The presidential system is good for Nigeria
The two great systems of political governance known to the world of democracy, the parliamentary and the presidential, have been embraced by Nigeria since independence in 1960.
More than most democratic or semi-democratic nations, Nigerians are well-placed to assess the two political systems vis-à-vis the priority of their society.
The impact the presidential system of government is capable of having on a society that is as heterogeneous as ours may not necessarily be the same as the parliamentary alternative.
The Westminster-type parliamentary system is a product of historical evolution while the American presidential system came into being following the Connecticut Convention of 1787.
The presidential constitution itself was more or less the endorsement of views canvassed by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, among others. Anyone who has read the Federalist Papers will appreciate the great thinking that went into every element of the American Constitution.
Although the American Constitution has been amended several times since its adoption, the great tribute to the purposefulness of the American people is in the fact that there has been no other constitutional convention since the Connecticut one.
The American Constitution provides two methods of amendment. The first method is for a Bill to pass both Houses of the Legislature by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the Bill has passed both Houses, it goes into the states.
The second method prescribed is for a constitutional convention to be called by two-thirds of the Legislature of the states but this one has never been used. An amendment must be ratified, or approved, by three-quarters of states.
Of course there have been debates by American academics on the merits of the parliamentary system as an alternative to the presidential one but such debates have ended up endorsing the latter. The ever-expanding American nation has become more complex than it was when the constitution was promulgated in 1787; thirty-seven states having been added to the Union.
Were the American people to opt for the parliamentary system of government today, the immediate impact would be the emergence of ethnic political parties and a weakened American nation. The reason America has been a two-party state for the greater part of its history is because of the unifying influence of the presidency.
Let me quickly remind readers here that America has meticulously kept a timetable of four-yearly presidential elections since 1789 when the first president was elected. In spite of our shortcomings, we have also kept such timetable since an uninterrupted democratic practice from 1999 to date. In political systems where the sustenance of governments depends on coalitions, the type of stability or predictability we are talking about here can hardly be guaranteed.
This writer’s bias is for the presidential system of government and he makes no apology in asserting that Nigeria’s borrowed presidential constitution has revealed greater potential for unity and stability than the erstwhile parliamentary system practised between 1960 and 1966. The presidential system is more or less a form of coalition that brings a heterogeneous group together.
The president has the entire nation as his or her constituency, while the powers of government are shared responsibilities between the three arms of government. There is no basis for a “government of national unity” because, in an ideal situation, every political party that has an elected representative is inclusively in government.
Our experience of the parliamentary system is that of a nation partitioned into government and opposition along ethnic lines. The political parties were ethnic-based and political alliances were about which ethnic groups were prepared to work together. Every ethnic group had one derogatory name for the other and key politicians had no qualms about insulting the other group even on television.
The outlook was never like it is with the nearly-homogeneous British people and each time we disagreed among ourselves we ended up calling for a government of national unity. The history of parliamentarism in Nigeria is a history of ethnic bickering and turbulence and one wonders why some are still nostalgic for it.
Of course it cannot be contradicted that the presidential system is a lot more expensive than the parliamentary one but its appropriateness for our society more than compensates for that. However, the cost of a chosen political arrangement must not be confused with the corruption and profligacy of political actors.
The level of financial recklessness in the Nigerian polity is endemic, a reflection of the quality of our political actors and the environment in which they operate.
No state governor in the United States goes about dispensing public money as if it were his or her inheritance. The problem of accountability in our society invites urgent attention.
However, the position of this writer is that we should adapt the borrowed presidential system to the realities of our society. Many nations have succeeded in adapting either the presidential system or the parliamentary alternative; in fact, France and Switzerland have successfully married both. It makes sense for us to embrace the principle of leadership rotation, not least because leadership has been the most contentious issue in our nation’s history. The ones that argue against leadership rotation are the very ones who would grumble most were the next three presidents of Nigeria to come from a particular region of the federation.
The presidential system of government is not complicated for Nigerians. In fact, it should be taken as an insult that a system that has been in practice in one nation for more than 200 years is considered to be complicated for Nigerians of the 21st century.
A people have to be disciplined and focused in order to make progress in whatever political arrangement they have agreed among themselves. The honest truth is that we lack that discipline and focus required for upward advancement in the modern world.
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