What if there is no road ahead?
Chief Bisi Akande, who turned 79 on Tuesday January 16, has joined the debate on whether it is the structure of Nigeria or the form of government that is the problem with our polity. Akande has been an involved observer of the system for almost 40 years. He was a councillor at Ila Local Government before going into the Constituent Assembly that produced the Presidential Constitution mid-wifed by the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime. Now, Akande believe the presidential system is a problem for it gives politicians the latitude for spectacular thievery. He would prefer that Nigeria should return to Parliamentary Democracy which was practiced until the military intervention in January 1966.
“Nigeria’s democracy is a military democracy of sharing and if we continue like this, there is no way we can succeed,” he said. “Evidence-based analysis has proven parliamentary democracy to be the most accountable, transparent form of government in the whole world.” He cited the examples of the United Kingdom, Israel and India which have become strong, stable and prosperous by practicing parliamentary democracy.
Let us remember that Akande is a valued friend of President Muhammadu Buhari and he contributed greatly in bring him to power. However, Buhari and members of his court do not share Akande’s passion for constitutional reforms. So far, the All Progressive Congress, APC, which has been in power since 2015, has shown sufficient determination not to look backward to reflect whether we have indeed missed our way to the future.
When Akande was elected into the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 Constitution, Nigerians were not in the mood for parliamentary form of government anymore. Indeed, General Murtala Muhammed, who inaugurated the Constitution Drafting Committee, headed by Chief Rotimi Williams in 1976, strongly recommended the presidential system. When General Obasanjo inaugurated the Constituent Assembly in 1977, he made it abundantly clear that the military would prefer that the assembly endorse the presidential system. I cannot remember now whether any member even raises the possibility of Nigeria returning to the parliamentary system. The assembly enthusiastically endorsed the presidential system.
Now Chief Akande, who has been a part of the system from the beginning till now, is having a rethink. May be we are wrong he says. He is now an old man and if he cannot do anything, he can at least tell us the truth. And we know truth is bitter and there is no honey to make it sweet especially if you are in power. Akande’s friends are in Abuja and they may not want anyone to spoil their appetite.
While in the Constituent Assembly in 1977, Akande jointed the Committee of Friends which later metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. None of the presidential candidates in 1979; Awolowo, Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, Waziri Ibrahim of the Great Nigerian Peoples Party, GNPP and Aminu Kano of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, voiced any disagreement with the presidential system. They all experienced the turbulence of the First Republic and its tragic aftermath.
But the First Republic collapsed and therefore, Obasanjo and his men felt the system may have something to do with that tragedy. They found the American system more attractive and suitable. The President would have full executive powers and he would be the repository of our sovereignty. He would not share the national focus with a Prime-Minister. Indeed, he would be the government.
The Americans were the one who invented the presidential system of government. After the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the resultant War of Independence, It was felt that to defeat the powerful British government, America needed a central figure. They wanted a king, but their leader, George Washington, refused to be crowned a king. His supporters put pressure on him so that he could become King George the First of the United States, but he was adamant. They finally settled down for the title of President who would have a definite term of office. Grateful American citizens, mindful of the immeasurable contribution of Washington to the birth of the Republic, named the country’s capital in his honour. Today, the Washington Monument remains the highest structure in Washington, in the District of Columbia, DC.
But Nigeria did not have such a history of heroism, with flashing swords and bloodshed. We received our independence from the same British on what Dr Azikiwe called “a platter of gold.” So Akande and his colleagues in the Constituent Assembly gave us the 1979 Constitution. On the strength of the Constitution, he became the Secretary to the Government under Governor Bola Ige of old Oyo State. When Ige’s deputy, Chief Sunday Afolabi, resigned to look for his oga’s job, Akande was sworn-in as Deputy Governor. When Ige and other former governors were put in prison in 1984 by the Major-General Muhammadu Buhari dictatorship, Akande was railroaded with them.
He was released from prison by the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and during the era of General Sani Abacha, Akande was in the vanguard of Afenifere and the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. He became Governor of Osun State in 1999 and ran the shop until 2003 when Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola rode to town. He was the interim Chairman of the APC that helped to midwife the birth of the party and the birthed the Buhari Presidency. Now he wants us to look back and see whether the presidential system may not be leading us on the wrong route.
On December 30, 1983, the defunct National Concord carried a front-page story titled: Genesis of the Slump! The story highlighted how the expensive presidential system under Shagari which it stated played a key role in undermining the buoyancy of the Nigerian economy. Last year the total expenditure for all Federal universities and the Universal Basic Education Programme was N495 billion. The National Assembly budget for the same period was N125 billion. Neither the University of Ibadan nor the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with their armies of professors, attracts more than a fraction of the money we expend on the National Assembly and its fat cats. This is not a pattern of development of a serious country. Indeed it is a recipe for perpetual underdevelopment.
We need to thank Chief Akande for having the courage to speak up. His rumination is also a wake-up call that we need to embrace the politics of ideas instead of always talking of projects, consumption and abuse. The idea of going back to parliamentary system is an idea that is worth re-examining. This republic, to prosper and thrive, should not be for the feeding of politicians alone.
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