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Nigeria’s overdue experiment with the Presidential System of Govt

“The application of the American presidential system in Nigeria has been nothing but a huge failure.We simply cannot afford 36 Houses of Assembly, 36 Cabinets of Commissioners, large number of State Legislators, National Assembly of more than 400 Legislators, thousands of staff for all these offices, over 40 Federal Ministers and numberless staff and assistants”.

By Afe Babalola

For several years an equation that has continued to attract immense debate in Nigeria is the propriety of the continued operation of the Presidential system of government. While some retain the view that there is nothing wrong with the system and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which has put it in place, and that whatever problems have been noticed relate only to implementation of the provisions of the said Constitution, others have taken the view that the adoption of the system is at the heart of everything wrong with the country. However there is a general agreement that the 1999 Constitution was thrust upon Nigerians. Nigerians did not play any active role in deciding what type of Constitution to adopt. The situation in Nigeria stands in stark contrast to those of Countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States in which their Constitutions can be regarded as true Peoples’ Constitution. I therefore hold the view that a new Constitution is imperative. The solution cannot lie in the implementation of a defective Constitution. As we say in the legal profession, one cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.

Therefore a decision must be taken on this all important question as to whether Nigeria can still afford its long overdue experimentation with the Presidential System or whether it is necessary to either jettison it entirely or whether as canvassed by some, bring about some modifications to its current operation with a view to making it more suitable to the realities of Nigeria. If the decision is taken to abandon the Presidential system which system should we adopt? Should we go back to the Parliamentary system which has served the cause of Nigeria well in the past?

Inadequacy of the Presidential System of Government

The Presidential system of Government was introduced into Nigeria by the military through the 1979 Constitution. This system of government traditionally has at its head, an executive President who presides over the Federal Government. It is characterized by a bicameral legislature. The Executive and legislative arms of government are normally replicated across the Federating states.  In foisting the Presidential system on Nigeria, the military had little regard for the peculiar nature of the country. It has been argued, albeit lamely, that in deciding to jettison the parliamentary system of government put in place by the founding fathers of the country, that the military wanted to avoid a situation in which the two heads of state, one ceremonial and the other executive (as exists in a parliamentary system) would work at logger heads leading to unnecessary ethnic or tribal strife if they hailed from different sections of the country. However events in Nigeria since 1963 continue to show that the decision to adopt the Presidential system was not well thought out.

Firstly the American form of Presidential System of government currently being experimented by Nigeria is too expensive for our resources to conveniently accommodate.  It is high time we faced the reality of our existence.  Having regard to the history of America and its resources of the American Presidential System of Government is perfectly suitable for its federalism which is being operated religiously and in accordance with the tenets of their union.  The same situation, background and history do not justify its application to Nigeria.The adoption and wholesale application of American federalism and Presidential System of Government by the Military is a monumental mistake in the first place.  The importation of the system has not done the Country any good at all.  That is the bitter truth.  The application of the American presidential system in Nigeria has been nothing but a huge failure.We simply cannot afford 36 Houses of Assembly, 36 Cabinets of Commissioners, large number of State Legislators, National Assembly of more than 400 Legislators, thousands of staff for all these offices, over 40 Federal Ministers and numberless staff and assistants. On the 10th of September 2010, THISDAY Newspaper reported as follows:

“The amount expended annually to sustain  members of the legislature in the states and National Assembly, many believe, is mind-boggling. Sources close to THISDAY revealed that the country spends N27 billion per annum on the salaries and emoluments of 109 senators while 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp down N73 billion, bringing the   total to N100 billion ($667 million) expended on just 469 elected public officials.

When the emoluments,constituency allowances” and other visible and invisible   benefits paid to state legislators in each of the 36 states as well as the 7,888   councillors who make bye-laws in the 774 local government areas, the annual cost   of sustaining the entire army of 17,500 individuals holding political offices in   the executive and legislative arms of government in Nigeria would amount to N1.3   trillion.”

The consequential fragmentation of Nigeria

The consequential fragmentation of Nigeria into 36 states is unhelpful.  Most of the so-called states were formally local governments or provinces.  Such local governments were manned by District Offices and or Assistant District Officers.  The provinces were manned by Residents, supported by Chief Clerk and Clerks. The substitution thereof of these District Offices and Residents with Governors, Deputy Governors, Legislative Houses is most unreasonable and uneconomical.  The sight of these governors driving round in convoys of as many as 30 to 40 cars and motorcycle outriders worries the ordinary citizens who cannot afford three square meals, whose taps are dry and whose children are either unable to attend school due to non-payment of school fees or who are unemployed after laboring to get an education.

In the United States of America, the Federating States still possess a huge measure of independence. Thus each state is within clearly defined but expansive limits responsible for a remarkable number of aspects of its existence. The Federal Government is limited only to such matters as defense, foreign policy etc.

Finally it is worthy of note that the entire revenue of the Federal Government of Nigeria is lower than that of Texas which is the second most populous and second largest state in the United States of America. If Nigeria’s revenue is therefore lower than that of one of over 50 states in the United States how can we hope to continue to copy and fund the Presidential system of government as practiced by the Americans? There is need for urgent reappraisal of our operation of the Presidential system.




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