The Civil Rights Activists cum Politician, Senator Shehu Sani who represents Kaduna Central at the 8th Senate, is not new to mobilizing support for the downtrodden otherwise known as the “talakawas”. He has oftentimes picked up their fights, organised and led peaceful protest to press home the demands of the people he sees as the oppressed and the voiceless in the society or to compel the government to reverse its anti-people’s policy. Even in the dark days of the military junta where activism was considered suicidal, the playwright proved himself a radical that could sacrifice his life to actualise this just course. He had joined forces with activists like Femi Falana, Beko Ransome-Kuti and others in the Campaign for Democracy (CD), the pro-democratic group, where he served as the Northern Coordinator and national Vice-Chairman, to bring to the front burner the “national question”. Of course, like other prominent activists, he had been arrested and incarcerated. Between 1993 and 1995, he was a guest to several prisons in Nigeria. He was released from life imprisonment in 1999 when democracy was restored by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Thus, when the 49-year old Revolutionary, as he is fondly called, in 2015 defeated a sitting Senator, Sani Saleh, in the All Progressives Congress primaries and Muktar Aruwa, a former Senator and People’s Democratic Party’s candidate, in the General Election, many familiar with the nation’s political stratagem and permutation, knew that the political tide has shifted from elitism to masses-driven not only that of the northern capital, Kaduna State, or the whole of the North as a region, but Nigeria as a nation. This became evident when the Senator’s led committee unearthed mass corruption in the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) that saw the unceremonious exit of the then Secretary to the State Government and staunch ally of President Buhari, Mr Babachir David Lawal from the exalted office. Perhaps the notorious manifestation of this “shift, is when the vocal Senator launched the Street Parliament and dismissed town hall meetings; a forum used by politicians to discuss issues with constituency members, as a mere deception and theatrical.
What then is Street Parliament? Of what relevance is it to the electorates? To start with, the term “parliament”, which is derived from Anglo-Norman “parlement” meaning “talk” has always been and will continue to be an important element of true and participatory democracy worldwide. The meaning evokes deliberation, consultation, negotiation, discussion and in most cases, advice. In our newfangled politics, parliament is the legislative arm of government. It is the body of elected persons that represents directly the electorates and advocates and protects their interests in government. The constitutions of most advanced democracies charge the parliament with monumental responsibilities, among which are, making laws, overseeing the government via hearing and inquiries, ratifying government’s appointments or country’s treaties with other countries or international community. In Nigeria, the situation is not different. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) in Section 47 creates bicameral legislature whist Sections 58, 88 and 89 spell out its functions and powers.
In the light of the above, we can say that a parliament is neither a building that houses elective representatives nor a mere body of representatives gathered under one roof to perform certain functions. On the contrary, parliament is and should be a body of persons elected to serve the interests and champion the cause of those who voted them while making and promoting policies for national development. When the person so elected makes it a duty to take legislative matters to his constituents including the unlikely-the artisans, traders, peasants and homeless on the street, such act is perceived as Street Parliament. In this instance, the people and the nation are the first rung in the ladder of legislative business.
Stitching all the points together rather aptly, Senator Shehu Sani, puts it thus, “…Street parliament is bringing the government to your door step, streets and possibly to your houses. By these ideas, it means listening to your complaints, your views, ideas and suggestions on governance. And it also involves carrying you along in the process of law making. That is what street parliament is all about. It is a new concept of developing a continuous relationship between the electorate and people who are elected into public offices. By interacting with you, I will listen to you all; I will carry your ideas along to the Senate. And also, I will listen to complaints and grievances”.
Though the notion of Street Parliament may not be the creation of the Honourable Senator or novel to the world’s advanced democracies, as it were, but it is indeed novel to Nigeria and Nigeria’s political system. We can therefore say, Senator Sani has introduced and attempts to make popular a democratic tenet, which has hitherto been neglected or relegated to the background. The success or otherwise of any democratic government is based on its level of consultation with and representation and input of the people (the electorates). It is the people that make the nation. To forge ahead as a nation, the collective views of the people irrespective of size, ethno-religious or socio-cultural backgrounds are sine quo non. These views are usually gathered by these representatives through consultation, discussion and negotiation at the level of constituency. We can refer to this as a process of taking the parliament to where it truly belongs: the people. This sums up what Senator Shehu Sani purports as Street Parliament and employs his mandate to achieve.
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But the questions that pop up among many political observers and analysts are: to what extent can Street Parliament bring about the desired change the people yearn for? How often can the Honourable Senator hold such Street Parliament? How can opinions, suggestions, advice and submissions of the people aid or lead to effective policy making? Critics of Senator Shehu Sani have viewed this initiative as an attempt by the Kaduna born politician to score a political point and creates relevancy in the political landscape against 2019 gubernatorial election. This view is further fuelled by the Senator’s criticism of Mallam Nasir El-rufai, the Kaduna State Governor.
Notwithstanding looking at the make-up of Kaduna Central District, where Senator Sani represents, a relationship between the people and their representative is crucial. The District which is considered the heart of Kaduna is multi-religious and multi-ethnic. Its commercial advantage has also made it attractive to thousands all over the country who want to earn a living through genuine enterprise. Politically it has been the omphalos of the North and Nigeria since the days of Lord Lugard. Unfortunately, it has also been one of the places that have been heavily hit by religious crisis. So, any political innovation that will unite these diverse people, bring about peace, bring government closer to the people and where issues of the people are channelled through their elected representative to the government for immediate and proper action, is not only welcome but commendable. Hence, Senator Shehu Sani should be applauded for such initiative.
As to the practicality and viability of this initiative, according to a research on National Assembly and Constituency Projects conducted recently by YoungNigerian.com, it is revealed that out of 109 Senators in the National Assembly only 19.67% maintain a functional constituency office and only 7.63% visit their constituency at all and only 4.36% see and interact with their constituents. The percentage is dismal considering the large portion of our national budget that constituency projects gulp. However, Senator Shehu Sani is one of the very few, according to the reports, that has a functional constituency office and maintained constant contact with his constituents. Despite the attack on his office by hoodlums and threat to his life last year, the outspoken and courageous Senator has physically met with private individuals, traders, students, religious bodies, civil societies and educational institutions to listen their complaints and suggestions. At some of the meetings, he has addressed some of the issues that bother especially on welfare instantly through financial donation. He has often gone to supervise awarded contracts in the senatorial districts and raised alarm as to the slow pace of work or lack of due process in the award of the contract. More so, he is quick to inform his constituents on pertinent matters of governance.
The whole idea of Street Parliament like any novel idea may not be without its challenges. Whatever the challenges are, the whole idea is indeed a step in the right direction. The whole concept of democracy is about the people. It is about bringing government closer to the people. It is about putting the people first. The Latin maxim aptly puts it, “Salus populi suprema lex esto” meaning, the welfare of the people should be the supreme law. It is obvious that the first term Senator in the 8th Senate is moving fast towards putting the people in the driver’s seat of governance. We can only hope that the motive goes beyond politics and is sustained by a strong desire to serve the people right.
JERRY “OBANS” OBANYERO writes about law, politics, business, youth and leadership, and other inspirational genre. For comments send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to follow him on twitter.