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Diversionary debate on parliamentary system

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Members of the House of Representatives

Our national penchant for chasing shadows while others are celebrating substance knows no limits. Our leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats keep gambling with our destiny on sundry ideas that have no affinity with our culture. They keep running down our institutions by such intuition in 21st century that knowledge power drives.

Our leaders are on the march again for such frivolities. It is therefore not curious that a group of parliamentarians the other day presented a bill that aims to return the nation to a parliamentary form of government. As usual, some groups have come out in support of this political diversion. This is most preposterous. It portrays a shallow understanding of the challenges, which face us as a people.

Let’s not get it twisted, our problem is not the form of government that we run. The human beings who operate the current presidential system are yet to live up to their obligations and responsibilities. Simply put, if we adopt the best form of government and place persons without integrity in charge, the system will fail woefully.

When the nation gained independence in 1960, the preferred form of government was parliamentary. The regions also had their parliaments and had a degree of stability. At the national level, the big issues were canvassed with fervour. There was great hope that Nigeria would lead the African continent in terms of education, political maturity, economic and infrastructure development. But by January 1966 those hopes were dashed when the first military coup took place and sacked the politicians and political leaders from office. The politicians and leaders then were accused of mismanaging the political process. No doubt, the parliamentary system was strong then because it promoted accountability and open governance. There were also strong and committed politicians in the Federal House of Assembly.

Along the line, the huge political differences between some towering figures led to crisis in the Western Region. The general elections of 1965 were a test on our lack of capacity to domesticate democracy. Rigging and election fraud were common. Carpet-crossing and other forms of unethical behaviour became the norm. At the time the thinking was that the parliamentary system gave too much room for contestations and arguments. With the benefit of hindsight those arguments were healthy. The nation was impatient with itself.

It was against this background that in 1979 the nation opted for a presidential system of government fashioned after the American model. It was believed that the presidential system was more suited for our polity. But it soon collapsed when the politicians returned to their old ways of graft, corruption and prebendalism. The military struck again in December 1983 and after many years in power they became a part of the problem. Some of the wealthiest persons in the country today are former military officers. They came, sacked democratisation, saw wealth and virtually stole the country blind and did so with profound arrogance and disdain for the people. Now the country is bleeding from consequences of long military rule and politics.

Their (military) Third Republic took off in 1992 with great optimism and it collapsed like a pack of cards in November 1993. The Fourth Republic took off with a glimmer of hope in May 1999. But in doing so, a patently false document in the name of a constitution was foisted on the Nigerian people. For although the 1999 Constitution starts with ‘We the people…’, the people did not really participate in its drafting or ratification. And because a constitution is the autobiography of a people we unwittingly promoted a false narrative about ourselves. Suffice it to say that until it is revisited that lie will continue to haunt us. Yet it remains the legal document that guides governance in Nigeria. No living Nigerian can boast that the politicians have been faithful to the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution. This is the crux of the matter: the savage infidelity of the average Nigerian politician.

Besides, the parliamentary system is not indigenous to Nigeria. The presidential is also strange to us. We should therefore adopt measures and procedures from both that would make our nation a better place. The selection processes in producing leaders have been severely vulnerable to all forms of abuse. The consequence is that we do not often put up our first eleven for leadership. Mediocrity has been entrenched. The best person does not have to get the coveted position. This affects all levels of public life. It was in that convention that a former strong contender to the presidency was described as ‘the best president Nigeria never had’. Such chicanery has become the order of the day.

The truth therefore, if we may borrow the words of the immortal Shakespeare in the eponymous play Julius Caesar, is that, ‘the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.’ What is the calibre of men and women we have in the National Assembly? A significant number of them are facing charges in law courts. A couple of them have been indicted. One senator is already in jail for corruption. In saner climes, such persons would not be allowed to desecrate the legislature with their tainted presence. Tragically even a legislator who had been sentenced to a jail term has been receiving his monthly salary! Most former governors are under investigation for corruption.

What is worse, the Senate has become a safe haven for former governors with giant skeletons in their cupboards. What kind of persons do we produce as leaders? What do they stand for morally and otherwise? These are politicians who lack any principle or any ideological commitment. Some have changed political parties over three times. Is this the error of the system of government that we practise? We need men and women of honour to pilot the affairs of Nigeria to the Promised Land. We need a reform of the political party system along the lines of commitment. The incumbent government has not helped matters. A soft-landing is often given state officials being investigated for graft but who are either members of the ruling party or who defect from the opposition. We have made our nation a laughing stock in the eyes of discerning Nigerians and the international community.

Doubtless, the Presidential system is expensive to run. But it need not be operated the way we currently do. The overhead cost in the National Assembly is immoral. It is out of sync with the spirit of the times. There are too many aides who do nothing to earn their pay. There are too many frivolous standing committees in federal legislature. The luxury cars on the convoy of state officials should be discarded. We once had ‘operation low profile’ in this country. Where is our conscience? We have a selfish and rapacious set of individuals operating the legislative arm of government, for instance. Their thoughts and actions are not in favour of the people. They have not made any far-reaching laws that impacted on the people. They are blind to the hardship in the land. They live in opulence while millions go to bed without food. This is an insulting contradiction. The executive arm too has been uninspiring. They blame predecessors instead of thinking and working.

This newspaper believes that it is not the political system that promotes this culture of extreme greed. It is the nature of these ignoble men and women in office and power.

In the main, let’s all understand that neither a parliamentary nor a presidential system is the panacea to our problems. We need to conduct free and fair elections. We need to stop money politics and vote buying. We need a neutral umpire at elections. We need men and women of character, honour and probity at the helm of affairs at all levels. We need leaders who think Nigeria. We need a society where committing crime and meting out adequate punishment help to entrench the noble ideals of justice, fairness and equity. We need a society where no man is oppressed, where though religion, tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we shall stand at all times. Let’s not blame the system. Let the operators change their ways and the system will be healthy for the common good.


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