BY CHARLES KUMOLU
WHEN the Chief Rotimi Williams- led Constitution Drafting Committee, CDC, and Constituent Assembly settled for a presidential constitution which became effective on October 1, 1979, hardly did the committee envisage that the system of government created by the constitution would later be regarded, in most quarters as the bane of Nigeria’s stunted socio-economic development.
This growing discomfort about the presidential system of government, has so far, attained a frightening stage, given that the problem of institutionalized corruption, believed to be holding Nigeria down, is seen as a fallout of the practice of this system of government.
Indeed, the antagonism against presidential democracy predated the present wave of outrage against this American model of governance, given that statesmen, sports men, scholars, artisans, professionals among others, had, before now, denounced the system.
For instance, a former Minister of Mines and Power, Alhaji Ali Monguno once fumed that, “the presidential system encourages corruption,” adding that, “ it has failed to take us to the Promised Land since we started.”
He, however, opined that “I voted against the system at Nigeria’s independence in 1960 because it was faulty and I was congratulated by a monarch from Benin for that bold decision.”
This kind of outrage re-echoed on Monday in Lagos. And it once again, brought to fore the contentious issue of how the presidential system allegedly aid and abet corruption in Nigeria.
Tagged: “Endemic Corruption: The Bane of Good Governance”, the event provided a platform for progressives, to chart out a more acceptable system of government, which would discourage systemic corruption.
Those at the forum, held at Memorable Garden, Central Business District, CBD, Ikeja were Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka; Convener of SNG, Pastor Tunde Bakare; President of Campaign for Democracy, CD, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin; renowned Economist, Mr. Henry Boyo; afro beat maestro, Mr.Femi Kuti and Mr. Dede Mabiaku among others.
Although, all the speakers at the event unanimously condemned the current system of government owning to the prevailing corruption at all tiers of government, Soyinka’s position, could be described as a guilty verdict.
Can Nigeria continue with presidential system?
Soyinka described the current system operated in Nigeria as a disaster, considering the substantial amount being plundered by the legislature.
According to him, “we are coming to a time when we will ask ourselves whether this nation can afford the presidential system. There is no way that corruption can be fought without changing the legislative system that we operate at the moment. The 25 per cent basic salary cut will not remedy the situation but a total overhaul of the entire system. Can Nigeria continue to afford the presidential system of government?
The manner in which the legislature takes a large chunk of the budget is ridiculous. The presidential system is a complete disaster. which is sitting at the Aso Rock and milking Nigeria dry. We have a cancerous situation, you fight one arm of corruption, and another one grows.”
While taking a swipe at the rate of graft, the Nobel Laureate said, “like in some other countries, corruption should be seen as a public disgrace, but here, the more corrupt you are, the more they give you chieftaincy titles.”
He said he recently thought of a metaphor with which to describe the level of corruption in the country and “I thought of hydropus, a combination of hydra and octopus.”
Describing it further, Soyinka said an octopus has a lot of tentacles with which it feeds itself. While he decided to use hydra, was because it has several heads and would not die even when one of the heads is severed.
Besides, he views the country’s legislature as the “hydropus” of corruption with some of the lawmakers earning more than the American President.
Commenting on the recent protests against the removal of fuel subsidy, organised by labour and civil society groups, Soyinka said: “Nigerians have demonstrated a solidarity that is uncommon. I congratulate you. The organization was very interesting. I warn those trying to add ethnic coloration to the protest to desist from that because it is detesting and demoralizing to add ethnic coloration to such protest against unpopular policy of government.”
Speaking further, he pointed out that “the subsidy protest in Nigeria could be likened to that of Greece, where people saw government policy as an attempt to impoverish them and decided to resist it.”
Still lamenting the increasing rate of graft in the country, he described it as a hydra-headed monster that must be dealt with in the interest of good governance.
Religious bigotry and economic retrogression
Soyinka added that if Nigeria must tackle corruption, it must start from the legislature. “We are talking of a system change where some legislatures are earning more than the US President. The present system of governance in Nigeria is a total disaster.”
Advocating for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, the Nobel Laureate said: “It is on these basis that we are calling for National Conference. Not because the legislatures can’t make laws but because they can’t make laws against themselves. Why should there be full time legislature, which has become a cancer in our system.”
Need for restructuring is urgent — Bakare
Also speaking at the forum, convener of the SNG, Pastor Tunde Bakare, stressed that “the time for restructuring Nigeria has come. We must revisit the review of allowances of those in power, including the legislature.”
“The anti-graft agencies”, he stressed, “need to investigate those who have stolen from common treasury and convict them, if found guilty. We must rise as a people against religious bigotry and economic retrogression.”
Besides, Bakare said, “the freedom of the citizens of the country including those of speech and assembly as guaranteed by the constitution, cannot be revoked by any government that wishes to. be responsive to the people.
Save Naira, Save Nigeria
“Since the Ojota Freedom Park Rally, a new wind has been blowing across the Nigerian political landscape. It is the will of the people against the power of incumbency. Without a shadow of doubt, a new dawn of People’s Power is here. And, irrespective of how the fuel subsidy issue is concluded, Nigeria cannot be the same. Nigerians have discovered themselves this year. We must use our new-found strength to re-negotiate our union. The time is ripe for a people-oriented constitution.”
Continuing, Bakare said, “The system of governance must be restructured so that the rights, privileges, duties and responsibilities of the federating units are clearly spelt out. We must initiate the process of just remuneration for Nigerians and their public servants in all the arms of government;
“The prosecution of corrupt officials and their cronies in the corporate world must be on the front burner. In addition to ensuring that those found guilty are fully penalised for criminal enrichment, according to the law, we must equally demand just restitution.”
Also reacting to the reported call for his arrest by the Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu, the cleric wondered how the protest organized by his group could be described as a treasonable offence against the state.
While wondering what came over the governor, he said if the call on those in government to stop feeding fat on public funds is treasonable, then he is ready to plead guilty.
He recalled that the SNG was in the forefront of the fight to make Goodluck Jonathan the President during the crisis surrounding the illness of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, but that the group is now seen as an enemy of the government.
“How we suddenly became his enemy for telling the truth will be judged by history,” he said at the gathering which attracted a cross section of Nigerians.
Similarly, the President of Campaign for Democracy, CD, Dr. Joe Odumakin deplored the increasing level of poverty in the country, noting that Nigerians were determined to reclaim whatever they had lost to bad governance.
Corroborating Odumakin’s stand, an economist, Henry Boyo, in his presentation titled: “Save Naira, Save Nigeria”, blamed the country’s economic challenges on the policies of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and called for a proper infusion of the country’s export earnings into the economy.
This kind of anger over presidential form of government, it would be recalled, played out at a public function in 2010, where Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), said the adoption of the presidential system of government by Nigeria was a big mistake.
He maintained that Nigeria could not afford 36 state Houses of Assembly, 36 state cabinets of commissioners, a large number of state legislators, National Assembly of 469 legislators, thousands of staff in the ministeries and over 40 ministries among others.
“The American presidential system of government currently being experimented by Nigeria, without mincing words, is too expensive for our resources to conveniently accommodate. It is high time we faced the reality of our existence,” Babalola added.
Faced with this growing unease, the question on the lips of Nigerians is: Will Nigeria do well with a unicameral legislature by reverting to the parliamentary democracy?