By Emmanuel Oloniruha
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has charged African parliamentarians to rise above narrow partisan considerations and be committed to pursuing the public good.
Jonathan gave the advice in his remarks on Thursday in Banjul, Gambia, at the opening session of a two-day capacity-building workshop for members of the Gambian parliament, organised by The Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) in collaboration with the ECOWAS Parliament.
Jonathan, who is the Chair of GJF, said that in the age of democracy and globalisation, Africans had no choice outside of conscious efforts to deepen democratic practices and use the instrumentality of democracy to advance the national interest and promote the public good.
The former President in his remarks made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, said that the parliament as the institutional pillar of democracy played a very important role in fostering political accountability and stability.
“It is understandable when parliamentarians want to assert their independence because they don’t want to be seen to be a rubber stamp or an appendage to the executive.
“A parliament should exercise its independence to the extent that it does not compromise its duty to the people or loyalty to the state.
“This should be the foundation of politics. It is also at the heart of governance. Leadership is not about who gets what, how and when, but about impact and derivable benefits to society.
“Democracy works better and delivers the most goods when the parliament promotes interparty collaboration around good policies and initiatives,” Jonathan said.
The former President who acknowledged the importance of separation of powers in a functional democracy, however, said that did not mean that the organs should function like three different governments within a system.
“It is important to emphasise that every country has only one government, one president, one speaker or leader of the parliament and one chief justice who is the head of the judiciary. Together, they form the government of a country.
“I believe that separation of powers works better when it functions like the concept of division of labour in elementary economics. Division of labour does not mean that a factory will have different production lines, working at cross purposes.
“It only means the sharing of responsibilities among different people or departments for optimal performance towards a common goal.”
He said that political leadership in Africa needed to renew their commitment to national aspirations and consciously seek to bridge the gap between partisan considerations and the imperative of national development.
“Many of us are not strangers to the stories of infighting and exchange of blows and punches in the parliament.
“Democracy loses its essence when politics is made to overshadow governance. Admittedly, politics, democracy and governance have the same goal; to advance the interest of the people through service.
“We noticed that in most African parliaments it is either that the dominant party in the parliament is unconditionally shooting down all bills and motions from the opposition camps or the opposition is perpetually living up to its name by kicking against any initiative from the ruling party, no matter how good it is for the country.
“Parliamentarians, therefore, must be ready to support initiatives that are good for the country, irrespective of the source, so long as it promotes progress,” Jonathan said.
The former Nigerian president further said that the interest of a politician, either in the executive or the parliament should be to make the citizens happy.
He added that for the citizens to be happy, they must be in a position to meet their daily needs and be free to travel to any part of their state without fear.
The former president said that the state fulfills its responsibility to the people when the citizens could afford their basic needs and can exercise their constitutionally given freedoms freely without fear.
“Democracy as a government of the people implies a dialogical engagement between government and its people and the mutual understanding between the aspirations of the people and what the government can do to achieve these goals.
“The parliament is the centrepiece of this civic engagement.
“Through bills, motions and other debates, the parliament becomes a theatre of civic engagement where representatives of the people amplify the concerns of the common people whose voices cannot, ordinarily, be heard.
“Parliamentarians, therefore, are torchbearers who carry on their shoulders the interest of the masses and give strength, faith and hope to the ordinary citizens.
“ The parliament deepens democracy by providing checks and balances to the executive arm of government and its oversight functions, thereby promoting good governance and accountability,” he said.