‘Poverty in the land is scandalous’
Abeny Mohammed SAN an Ilorin based legal practitioner and Human Rights activist believes that Parliamentary system of government remains the best form of governance that can bolster the distressing economy of a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria. He spoke with Abiodun Fagbemi in Ilorin
Parliamentary experience in Nigeria
Before Nigeria’s independence in 1960 a quasi-parliamentary system of government, under the British rule was in operation. In 1959 Tafawa Balewa emerged the Prime Minister, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Governor General and Obafemi Awolowo, Leader of Opposition. In 1963, Republican Constitution emerged turning Azikiwe into a Ceremonial President. In 1965, the election was massively rigged leading to protests and wanton destruction of lives and property especially in the defunct South Western region of Nigeria.
This system of government ensured that the party with the highest number of votes produced the Prime Minister. There was nothing then like the Senate as we have it today. But we had something similar to the House of Representatives, which we called the Parliament. We had the House of Chiefs at the regional level and Federal Parliament. The Head of the Executive was the Prime Minister. There was party discipline at that time and the spirit of winners take it all was not visible. But before the Prime Minister could pass a Bill he must secured the majority votes at the parliament.
Advantages of parliamentary system over presidential system
One thing with the system is that it is cheaper. The Prime Minister did not have personal assistants, aides and so on as we are have today. The system was the same at the regional level where the party with the majority votes formed the government and the Head of the executive arm at that level was Governor General. I could recollect then that Sir Adesoji Aderemi the then Ooni of Ife was the Chairman of the House of Chiefs in the defunct Western region.
There was Federalism in operation then where the regions were allowed to develop at their own pace. In fact the revenue sharing formula then was 50 per cent to the region and 50 per cent to the Federal. Whatever Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) collected at the regional level were left at the regions for their socio, political and economic developments. The development and structure made the center not to be attractive.
This system brought out the best in the Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who used the advantages to its maximum level developing the region and thus became a pace setters. He set up the first television station in Africa, first ultra modern stadium, Cocoa House, and most importantly, the introduction of compulsory Free Universal Primary Education. Other regions were envious of his achievements but the zeal to steal from the treasury was not there because it would be senseless for any politician to be stealing from the money generated at his region and for the development of the region.
The western region was producing Cocoa, Palm oil and the Midwest when it was carved out of the West. The Northern region had groundnut pyramid. But what the North was making from the groundnut could not go round the region due to its vast land mass. But the beauty of it all was that each of the existing regions worked at a very fast tempo to outsmart others.
Again, the appointments of 36 ministers and ministers of state were not there. The Prime Minister had Secretary but certainly not all the manners of aides, including Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs, attached to the Presidency today. The existing acrimony between the Governors and the Houses of Assembly was not there as the party that produced the Premier controlled the House. There were less tension and the issue of bribery before bills were passed was almost zero. Wastages inherent in Presidential system were eradicated.
Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMFC) checks on misappropriation
It is true that the RMFC monitors the money accruing to the cadre of government and determines what public office holders would take. But have you forgotten the recent padding issue where monies were inserted inside the budget? Till date, no culprit has been brought to book on the issue. So you can see better the point I am making.
A return to the Parliamentary system
I want to say yes to a return to it. The system as experienced between 1959 and 1966 brought about rapid growth to Nigeria as a nation through the then existing regions. The experiment was very short, a mere six years. The military struck and this ushered us into the Presidential system that had done us no better thing despite its age long introduction in Nigeria. Don’t forget that before the demise of Chief Anthony Enahoro he embraced a return to Parliamentary system. So also elder statesmen like Alhaji Maitama Sule and Gen Alani Akinrinade rtd. The British, our colonial master handed it over to us and believed it was the best form of governance so if we return to it, it is a worthwhile venture.
We are practising Presidential system of government due to ego and crave for large scale corruption. Presidential system is preferable. We are not practising true Federalism system unlike the United States. We are only copying. It is sad that we have fragments of states that are not viable; they are merely struggling for survival. Many of the states constitute parasites to the Federal government and the viable states that are contributing to the National treasury. What they do is to come to the FCT every month to collect fiscal allocations. It is saddening that while many Nigerians want a return to Parliamentary system others don’t want it. To put it straight, many people from the South-South, South-East and South-West would prefer Parliamentary system. What we have today is the amalgam of states that do not encourage growth but corruption. We are practising Unitary System referring to it as Presidential system.
Nigeria under Muhammadu Buhari
President Buhari says he is fighting corruption but ironically, people are daily being pauperised. The rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. The poor are the ones paying for utilities. There are bribes everywhere; court clerks, police at check points, government officers and so on get themselves involved with impunity. People loot the treasury with ease, claiming that no region owns the money so stolen. We are at present groping in the dark. I believe that when we fight corruption, it should not be at the expense of the poor.
Buhari and APC change mantra
It is true that they told us that things will get better but are you aware of the people dying on daily basis due to poverty? So the big question is that how many people will survive to see the so-called better days ahead? Honestly, I was in Primary One when Nigeria obtained her independence some 56 years ago, and I can say that we have never had it so bad in terms of electricity supply, prices of essential commodities, pump prices and so on. Why call the government the government of the people? We have heard of some recovered loot why can’t the money so recovered be used to alleviate the suffering of less privileged Nigerians? We pray such money would not go back to the hands of individuals again.
I agree that we should fight corruption but the present government should not do it at the expense of innocent masses. There is no electricity supply for instance yet we are made to pay heavily for what is not consumed. Is that how to fight corruption? It is indeed a double tragedy. I am fairly disappointed because this is not the change we clamoured for. Do you know that if I want to charge my clients like a member of the Silk I will go jobless. How many Nigerians at present have the capacity to pay the charges of the SAN? Buhari’s style of governance is like tightening the ropes on already strangulated Nigerians. I pray Mr. President will quickly gauge the extent of the suffering that majority of Nigerians are passing through today and do something about it.