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‘Presidential system has failed Nigerians’

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Ossai Nicholas Ossai

Hon. Ossai Ossai (PDP) represents Ndokwa/Ukwani Federal Constituency in Delta State. He is also the Secretary of Pro-Parliamentary Legislators agitating for a review of Nigeria’s system of government from presidential to parliamentary. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he examines the pitfalls of presidential system, including cost of elections and exclusion of citizens
 
Last year, your group began agitating for a review of the presidential system of government. In the light of the country’s diversity, do you think the call for parliamentary system is tenable?
I think we are going to carry it to the National Assembly. We have four years to achieve it. We believe in it and that is why we initiated it. It is for citizen inclusion.

But would that not entail another constitutional amendment?
Yes, definitely it is going to entail another constitutional amendment. The bill we are pushing is also about amending the constitution. It is a complete package. If you look at 1960/1963 constitutions when we practiced the parliamentary system of government, you will discover that there were a lot of inputs made and there were a lot of suggestions Nigerians gave and since we have been practising the presidential system of government, it is not cost effective; it is highly expensive to maintain. 

It is a process where the elites hijack the process of power and try to rotate it among themselves. Today, I am part of the elite, but I am also not happy with what is happening to our youths. A lot of our youths have turned beggars. What you see about bandits today is because the grassroots has been abandoned. So, if they see the slightest means to make money, to ride the kind of cars elites ride, they will go after it.

Today, elites are scared to go to their homes because of long-term neglect of all the social structures. How do we now stop the problem? We must start from somewhere. The only way we identified it is that presidential system does not carry the youth along. 

Some of us who feel that the children we are having today must have access to good livelihood and a future need to start today to struggle for it. We do not need to wait for our children to come on board before they can make a change. Go to the North and see the almajiris – the elites in the North have failed to address the problems of the youths. It is a time bomb.

But does the agitation for return to parliamentary system not amount to short-circuiting the restructuring that some Nigerians are clamouring for?
It depends on the perspective you are looking at it. It is the reason why even the vice president said there are different types of restructuring.

When you talk about the parliamentary system of government, you are bringing government down to the people and you are clamping down on the cost of governance, taking most of the money to create enabling environment, create jobs and ensure economic boom. It means you are taking government back to the people. Do you know how much INEC spent in conducting the elections? It makes no sense.

Since 1979, government has sponsored a lot of seminars and study tours to US Capitol. Won’t that compound the huge waste?
All those travels do not have any value to our government. Do you know why? We have a lot of resource persons in this country that can mentor people in government. Where did I get my Masters degree in Legislative Studies? It was in Nigeria. Did I go abroad? Is it the foreigners that taught me? No. I was taught in Nigeria. It should get to a time when every travel by persons in government should be banned or self-sponsored. 

We have a lot of our eggheads that can generate ideas in this country. We do not need foreigners to teach us.
So if you get the parliamentary system bill passed, will there be a moratorium on who should and should not contest election based on the political party system?

The political party system would be maintained. You can see what is happening in France. That is exactly of a hybrid type of parliamentary system of government – a little bit different from what obtains in the United Kingdom. 

The hybrid type welcomes the modern system of governance. You will discover that people who go to parliament are working class and businessmen, who are going there to add a little and not looking at what they can gain from the system. People you can nominate as ministers of the parliament, because they are men of quality.

Do you foresee any shortcoming or danger in the practice of parliamentary system?
I do not foresee any danger as most of my colleagues have already bought into the system already. 

Most importantly, we have shown them the empirical research what we have done on some key indices. They will believe you and accept it. It is only when you have done your research work that people will begin to see disadvantages in what you are proposing. We are going to aggressively pursue it with all the templates we have marshalled out.

What has Nigerians lost under the presidential system?
The masses of Nigerians have completely lost a lot in terms of the method and system through which legislators come to be. They are re-elected without people being carried along. When people are not carried along, they do not think about the law; you are just passing laws for yourself. You pass law when people are connected to it.

Secondly, the presidential system of government has cost us a lot. We have two chambers of National Assembly the country funds today. You are funding about 36 ministers. 

The federal government bureaucracy is bloated. You also find that the party in power cannot even control the system of implementation. But when you have a parliamentary system of government, the party in government is organically made because the party has a sizeable control over its policy makers. 

