By Mideno Bayagbon
n overwhelming number of Nigerians reacted to my column last week Wednesday calling for the scrapping of the presidential system of government which I described as being too expensive, too profligate, too corruption-enabled to succeed here. I had concluded that we either kill it, or it will be the death of Nigeria. But before taking some of the reactions, let’s take a look at a possible, alternative, though not perfect, that we could engineer to take its place.
As it is, Nigeria is drowning in the cesspit that our politicians have pushed it into through the presidential system. True, some have argued that the presidential system is best suited for a federation, is stable, and afford the citizens the opportunity to collectively decide who should rule over them as President, Governors and parliamentarians. What was, however, not envisaged in such a postulation is the emperor-like, nepotistic, profligate and corrupt variant which has held Nigeria down in the last 22 years. What was not envisaged is the capacity of our politicians to twist logic and reason to nightmare, the sort that the nation is stewing in today.
What is most painful in all of these is the fact that it has killed all routes to creating and engendering good leadership. The worse of us, with enough Naira and dollar dunlops, fierce bravado that easily sheds innocent blood and manipulate the system to their advantage, have ruled the roost. Which is why i am joining the millions of Nigerians who are tired of the tomfoolery going on, in calling for the scrapping of the presidential system and in its place the Parliamentary System of Government be enthroned. It is not perfect, has its own hiccups, but the advantages are self evident.
For a start, this is a system which encourages good leadership; that empowers a leadership that has been tried and known. Great leaders emerge, as we experienced during the first Republic, which threw up some of the greatest leaders the country has ever produced. Recall, that it was when we were practicing the Parliamentary System that such great leaders like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sarduana Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Aminu Kano, among others, emerged. Till today, we have not been able to replicate this high cadre of leadership in any part of the country. The Parliamentary System brought the best and brightest to lead their parties, both in and out of parliament. It stimulates and encourages the parties to try frantically to outdo each other in providing good governance in all the areas they control.
The opposition is active and keeps the ruling power in great check. The advantage is that government is daily held accountable for its actions in parliament. Every major action of government will have to be defended, explained and agreed on, in parliament. The Prime Minister is routinely grilled and there is no room for him, or any one in government, to develop wings and start behaving like an all conquering emperor the type we have had to deal with in our recent Presidential System history. For an example, a Prime Minister Mohammadu Buhari would have been a far different ruler than the current President Mohammadu Buhari. In the first place, it would have been near impossible for him to have been elected Prime Minister being a reserved and taciturn man by nature. His educational failings and lack of basic world, IT and economic knowledge could have put paid to his ambition. Even if he got elected to parliament, it would have been difficult to have him as party leader because he would have had to daily square up with party leaders in opposing parties who do not suffer his handicaps. Some say this is nearly impossible in Nigeria because we have politicians who speak with money, without any consideration and concern for those who voted them into office.
Parliamentary System is a money saver, will decapitate corruption and encourage those who truly want to serve the people. Take the instance of those who want to contest elections. A Prime Ministerial candidate does not need to canvass the entire country, like a Presidential candidate must of necessity do, with all the expensive campaigns we have witnessed in the past. Today, no one who wants to be president of Nigeria can get elected if all he has to fund his ambition is a paltry, yet humongous N50 billion, at least N10 billion of which is his personal fund. A Prime Ministerial candidate, as leader of his/her party only needs to win in his/her constituency and the party wins majority of seats in the parliamentary election. He will for example only need to win the equivalent of a House of Representative constituency.
Only the leader/party with the best policies emerge Prime Minister. The party must convince the electorate that its policies and programmes will better cater to the nation and peoples interest than the other parties. They are the ones who are better able to convince the people that they have the right people to implement their policies and take the country and people a notch higher in the comity of nations. Those who distinguish themselves are rewarded with higher pecks of positions in the party. They grow in leadership and governing skills, honing not just their legislative abilities but also their executive capacities. This becomes not just a training field but also a leadership development programme for the country. You must distinguish yourself in both parliamentary and executive roles in the eyes of your colleagues and the public.
A Parliamentary System merges the three arms of government. The Executive branch is peopled by members of Parliament. The head of government, who is the Prime Minister, picks his/her cabinet from party members of parliament. The Opposition party leader also forms a shadow cabinet from the party’s members in parliament and it is their duty to keep the ministers on their toes. The only problem however, is that those who make politics the first line of business in Nigeria will rise in ferocity to fight against anything that will threaten their avarice and illicit trade.
You can imagine the level of savings this will entail. In the current presidential constitution of Nigeria, each state must have a ministerial slot, while each of the six geographical zones are also represented with all the attendant huge financial implications. The Parliamentary System is capable of bringing down the cost of governance by at least 40 percent. The era of members of the National Assembly acting as Lords and allocating stupendous salaries, constituency allowances, exotic cars, palatial mansions, and the general pilferage going on in the name of being lawmakers would be eliminated or drastically reduced. Becoming members of parliament or ministers will no longer be the easy road to unearned wealth.
The icing on the cake is that a PM who is seen as having failed in his/her duties can have his party members rebelled against him or a Vote of No Confidence can be raised and passed against him/her. Just like it happened in the United Kingdom recently. Two PMs lost their coveted positions to the Brexit campaigns which saw the United Kingdom pull out of the European Union. David Cameron, under whom the vote was taken and Theresa May who was expected to do the needful, kissed the dust because they could not easily disengage the United Kingdom from the EU after the people had voted. They had the door shut against them and their fellow party member, Boris Johnson, who instigated some of the fallouts, is today Prime Minister and Teresa May who he replaced is on the back benches of parliament. It is either you perform creditably or you go.
We need this kind of spirit behind the Nigerian government where, whoever is expected as president can expect to stay in power for eight years no matter his/her capacity to perform. As we all know, the various parliaments, National Assembly and State Assemblies, are but genuflecting appendages to either the President or Governor. How long shall we allow ourselves to be so ruined while the rest of the world marches on in progressive leaps?