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Between presidential and parliamentary system of government

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Presidential system has failed Nigerians, says Yakassai,” was the screaming headline in The Guardian of May 29, 2017. Malam Tanko Yakassai in the report “canvassed a return to the parliamentary system of government in the polity.

“Presidential system has failed Nigerians, says Yakassai,” was the screaming headline in The Guardian of May 29, 2017. Malam Tanko Yakassai in the report “canvassed a return to the parliamentary system of government in the polity.” The interview was a masterpiece especially for those who needed to know why states were created by the Yakubu Gowon administration shortly before the civil war.

I belong to the school of thought that holds dearly to the idea that a system of government does not develop a country but that quality leadership provided by strong men, in whichever system, brings development. The parliamentary system of government that the elder statesman see as the silver bullet to take the country to utopia failed in the first republic because of the clannishness and regional mawkishness of the major political players in the first republic.

Some bear reminding, Eyo Ita was dethroned from the position of leader of the eastern government by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo wanted the Action Group to be a national party and campaigned for the rights of the minorities in the north and east but this led to the apprehension by the northern and eastern governments and suspicion thereof, of the AG by them and the spat between Ladoke Akintola and Awo, the former wanted the AG to be a regional party situated in western Nigeria against the ambition of the latter. Prior to that, with Awolowo and Azikiwe saga in the western house, Zik won Lagos but not the western house. Historians have yet to correct the notion that he won the west and was shortchanged by Awo, Ahmadu Bello and J S Tarka in the north leading to the brutal subjugation of minorities.‬


As stated by this writer elsewhere, “The prerequisites for the greatness of a modern-day country include the presence of visionary leaders, abundance of productive human capital, infrastructure, technology, constant research, a stable environment (political and socio-cultural), the capability of defending the territorial integrity of state and the ability to inspire pride in citizens.” The system we have in place which throws up Johnnys-come-lately into the political arena, is responsible for where we are not a system of government. Times there were when communities sponsored good people for elections, where parties recruited the best and the brightest for offices. Not anymore. Happen along and you may be our saviour. Which serious country desirous of growth leaves its development to chance?

If we have had leaders with vision who successfully diversified our economy to the level where oil and gas aren’t the mainstay of our economy, would the elder statesman be talking about the parliamentary system of government? Golda Meir was once quoted to have said: “All my country has is spirit. We don’t have petroleum dollars. We don’t have mines or great wealth in the ground. We don’t have the support of a worldwide public opinion that looks favourably on us. All Israel has is the spirit of its people. And if the people lose their spirit even the United States of America cannot save us.”

Our institutions are daily being destroyed by people who swore an oath to uphold them. Political party members engage in prudish behaviour and I am horrified by the bawdy behaviour of one party which couldn’t organise a convention but did have two sovereigns.

‬I don’t see how the parliamentary system of government would prevent cudgel-wielding men from beating political opponents or even stop politicians from going on expensive junkets around the world to treat malaria in a hoydenish fashion? Thanks to our no-parliamentary system of government our schools aren’t equipped and our laboratories in the universities do not work.

Until we groom good people for elective office, people who are selfless, driven by a sense of mission, folks who understand the importance of urgency for change, belief in community, do not wear their opinion on their sleeve, avoid flagging religious views in favour of egalitarianism and to stop putting their snout in the trough of the gravy train and free-booting. Even if a Martian comes from Mars on a white horse with Marian ideas to transform Nigeria, we would never go above being the self-proclaimed “Giant of Africa.” How have the governors of the North managed the many companies owned by the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation? Nearly all the companies they once managed are all gone. It was estimated in 2014 that the east needed about NGN 260 billion to fight gully erosion. That amount owing to the exchange rate must have quadrupled to over one trillion naira. Do you hear it mentioned by the eastern people and governments save for members of the international community?

The lack of governance capacity in the Niger Delta is evident in all other sectors except for “our oil” sector. I wonder how Gambia survives without “their oil.” Let’s not discuss the West where everyone looks at Lagos as “our oyster” without developing their oysters and sharing them around. They imagine Lagos would be kind enough to bear the burden of the western states, someday. They may be in for a rude shock. Conscience requires knowledge, and the truth is that, unlike other climes, Nigeria has not been blessed with visionary leaders in politics and this has contributed to our retrogression as a people. A selfish cabal over time mismanaged the natural resources of the country.


And so talk about systems of government without harping on visionary leadership and party politics is not only devious to me, it is serpentine and knavish. Regrettably, that is the sad augury of the Nigerian project. America experimented with confederacy up until 1787 when the system failed. They had been living under the Articles of Confederation (powerful states and a weak federal government) and witnessed disorder and chaos rather than ordered progress.

Now with a powerful centre, they can husband resources to take on mortal enemies of state. They ended the Great Depression and intervened to end not only the Second World War but the Cold War. Without federal power America wouldn’t have been able to draw up a Marshal Plan to build Western Europe after WW II.

America couldn’t have put a man on the moon were it a loose state and wouldn’t have been able to fight natural disasters swiftly and more.Even though confederacy failed in America, their leaders were able to make the presidential system of government work. What have our own leaders succeeded at? Regionalism failed. Military rule failed woefully in Nigeria even though it succeeded in Latin America and South-East Asia. Presidential system has also failed woefully. People run systems, good or bad. We haven’t had the right people in place to run the good race for the benefit of all. Someday someone would say James Faleke wouldn’t have been bypassed for office of Governor of Kogi, were we in a parliamentary system of government. I know better.
‬Abah wrote from Port Harcourt.


In this article:
Tanko Yakassai

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