By Jonathan Ishaku
In recent times, the contradiction of the presidential system of government which the military imposed on us is increasingly becoming obvious. As recession bites harder, the public purse can no longer sustain the costly political system; as workers’ salaries stagnate, the cost of maintaining political office-holders continues to skyrocket. The prohibitive cost of running for elective office has virtually disenfranchised majority of citizens. To crown it all, public accountability within the system is virtually nil; even the National Assembly has found out it cannot call an earring public officers to order. We are reaping the fruits of a military engineered system of elitism, high resource extractive ratio, disregard for democratic ethos and dictatorship, all embedded in the constitution.
I say it is a military imposition advisedly. In 1977, when the military deigned to return power to civilians, they promulgated a constitution that was remarkable for its abandonment of the parliamentary system inherited from the British colonialists. They believed that the First Republic collapsed because of weak leadership and that an American type presidential system would make for a stronger political system.
Influenced by prevailing thinking of the time that weak post-colonial states needed leaders with dictatorial powers, as captured in S. E. Finer’s seminal book, The Man on Horseback: the Role of the Military in Politics(1969), President Olusegun Obasanjo and his military troika incorporated elements of dictatorship into Nigeria’s democratic constitution of the Second Republic. And it came to stay as both General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abubakar Abdulsalami, unquestioningly adopted same for the Third and Fourth Republics, respectively.
The consequence is that years of civil rule has failed to grow the democratic culture on our shores. In fact, it would seem that we have not made much progress in cultivating a system where government serves the people; rather we have a system where it is the people that serve government. Power remains in the hands of a few which daily feeds fat on the sweat and pains of the masses without as much as feeling a sense of responsibility to them.
As the result of this there is a thin line of distinction between military rule and democracy here. We saw this in bold relief during the Obasanjo Presidency; the swash- buckling style of governance tinted with his imperial posturing gave the impression of a potent than a people’s servant. In Buhari’s case, behind his puritanical and simplistic exterior lurks is a dye-in-the-wool military autocrat with a self-righteous predilection guided by delicate motives than popular opinion. The presidential system accommodates both undemocratic tendencies; but it seems to work against populist leaders by completely overwhelming them, as the trappings of excess power inherent in the system gets hijacked by fifth columnists, rendering them ineffective to provide democratic dividends – Presidents Shehu Shagari, Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
As a protégé of Chief Anthony Enahoro I am convinced that this system is unworkable in Nigeria and the sooner we return to the parliamentary system the better for us all. Enahoro’s Movement for National Renaissance (MNR) for several years harped on the advantages of the parliamentary system over the presidential system. Today, our hero is at rest but his arguments are being proved right in our daily political life.
As we face the 2019 general elections, many budding politicians are discovering that the costs of electioneering campaigns are too high to afford. Indeed, the greatest impediment to the realisation of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run movement is the cost of running for election by the youths. With continued unemployment and the biting economic recession, the youths have been virtually disenfranchised from participating in elections as candidates. In a parliamentary system the party picks candidates to run for elections and fund campaigns as part of the whole; from its ranks it picks officials for public offices. And these officials remain as party stalwarts and accountable to it. A loyal and committed party member can be awarded public office not out of his or her spending power or through favouritism but purely as a member of the party. The point I am making is that the system curbs financial waste as parties do not present multiple candidates for offices but positions are merely shared after the party has won elections.
But my admiration with the system is in respect to accountability. I have noticed that members of the National Assembly are ambivalent about the extent of their powers. Many times they have summoned public official who have in turn rebuffed them. The latest example is the order to the Inspector-General of Police to appear before them. As usual, the police chief refused to heed their order. The truth is that the National Assembly, under the presidential system, lacks the clear power to do so. The IGP is an appointee of the President who alone has the constitutional power to hire and fire his appointees; the National Assembly is impotent to do this.
In a parliamentary system even the President can be summoned and questioned before parliament at any time aside the mandatory question time in the chamber where his or her actions are publicly xrayed Were we in a parliamentary system, President Buhari would have appeared before parliament to answer question about the continuous detention of Leah Sharibu by Boko Haram with which he negotiated the release of the Dapchi girls. He would have been questioned on the lingering Fulani herdsmen killing in Benue and other states. He would also have been asked to explain why he declared IPOB a terrorist group yet allowed herdsmen bandits whom he claimed were terrorists trained by Libya’s Gaddafi to roam freely.
In fact, the President would have faced a confidence vote over the spending unauthorized monies to purchase Tacoma jet fighters without due appropriation by parliament. There would be no need for elaborate and expensive impeachment procedures. A loss by a simple majority of votes would have simply sent him home to Daura.
For effective governance, accountability must at all times be immediate.
Originally published in Independent
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