Call for return to parliamentary system sparks debate

Since 1999 when the journey to civil rule began, having witnessed military rule for over 15 years, there have been arguments and counter-arguments as to the best form of democratic government for Nigeria.

While some have argued that the American styled presidential system of government which Nigeria practised between 1979 and 1983, and which is currently in practice, remains the best for Nigeria, others want a return to the parliamentary system which the British bequeathed to Nigeria at independence in 1960.

Those who are pushing for a return to what Nigeria’s colonial masters, Britain, handed down to the country in 1960, which is parliamentarianism, have argued that such a system would eliminate wastages in governance and ensure accountability.

They insist that with such a system of government in place, there would be no need for a two-chamber legislature- that is the Senate and the House of Representatives; instead, the country would make do with a unicameral legislature, which is less expensive and less cumbersome.

This, they argued, would cut down drastically on the amount of money used to run a bicameral legislature.

Recall that in the parliamentary system of government, the head of the government, who is the Prime Minister, is chosen from among the lawmakers or parliamentarians. He/she is always from the political party that has the majority in the parliament. And the ministers are also picked from among the lawmakers. This, the proponents of the system argued, would reduce, to the barest minimum, the cost of governance.

However, those pushing for the presidential system which was copied from the United States of America in 1979, have also argued that the system ensures checks and balances, as no organ or arm of government, represented by the executive, the legislature or the judiciary, can wield arbitrary powers.

It is their belief that absolute powers corrupt absolutely and to prevent a powerdrunk politician from riding roughshod over the masses, there is the need for each arm of government to act as watchdog and check the excesses of the other.

What is needed, according to them, is to modify the current system to suit Nigeria’s peculiarities as evidenced in its diversity.

But, the argument has refused to die. It has continued to rage on, with the House of Representatives exhuming the argument on the need for Nigeria to return to parliamentary system of government, considering the current economic realities in the country.

On Wednesday last week, a bill to return Nigeria to parliamentary democracy passed the first reading at the lower legislative chamber of the national assembly.

The bill, co-sponsored by about 60 lawmakers from across party lines, is expected to be gazetted for the second reading, before it would be referred to the Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, for further legislative actions.

Briefing journalists at the National Assembly (NASS) complex in Abuja, after the bill scaled the first reading, Wale Raji, noted that the idea behind the proposed bill was to initiate a conversation about the possibility of transitioning from the current presidential system to a less expensive parliamentary system of government.

The bill, if passed into law, would have the new system of government kick off in 2031.

“We anticipate that the process may not necessarily conclude with the current administration. We expect it to extend beyond 2027, with the actual commencement potentially in 2031. It’s a gradual process that we have now initiated,” he noted.

Speaking on behalf of the 60 lawmakers that sponsored the bill, Hon Abdusamad Dasuki, said: “Today, we stand on the cusp of history as lawmakers from different parties and regions, to present bills proposing constitutional alterations for a transition to a Parliamentary System of Government.”

He noted that the proposed alteration, if passed, would significantly impact the national political landscape, even as he highlighted the imperfections in the current presidential system, to include high cost of governance, excessive executive powers, and lack of direct accountability to the people, among others.

The bill seeks to return Nigeria to the governance system of the First Republic, which was characterised by accountability, responsibility, and responsiveness, ultimately being less expensive.

The changes outlined in the bills include replacing the President with a Prime Minister as the Head of Government, and establishing the office of the President as a ceremonial leader.

Other proposed changes involved shifting the process of electing governors and chairmen of local governments from the general elections to voting within their respective legislative bodies, aiming to streamline administration, reduce bureaucratic hurdles, and enhance collaboration between the executive and legislative arms.

Dasuki and his group are of the view that a streamlined executive branch could bring about a smaller central government, leading to reduction in expenses, and that electing officials from the parliament could save costs spent on state and nationwide campaigns.

