormous powers. I was also made to realize that the interest of the people, rather than that of a leader, should suffice at all times. To that extent, I know not to shoot craps with the interest of the people whose mandate I hold in trust. I am more inclined to respect this interest. But more than that, I am convinced I have the ability to effectively use the instrumentality of the office, when elected, to advance the course of development in Idemili North and South which is currently at a low ebb.
Though I have sought the office twice without success, it is well to remember that I did not lose in both contests. In fact, in the 2015 election, my victory at the polls was brazenly compromised by the reckless PDP-controlled federal government at the time. Votes were unabashedly manufactured for the current member representing the constituency in the National Assembly. Efforts to validate the stolen mandate in the tribunal were vitiated by the same subversive force. The electoral heist was so brazen that that act has since been referred to as “electoral genocide”. Sadly, the beneficiary of this “genocide” is yet to make his mark in effective representation of the people.
He is perhaps one of those Adlai Ewing Stevenson, US lawyer and politician, referred to when he averred that “patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime”. You cannot in one moment of frenzy, avow patriotism and love for public good. The idea of promising the electorate what they want to hear without as much as making effort to fulfill them, appears the stock-in-trade of many a politician. But for this horde, politicians would be better regarded. It is not often debated, but most politicians' words are not bankable. Anybody who trusts them does so at their own peril.
Notwithstanding, there are still honest ones among them.
It is for this reason that I suggest two things. One, a politician, aspiring to public office through popular votes, should be made to make a firm promise. By that I mean a written and not verbal commitment. A written pact with the people whose mandate a politician holds in trust is very important in negotiating the gains thereof. The pact will also serve as armour against breach. Ordinarily, it may seem to have no power, but it can help bring to justice a defaulting politician whose re-election may hang on the balance.
In all my contests, I had pacts (written manifestos) with the people. In them, I carefully outlined what I intend to do in the first four years of my representation. The aim of the written document is twofold. One is to bring the people up to speed on what I hope to achieve for them. At any rate, the contents of the document were provided by them as their charter of demand. All what I did was to collate and put them in a document. Two, it also gives them the power to confront me once there is a breach. The implication of this power is that it can imperil a re-election effort if no satisfactory answer is given. I do not delude myself about the power of a written document and the force it can muster. It may be argued that performance rarely guarantees re-election, especially where official impunity is rife. But it is equally safe to say that such impunity can happen only where the people choose to be docile.
Without sounding too arrogant, I can say that what happened in the last election which gave rise to the verbiage “electoral genocide” is in the past. It has no chance of a repeat in the election of February 16, 2016.