Yes, state of the nation address is urgently needed in Nigeria! In many advanced democracies, as well as some developing ones such as Ghana, the state of the union or state of the country is required to be given by the leader of the country annually. The address is not only used to keep the leader accountable and responsive to the citizens, it also provides the masses the opportunity to hear from their leader about the state of the nation. In addition, it strengthens democracy of the nation while obliging the leader to inform the nation of its condition with an outline of initiatives to strengthen every aspect of the nation.
Thus, some democratic nations have laws that compel their leaders to address their citizens on the conditions of their countries. Over a year ago, a similar concept was introduced—the State of the Nation Address Bill, and sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu. The State of the Nation Address Bill, which was passed by both Chambers and vetoed by the president would have compelled the President to address the nation on the economy, national security, social justice, foreign affairs, and others during the joint session of the National Assembly on “the first legislative day of July every year.” The bill, aimed at making a sitting president “accountable to the Nigerian people” and “to render account of his stewardship to the nation,” was ideal for any nation that subscribes to good governance, strong democracy, and strengthening of the institutions for growth and sustenance.
In his passionate plea during the debate, making a strong case for the concept, Sen. Ekweremadu said, “Mr. President, one of the initial misconceptions about this Bill is the wrong assumption in some quarters that it is the same as the annual budget presentation, hence that the budget presentation should suffice. I recall that I took time to explain this matter to our late President, Umar Musa Yar’Adua who became quite enthusiastic about seeing the Bill come to fruition.”
“Beyond election is governance and this Bill seeks to uphold the right of the people to hold their President accountable, take stock of the nation, and make governance more open and participatory, Ekweremadu said.
Ekweremadu continued, “The State of the Nation Address Bill, when passed into law will usher Nigeria into an old democratic convention in both advanced and fledgling democracies around the world. One of such is the United States of America which model we are copying and which has enjoyed the dividends of this Address for over 220 years.”
Speaking about the US, in an aura-filled Chamber where the pageant of American democracy with trappings of strong institutions was in full public display for the world to appreciate in awe, confident President Barack Obama delivered a powerful, moving, and populist State of the Union Address to the joint session of the Congress in 2015, which satisfied Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, that requires the President to provide periodically information to the Congress on the condition of the United States. The President not only uses the occasion to inform the nation of the condition of the union, but also, he uses the platform to enunciate the legislative agenda and priorities and practical solutions for improving the economic and social conditions of the nation.
Throwing down the gauntlet on January 2015, President Barack Obama delivered what may be considered as a state of the union address replete with progressive agenda. In his sixth State of the Union speech broadcast on television and radio stations across the country, President Obama outlined a progressive agenda that may be difficult to enact into law in this political atmosphere and in a Congress controlled by the Republicans. Based on President Obama’s speech, it is obvious that he is committed to middleclass security.
Emboldened Obama, as the approval polls suggested, proposed among other initiatives, raising capital gains tax and closing some tax loopholes, free two-year college education, ways to address wage stagnation, as well as policies to close income inequality gap. Obama called for $320 billion in tax increases over 10 years, raising capital gains and dividends rate on couples making more than $500,000 from 23.8 to 28 percent, closing tax loopholes, funding a tax credit for working families, as well as expanding the childcare tax credit, and free community college education for those will to work for it.
Touting the improving economy, Obama said, “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” “At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come,” he said. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?
Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” Obama asked. Obama continued, “So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.” “In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot.”
The middle-class economics is “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” Obama stressed.” “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.” “Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.” Because of the importance education, Obama will send to the “Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero,” Obama offered.
The State of the Union is the biggest night in American politics besides presidential election night. I am optimistic that it will be so in Nigeria. I am equally hopeful that if this bill is reintroduced and passed, President Jonathan will assent. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has not had his first State of the Union Address. It is coming up next year.