t is not an overstatement to state that Nigerians have observed a situation where a politician made clear and precise campaign promises before an election, only to have the same person arrogantly ignore the promises after being elected to power. The practice has undoubtedly evolved into a vicious loop of hollow promises, to the point where politicians are no longer believed or regarded as sincere when speaking to the electorates.
There is no doubting that the country’s democratic progress is being hampered by a somewhat politicized culture. In the light of the preceding, is it not reasonable to establish a law in our legal system that allows an electorate(s) to sue a failing politician to court for broken promises and seek some legal remedy?
When someone fails to deliver on a major commitment, you can usually threaten to take legal action. Without wishing to malign political leaders, it is self-evident that making campaign promises and then failing to keep them is equivalent to the crime of a fraudster, or as we call it in our community, a “419.” The reason for connecting what could be considered electioneering fraud with financial fraud in this context is not far-fetched, because both concerns are braided around trust.
A Nigerian scam, also known as advance fee fraud or 419 fraud, is a scheme in which a sender asks for assistance in completing the transfer of a quantity of money, usually over email. In exchange, the sender promises a big commission, often in the millions of dollars, depending on the target’s apparent gullibility. The con artists then demand money to cover some of the transfer charges. If money is sent to the con artists, they will either vanish or try to extort additional money by claiming that the transfer is still having difficulty. In the light of the above description, electioneering fraud is no different in that it involves making promises that are not intended to be kept.
Readers are likely to question the rationale and motive for this point of view at this point. To respond to any reader who might think my point of view in this context is inappropriate, I would like to point out that, because internet technology has unprecedentedly brought all newspapers published around the world together on virtual space, to the point where their contents can be easily accessed at the tap of a smart device, I was privileged to read a story without a byline, with the headline,“The Delhi High Court has advised political leaders that they must keep pledges they make”, according to the Daily Pioneer (a print media in India). The headline is self-explanatory enough for a reader to understand that the story is about a court decision.
“It took 89 pages of a Delhi High Court judgment to tell politicians in high positions in governments that they cannot keep making promises to people and then not keeping them,” according to the news source. The decision, handed down in a case involving a promise made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, sends a message that it is critical to bridge the gap between law and morality, and to ensure that those in positions of power, whether elected or not, understand that they “are answerable to the people, especially once they undertake or agree to do or not do a particular thing.”
“The expression ‘Promises are designed to be broken’ is well recognized in the social context,” writes Justice Prathiba M Singh in her decision, which represents the spirit of the society. Promises made by the government or its representatives are obviously “judicially enforceable” if they are broken, according to the ruling. The decision serves as a reminder to political leaders of issues that are inherent in the business of government but are often overlooked in the midst of politics. First of all, effective governance necessitates the maintenance of trust between those who govern and those who are governed. Secondly, the maintenance of this confidence, along with the legal certainty of an assurance made, solidifies the citizen-government relationship.
In the light of the foregoing, it is appropriate and reasonable to suggest that our legislators take a page from such a significant legal provision as a means of reining in politicians who have ingrained and embraced the retrogressive culture of deceiving the electorate from one political regime to the next without being held accountable for their failures.
It is imperative that we reproduce such legislation in our legal system, as Nigerians are prone to looking forward to promises made by most government officials, only to see them broken. It is, to put it succinctly, becoming ritualistic.
There is no better time than now to voice my belief that political leaders should be held accountable for their collective failures, especially when considered in the light of the reality that they are failing even on the most vital issues that directly affect people’s well-being. After all, politicians are elected to deal with the most important policy issues that affect people, which are often life and death situations (combating banditry, insurgency, and kidnapping, or funding a health-care system), or issues that will decide a society’s living standard (the economy, law, and order).
However, it is sad to see that in Nigeria, rogue politicians appear to be immune to the law. When a candidate apparently commits to one course of action when seeking the people’s vote, he will begin to exhibit behavior that contradicts his beggarly disposition when canvassing for votes during the electioneering campaign that the people threw their collective weight behind him soon after winning the election.
Because of some politicians’ illiberal, despotic, and backward attitudes, political observers have long argued that it was time the people and civil society organizations demanded good governance from those elected to positions of power in order to achieve a better country. They wish to emphasize in their advocacy that the demand for good governance should be at an all-time high and that politicians and those nominated to political positions should be held accountable for keeping their pledges.
In a similar spirit, they have frequently stated that it is past time for Nigerians to enjoy the benefits of democracy, which they have described as freedom of expression, tolerance, accountability, rule of law, and government officials’ transparency, among other things.
Finally, given that a bill can be initiated by anyone, including a member of the House or a Senator, and introduced on the floor of the House or Senate, I am, through this medium, urging Nigerians who are familiar with the processes of initiating a bill and pushing it up to the National Assembly, to consider this opinion and push a bill that would bring about punishment for politicians who breaks campaign promises.