The bill also aims to spark a national conversation and encourage public debates, stakeholders’ consultations, and informed decision-making processes about the future of Nigeria’s governance system.

Commenting on the move, the president of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Pogu Bitrus, said even though the parliamentary system would be cheaper for Nigerians, the presidential system currently in operation could still serve Nigerians if well modified.

He stressed that much as the parliamentary system was welcomed by him, what Nigeria needs was restructuring so that the current presidential system could be modified to suit Nigeria appropriately.

He also stated that whether the country would return to the parliamentary system or not was a decision for Nigerians to take after they must have debated on it.

He said: “I am one who feels that the American system, which we adopted, can still be modified and corrected to serve this nation appropriately. All we need to do is to restructure the country so that there will be some real good representations.

“Another thing is to ensure that the western system we copied is not a holistic thing. We should modify it to serve our own peculiarity. The parliamentary system will definitely work for us; it is cheaper than the presidential system, but it is left for Nigerians to debate on it and see which will work better for us.

“But, I still believe that with restructuring, this presidential system, which we currently operate, will still serve us well.”

On his part, a former House of Assembly member in Katsina State, Hon Yusuf Shehu, said he was in total support of the move for the country to return to parliamentary system.

He said the system is best for Nigeria, and that was why the British who colonized Nigeria bequeathed the system to the country at independence.

“Don’t forget that it was the system given to us by our colonial masters, Great Britain. They gave us our constitution and they considered our makeup before introducing the system to us. I believe they know it is the system that is best for us.

“Secondly, the system is less expensive and it promotes unity. Nigeria is diverse in culture, religion and tribe. The British knew about this diversity before they introduced the parliamentary system because it would suit our differences in culture and traditions.

“Remember that the presidential system was copied from America by the military and forced on us in 1979. It is alien to us. The parliamentary system is much cheaper than the presidential system. Under the parliamentary system, the prime minister is selected among the ministers.

“Under the parliamentary system, the states or the federating units are more powerful than the centre, but in the presidential system, the centre is more powerful than the states; it shouldn’t be so.

“Even the recent calls for the creation of state police would not have arisen if we were in a parliamentary state because the state would have been given the power constitutionally to take care of things like security, natural resources and others.

“So, the bill for Nigeria to return to the parliamentary system is a welcome idea. I learnt it has even passed the second reading. So, we are expecting the third reading before the presidential assent, so that it can become law in Nigeria.

“I support the move completely, and in fact, the situation in Nigeria today, calls for total revisit of the constitution,” he stated.

In his contribution, the president of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, equally threw his weight behind the call for a return to parliamentary system of government.

For him, the system would throw up good leaders, instead of the poor, incompetent and mediocre crop of leaders that the presidential system encourages.

He said: “I have no problem with the parliamentary system of government because the way our politicians are taking advantage of the center is not going to augur well in the nearest future.

“A situation where every Tom, Dick, and Harry can just go to the center and receive the blessing of one Godfather will not augur well for us in the nearest future.

“We can also not sustain a system where governors will sit down, fold their arms, and expect miracles to fall from the center.

“So, for me, it is only when we have a parliamentary system in place that the states can become more viable. Only then, will the states begin to harness their resources.

“This is because the constitution will spell out the percentage that the state or region will pay to the center. That way, the center will be less attractive and at that point, we will begin to produce good leaders because whether you have money or not, once you come from a community that can vouch for your antecedents that are good, you are good to go.

“But under the current system where somebody in Abuja will force an armed robber, or a fraudster on the people, you don’t expect to produce good leaders.

“For me, I welcome the parliamentary system of government because that is what fits Nigeria. That is what fits us as a country; we don’t have to borrow from America or Russia because they are not the same with us. And other people in any other country are not the same as us.

“We are Nigerians and we must be able to work with things we feel that can benefit us and that are good for us.

“So, I welcome the parliamentary system of government and it is the parliamentary system of government that can give Nigerians the state police we are all talking about.”


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