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Why Presidential system is holding Nigeria down!

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Clamour begins for Parliamentary System of government

Apparently, the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), a pandemic that has shrunk the economic fortunes of most countries of the world, Nigeria inclusive may have also provoked a thought amongst the political elites and power brokers to revisit Nigeria’s governance structure and perhaps, return it to a less expensive and cumbersome type of government. Then, enter calls for a reversal to the parliamentary system as opposed to the current Presidential system. But before the calls were clamors for restructuring. The clamor and calls have almost reached a crescendo. Now, can the emerging narrative pull the country out of the economic quagmires and political doldrums? Saturday Vanguard in this special feature aggregates views of some Nigerians on the subject-matter.

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

 

Although the conversion has been ongoing in hushed tones in many circles, it however gained appreciable traction recently  when it fully dawned on some elites within and outside the corridors of power that Nigeria cannot sustain the current system.

The system may be rich in lofty ideals and ideation but its cumbersomeness and exorbitant nature had been the inherent flaws which had also deflated all favorable arguments hitherto. The system is the Presidential type of government the country borrowed from the United States of America in 1979 and has continued to practice it for 40 years now.

No doubts it has its gains but from the pundits’ perspectives, its losses and liabilities on the nation are a legion. From duplication of offices to humongous bills down to contract inflation, bloated civil service and financial recklessness, the system stinks with corruption. Right now, these are a worrisome lot for the Nigerian government.

Incidentally, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has roundly exposed the poor financial state of the country, calling for urgent drastic, out-of-the-box measures to pull it up from a total economic collapse.

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Prior to 1979, the country had at the dawn of  independence in 1960 taken to the Westminster type of Parliamentary system of government  from the British colonial masters. The government was then headed by late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Belewa as the Prime Minister while late Dr. Nnmadi Azikiwe was the President.

The system, though at embryonic stage, permeated its own uniqueness until it was suddenly toppled and jettisoned by the military in 1966. The country was to continue in that dictatorial trajectory until 1979 when there was a democratic government which introduced the almighty Presidential system copied from the US.

Incidentally, those who promulgated the presidential system were only loud in one fat point to convince their compatriots: the size and largeness of the country. But, the informed minds knew that ego, complacency, quest for association affinity with the US and a somewhat euphoric glitz occasioned by oil proceeds then were the subtleties, the latent reasons for that sudden move. And since then, the country has had to journey through a debilitating route to economic growth and infrastructural developments.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost and the realities are staring the country in the face, expressly and glaringly indicating that a Presidential system is too expensive and so, cannot continue to accommodate and sustain the current economic state and its gluttonous demands on the national purse hence a need for a reversal to the parliamentary system.

 

The conversation for a return to parliamentary system

To give this new quest and narrative a head, 71 members of the House of Representatives at the twilight of the 8th National Assembly took some steps to actualize the restoration. Coming from across party divides, the lawmakers unanimously opted for a bill to enact a new law for a reversal to status quo. The bill was introduced in December, 2019.

Led by Hon. Kingsley Chinda representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers State, the lawmakers bemoaned the flaws in the current presidential system.

They had this to say: ”Studies have shown that countries run by presidential regimes consistently produce: lower output growth, higher and more volatile inflation, and greater income inequality relative to those under parliamentary ones.

“Presidential regimes consistently produce less favourable macroeconomic outcomes which prevail in a wide range of circumstances for example in Nigeria.

“Due to the excessive powers domiciled to one man under the presidential systems, consensus building that is often required for economic decision is always lacking.

“The level of liability and volatility of presidential systems makes it difficult to achieve economic objectives.”

Lending his voice also, Chinda said: “If you ask some legislators of some government policies, it is difficult for them to clearly understand because the interface between the executive and the legislature is not as it should be.

“The parliamentary system will ensure that the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are on the same page. The system will iron out all these things; that is why we have thrown it up for Nigerians to look at, discuss and see that it will help us in proffering solutions to some of the problems of our country.

“What we have proposed in that bill is that the exclusive list should be pruned down and so issues of devolution of power are taken care of and I can assure you that you will see healthy competition and this country will grow for all of us.

“I am from Rivers, why can I not go to Sokoto to do my business there when I see myself as a Nigerian?  It is because of the constitution and the laws that we have; you fill forms and you have to indicate your tribe, your state of origin etc. We should begin to remove that mentality and begin to think of Nigeria first”.