All you need do is to place your agenda on the table. We want to construct three major roads: One in Abuja down to Benin; two, from Lagos down to Kano, three, you take another one in the North East. You will notice that in two years all the roads would have been completed.

Having put that in place, what will be the multiplier effect of what you have done? The multiplier effect is that more people will now be connected to do business together; the economy of the country will boom and more homes will be economically empowered and access roads to communicate and exchange goods take place. Commerce also increases; take home pay and income of the people increase, and people will be able to pay their children’s school fees and pay taxes to the government. 

Today, we are churning out millions of graduates from universities without having jobs for them to do and then we complain about bandits. 

Have you been to the National Assembly and seen the number of youths begging for money to survive? They are not even talking about marriage. When you see the system you belong that is not progressing, it will make you shed tears. Go to the local communities; they see us as thieves. You think I enjoy being called a thief?

Have you succeeded in having the buy-in of your political party?
Of course, restructuring is part of my legislative interest. Restructuring is number one on the list of my legislative interest and if I can boldly write on my party that one of my cardinal agenda for my legislative business is restructuring, am I not bold enough to have communicated? And that is why the National Assembly must be an e-parliament where they will connect to the masses in a transparent manner.

A lot depends on the chairman of the National Assembly. Would your party play a significant role in the emergence of the chairman of the National Assembly, that is the senate president?
I do not think it is the chairman of the Assembly that coordinates the National Assembly transparently. 

The speaker of the House of Representatives, where my image lies, to choose one that I feel has more capacity to implement and have power to change the course of history, that is where my strength lies and I believe that if the House of Representatives becomes transparent in everything they do and communicates with the media from time to time, there is no way the image of the House will not improve and there is no way a better tomorrow will not come to be.

Between capacity, competence and zoning, which do you think should take primal consideration?
To me, zoning is not a good thing to be imposed on people. Positions are not supposed to be zoned, as I believe people who have capacity from different zones should come out to contest. Zoning brings about mediocrity.

The competent ones will be behind while the ones that are not competent will be on top and I do not like that kind of system. Like in my federal constituency, I do not like zoning. Whoever wants to come out should come out and defeat me if he is more competent. I represent three big local governments.

You are returning to the 9th NASS for a third term. Do you owe your victory to the bandwagon of your party or as a result of your legislative competence?
I am the first person that has gone for third tenure in our federal constituency. People have been going there, sometimes for two tenures and sometimes just one term. But today, I believe I have been able to bring in a new level of leadership with regard to citizen inclusiveness and the capacity to deliver. In fact, many of them said, ‘you are doing well and if you want to run again, please go ahead!’

From your vantage position, what do you think is the reason for the constant problems between state governors and National Assembly members?
I think National Assembly members should be able to connect to their governors. They are not representing themselves; they are representing their constituencies and at the same time becoming image-makers of their states. Even if you are a member of the National Assembly, you should be able to partake in the activities of the state government and respect the leadership of your state, which is the governor.

What do you think will moderate the power between the National Assembly and the Executive, the Presidency?
I think I have given them the template. If the current president wants to work within that template, it is good for him. All he needs to do, even after his inauguration on the May 29, 2019, precisely between May 29 and June 6, all he needs to do is organise a retreat between the president and the legislators. At the retreat, let him declare his focus: “I want to fight this and that; I need this legislation to fight it and I want you to buy into it; how do you see it, I will like your suggestions”. It will resolve issues.

Now the constituency project, for instance, the N100 billion constituencies fund that comes every year to the National Assembly members. All he needs do is bring all together and take things one after other.

The education sector, we can plough the N100 billion into it so as to revive our educational institutions. Let quality job be done according to specification. If all National Assembly constituency projects for that year are into education, there is no way our education will not grow. 

The following year, you go to the agricultural sector and say we are diversifying our economy and will like to plough in N100 billion to increase food production and sustenance. 

Then you come to the judiciary and tell them, the executive cannot work without you. The process of dispensation of justice within three or six months will attract investors into our country. When there is this kind of synergy, there is no way investors will not come and make a lot of investments, which will improve the employment of our youths. But when you come and say you want to chase corruption, then how would it work? Can one man combat corruption?

Have you been to the National Assembly and seen the number of youths begging for money to survive? They are not even talking about marriage. When you see the system you belong that is not progressing, it will make you shed tears. Go to the local communities; they see us as thieves. You think I enjoy being called a thief?


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