According to the law regarding age qualification for political offices in Nigeria, a citizen of at most 30 years of age is qualified to run and hold office in the legislature, except the Senate which is only pending the success of the bill seeking amendment on the said law to bring the general minimum age for legislative offices to 30 (for Senate and 25 for Reps and State Assemblies). Aside being 30 and upwards in age, any law abiding Nigerian with no criminal records is fit to seek and can win election into any legislative office.
However, meeting constitutional requirements isn’t all it takes to succeed in legislative office. Differently put, it is one thing for one to meet legal and electoral requirements for a legislative office and it is entirely something different to meet the qualitative or characteristic requirements that will make them a successful legislator.
According to Rose Keith, a Pittsburgh based consultant and specialist in selection process implementation, for one to be successful legislator especially a congressman, they must have most, if not all of those core qualities featural of a legislator.
One of such qualities is Assertiveness – which entails standing up for one’s beliefs and being able to confidently take charge of difficult situations, making tough decisions despite opposition or unpleasant consequences. Assertiveness puts the lawmaker in the character of not just holding beliefs, but tenaciously so, and always standing up for them and acting within the precincts of those beliefs, as well as allowing themselves and decisions to be guided and influenced by the said beliefs. For instance, in believing that congressmen should be honourable men, an assertive lawmaker will hold consistency as a strong political character, and will rather not join the train that intermittently shuttles between political parties, but stand to face the odds rising against him, irrespective of the enticements calling on him from the other end. Another instance, the assertive character in the lawmaker is what makes him hold on strongly to his belief that for democracy and governance to continually remain on the wheels of progress, individuals should remain subject to institutional powers and authority, instead of the reverse. As such, he sits at the head of an appropriation panel for oversighting purpose and discovers a billion naira missing through a channel headed by an individual with strong political influence, yet refuses to allow the individual and his strong influence outweigh that of the institution of government and the laws of the land. He pushes for an investigation, disregarding any consequences and gored oxen.
Ability to build Alliances: (ie) Earning trust and respect from others and taking the time to build effective working relationships. Being able to create relationships with members of Congress (especially across party lines) is very important. When it comes down to ensuring you have the votes you need in order to pass a piece of legislation, a lot depends on the strength of your ties with colleagues from all lines. In the Nigerian context, if the case is easy within the local scene where the constitution of state assemblies is virtually a one party system, it is entirely a different thing in the larger river at the national scene. One of the primary things to know about legislation is the importance of lobbying and the ability to do same. Hence, a lawmaker at that level who does not have the ability to build alliances with colleagues, moreso, across party lines, should forget about having his legislative contributions, particularly regarding bills and motions, scaling through. On the other hand, the lawmaker who has such ability is one whose assertiveness keeps him firm on his belief that the road to genuine democratic progress is bipartisan. Hence, allows him the free mind to align with leadership constituted by individuals from all party lines, less minding what myopic pundits would say. And when you look down to his support and fan base, you will most likely find it building across political lines. Fact is, while he consciously builds the alliance within his line of official functionality, his political character builds for him that support across political lines.
Commitment – a lawmaker should be passionate about, and enthusiastically demonstrating dedication to the causes and beliefs he espouses. The lawmaker who exemplifies such commitment does not only theorize his beliefs more than he acts them. For instance, if he believes in the demystification of public office, he creates links of easy accessibility between himself and the electorates. If he believes that governance is a social contract between the government and the people, his actions in official functionality will always be people centered. If in a capitalist society which fuels expansion in gap between the privileged and underprivileged, his pieces of legislation will mostly target raising living standard for the latter and building hope for them – at least for a taste of a life on the meaningful side – such legislations like seeking laws to protect physically challenged citizens against all forms of discrimination (like the type they get from employers of labour); seeking laws to strengthen the healthcare system through the adoption of the Universal Health Coverage; he would even care about the welfare of citizens held in prison custody by seeking speedy dispensation of criminal justice on those under trial so as to decongest the prisons and allow a bit of whatever convenience is there for the convicted ones; and the introduction, as well as institutionalisation of participatory budgeting and legislation.
Noting that, if anyone ever wonders why congressmen like Onofiok Luke have been outstanding in their legislative careers, the secret is in the aforementioned qualities and reason legislation with and to them is made easy.
Ubong Sampson writes from Ata Idung Minya.