 

Other Favorables Voices 

Since then, the conversion has taken a new dimension and today, more prominent Nigerians have joined in the circle.

One of them is the elder statesman and the President of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi. In a recent interview with a national daily, former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, ABU called for a return to the parliamentary rule.

He said: “We should move away from the presidential system of government to parliamentary system. This is because the presidential system that we have tried for almost 40 years now has not worked; the parliamentary system was adopted for only five years and we abandoned it without any reason. We didn’t give any reason it was less efficient or less effective than the presidential system that we now run. Presidential system is too expensive for a poor country and this is responsible for the corruption, incompetence and lack of accountability in Nigeria. So, let us go back to parliamentary system of government. I am one of those who would vote for a parliamentary system of government in a referendum, if there is a referendum tomorrow for a change of system from presidential to parliamentary.”

 

Enter Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Also joining in the conversion last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while responding to questions from the former Emir of Kano State and Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi during a webinar event organised by the Emmanuel Chapel, themed, ‘Economic stability beyond COVID-19’ on Nigeria’s governance structure called for reduction in government expenditures.

He said: ”There is no question that we are dealing with large and expensive government, but as you know, given the current constitutional structure, those who would have to vote to reduce (the size of) government, especially to become part-time legislators, are the very legislators themselves. So, you can imagine that we may not get very much traction if they are asked to vote themselves, as it were, out of their current relatively decent circumstances.

“So, I think there is a need for a national debate on this question and there is a need for us to ensure that we are not wasting the kind of resources that we ought to use for development on overheads. At the moment, our overheads are almost 70 per cent of revenues, so there is no question at all that we must reduce the size of government.

“Part of what you would see in the Economic Sustainability Plan also and several of the other initiatives is trying to go, to some extent, to what was recommended in the (Steve) Oransaye Report, to collapse a few of the agencies to become a bit more efficient and make government much more efficient with whatever it has.”

 

Rep. Ogene expands the discourse 

Responding to Saturday Vanguard enquiries on the subject matter, a former member of House of Representatives, Hon. Victor Ogene who represented Ogbaru Federal Constituency of Anambra State in the 7th National Assembly said that a return to parliamentary rule was inevitable for Nigeria judging from the dwindling economy.

He said: “Let us understand that the parliamentary government as opposed to the presidential system of government, is the form of government in which the political party that wins the majority seats in the legislature or parliament forms the government and elects the President and the Prime Minister through a collegiate responsibility. Its merits include accommodating  the interest of diverse groups; promoting harmony and more cordial relationship and better coordination between the executive and the legislature since the executive is a part of the legislature; the other good attribute of the parliamentary system is that since there  is entrenched harmony in the system and acrimony between the executive and legislature is reduced, it becomes faster and easier to pass legislation and make laws. Moreso, as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature possesses  more votes required to pass legislation; prevents authoritarianism; the President is responsible to the legislature unlike the presidential system. The members of the parliament can ask questions, move resolutions, and discuss matters of public importance to pressurize the government. Such provisions are not available in the Presidential system.

“It also provides for alternate government, makes provision for change in power without an election. Besides these global attributes of the Parliamentary system, the case for it’s reintroduction, in the particular case of Nigeria, is perhaps bolstered by several factors. These include low cost of running Government, as the Executive and Legislature is somewhat intertwined, with Ministers drawn from the Legislature. In addition, Party supremacy would be enhanced, as each legislative seat, as in the South African case, belongs to the political party based on percentage of votes secured at a general election. Given such a scenario, the cut-throat struggle for elective office would reduce considerably, as the parties would be compelled to send only their best stalwarts to Parliament. What is more, the tension, brigandage, acrimony and enormous state resources deployed in presidential contestation, and re-election would be eliminated.

“Additionally, leaders of Parliament will emerge naturally, thus taking care of the ceaseless clamour by geo-political zones to have their scions as leader of the country, at every point in time. To achieve the above, a Constitution amendment process needs not only be put in place, but also a referendum of the Nigerian people, to get the buy-in of the majority of our people”.

 

What happens to clamour for restructuring?

