HON. EHIOGIE WEST IDAHOSA was a three term member of the House of Representatives who in his first term threw up the memorable quote that “the House of Representatives would live forever.” In this interview, West-Idahosa reviews the proposals for a National Conference which he describes as a white elephant project but nevertheless posits that the parliamentary system of government has greater advantages for the country. Excerpts:
BY GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE
What is your take on the proposed National Dialogue by the Federal government?
I think it is a white elephant project. In my own opinion whatever the confab hopes to achieve should have been put together by way of inputs and forwarded to the National Assembly. This is because the National Assembly itself is in the process now of reviewing the country’s constitution. A lot of money has been expended on this process. The House of Representatives for example even went to the extent of conducting Peoples’ Assembly all over the federation.
That was a good opportunity for inputs to have been received and imagine the amount of money that people are speculating that will go into the process; some say nearly N11billion will go into the process, so I consider it as political exercise in futility.
Is a national dialogue really needed?
The truth is that those issues underlining the policies of Nigeria, I think after the era of the Awos, Azikiwes, Balewas, Ahmadu Bellos and the rest of them, we have given birth to a series of intellectually lazy politicians who have decided that the only way to wield political powers is to whip up religious, ethnic sentiments among others.
That is why you find out that our politicians are barely identified ideologically and it is only a few who appear to understand what it means to have a covenant and a contract with the people.
The others simply talk about my peoples, turn by turn limited, my religion against your religion and my ethnic group against your ethnic group.
But as long as the politicians who drive the process are unwilling to change the tactics, if you like have one hundred and twenty conferences, the issues that underline the crisis in the country will remain so. I think that the best strategy rather than wasting money on a national conference is one, for the political parties themselves to toe their ideological lines. After all in this country, it is forbidden for a political party to have s symbol or slogan that will promote religion, race, region etc.
Once that is there, it is a good platform for all parties to build on nationalism and if we were to promote national agenda, then, one can now look at the nitty -gritty, we can now begin to talk of resource control, we can now talk fully on the Federal Character, whether federal character remains a relevant factor after so many years of independence or whether meritocracy should replace federal character, we begin to look at urban renewal, rural infrastructural development and re-commitment to the people and development of human capacity.
What is your comment on the call by some that the country should reverse to the parliamentary system of government?
To be honest, I am a frontline believer in the parliamentary system of government and I have said that even in my book which I published last year, ‘SEPARATION OF POWERS AND DEMOCRACY IN CONTEMPOARARY NIGERIA’; I argued very strongly that one of the reasons why the country is having very serious political problems is that the presidential system of government appears to be unsuitable for Nigeria.
You have to look at our educational level, you have to look at quality of political leadership, you have to look at the cost of operating the presidential system and this is a system that is very costly; this is a system that is so corruption prone, therefore, if you ask me, I will say that from contemporary records, the country did better under parliamentary system of government than the presidential system.
The reason is very clear. If you want to be a political leader, you must yourself be acceptable to the people; you have to learn to win the people over, you have to put yourself forward for electoral contest; then, you will win the confidence of the people, find yourself in parliament and if your party wins the majority seats, you will be able to form the government.
You bring ministers from nowhere, and some of these ministers are imported from God knows where. Some of the ministers have no clue about the common man’s problems, they have no clues about policy analysis, they have no clues about policy evaluation, they take the front seats and begin to drive the process that they are alien to.
So, I think that in all honesty, the parliamentary system is more suitable for this country and it will promote more discipline in government.
So, do you agree with claims that the confab is to enable the president buy time?
That was why I said earlier that it is a white elephant project and a political gimmick that will fail woefully. It is nothing but an attempt to win some political caps. But I think that in the end it will be an exercise in irony.
Would you support our legislators to work on part-time?
Well, this will depend on the type of system that is operational. If you are operating a presidential system, it becomes untenable to have legislators on part-time because politically elected representatives are expected to devote full time to their jobs. As we speak now, many of them are not allowed to practice their professions, earn any form of living other than the one that is appropriated to them.