One prominent feature at the time Nigeria first practised the parliamentary system was the splitting of the country into regional spheres. And so, there were the Eastern Region for core Igbo speaking States; the Northern Region for the Hausas, Fulanis and other minority tribes; the Western Region for the Yorubas and later, the Mid-Western Region for the Benins in the old Bendal State.

Till date, the regions still stand strong and tall. But seeing the parlous state of the Nigerian economy, the regions have become louder with calls for restructuring. Consequently, the country is now sandwiched between going back to the parliamentary system and adopting the restructuring mechanism.

Asked if he wanted restructuring, Abdullahi said “What is restructuring? You have to give me the content of the restructuring with the details of the restructuring the country requires. Is it the political system it operates vis-à-vis the system it operated before independence or after independence? And for me, this country really was working before independence with the regions. The regions were virtually independent. Each region had a constitution – northern, southern and western; this is the region we inherited from the British and we used it for only four or five years. For me, if we had kept these regional structures (because they were working for us), we would have been better. The Western Region was doing very well with free education without oil money. The Northern and Eastern regions had their trades too. But now, we have got into what you called presidential system of government and you have billions coming from petroleum. But where are the services, schools, universities, health services and security despite the billions of dollars coming in from the oil sector? So, what I am saying is that the basic structure you want to change is the basis for restructuring. And this is it – go back to the parliamentary system and you will see a lot of differences between this present system which is unaccountable, full of indiscipline and corruption. But the government does not want to change – each governor thinks he should be a governor forever in his state. We can be five regions but the structures will be working better-schools, amenities, hospitals, and other places will be working well. So, we need to go back to that political structure because the political structure we have now (the presidential system of government) is not working. And the simple challenge we have for everyone who is talking about restructuring is that we need to have a referendum and make a decision to return (to Parliamentary system). This is where we should go. We should not waste time talking about an imaginary restructuring.”

On the contrary, Hon. Ogene’s input in the return bid to the parliamentary system did not drown the restructuring talks.

“There’s no one-size fits all approach to issues of nation building. Right from medieval times, the concept of nation states have been work in progress. Thus, while restructuring engendered by a return to Parliamentary mode of governance can take care of some agitations, it certainly won’t solve all our problems. Getting peoples of diverse tribes, language,culture and religion to co-exist under one sovereignty, would entail a give-and-take disposition. So, while we may win some today, others would come in due time. Change is a constant in the affairs of humanity. Take the Black Lives Matter campaign in the USA, for instance. Personal liberty is almost a given in American society, but as the George Floyd incident, like several others, has shown, a lot still needs to be done; hence the current agitations and the reforms it is engendering”, he said.

 

Things to ponder!

While the conversation and debate goes on, there are a few issues to consider.

Now, imagine the presence of over 400 federal agencies and parastatals, bloated mainstream civil service and their effects on the national treasury.

Then factor in the political and governing institutions: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Consider their components and appurtenances also.

Nigeria runs a bicameral legislature and so, there are in all 469 Federal Lawmakers, 109 in the Senate and 360 in the House of Representatives with an average of 5 staff each. Then add the over 4000 parliamentary Staff in the National Assembly in a full civil service structure and cost it. This is just at the federal legislature. With this, one can imagine the burden on the country.

Then cross over to the Executive Arm of government. Count the President, the Vice President, the 36 Ministers and then, hordes of appointees and aides from top to bottom. Check out their pecks and paraphernalia of office. What do you get?

Now to the Judiciary. You have the Chief Justice of Nigeria and other justices of the Supreme Court. There is the President of Court of Appeal and his colleagues at the appellate court. Consider their salaries, maintenance and the utility costs. Then come down to the Federal High Court, the Magistrates and Area Courts, the list is the same. All these are just at the federal level. Imagine the duplication at the State and perhaps, local government levels.

The summary of it all will tell one that the expenditure incurred by the government and the cost of running the cost is a Presidential system of government is subsumed in one word: huge!

 

Lastline

To large extent, most Nigerians don’t give heed to the system of government the country operates. To this school of thoughts, transparency, accountability and probity, equity, justice and general good governance should be the hallmarks of any system, be it unitary, parliamentary or presidential. Incidentally, Nigeria has tested and tasted both. What this means is that the country knows the best to suit its peculiarities. Will good governance be enthroned on the enactment and activation of a parliamentary constitution? Will the current members of the National Assembly vote to  change the presidential constitution? Your guess is as good as mine. But only time will tell.

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