10 September 2012

Nigeria: Fresh Crave for Parliamentary System

Like the agitation for state police in the face of perceived ineffective federal policing, the call for a reversion to parliamentary system of government because of the cost of running a presidential system was a major consideration at the just concluded Yoruba Assembly in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. But this was soon followed by a heated debate in the court of public opinion. In this discourse, Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Anayo Okolie and Ayodele Opiah explore this renewed debate in the light of the Nigerian situation

The cost of running government in this clime has always been an issue. To keep and maintain government, unfortunately at all levels, is scandalous when subjected to financial interpretations. This, however, has been traced to the presidential system of government which is believed to encourage a rather needlessly large cabinet with corresponding financial implications. And given the peculiarity of the Nigerian state, her heterogeneity has always provided an escape route for the costly system. Yet, this has continued to have far-reaching implications on good governance which is the whole essence of government.

The impact of this became pronounced when sometime ago, salaries of government officials, especially the elected parliamentarians stirred up debate in the court of public opinion. Although, the humongous figures being brandished as salaries of elected officials are said not to be entirely correct by those close to the corridors of power, that there is an element of truth in the assertion is what has not been disputed and makes such debate imperative.

Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, a member of the General Alani Akinriande tink-tank, while speaking at the Yoruba Assembly meeting said the presidential system being practised now is too expensive- a factor he said enabled the system to breed corruption. Besides, he said the Federal Government takes more than half of the total revenue earned by the country and only doles out the remnant to the 36 federating states as well as the 774 local governments. He, therefore, submitted that the system was designed to deliver poverty and squalor to the citizenry as a result of insufficient funding of the component units.

Famakinwa also advocated the evolvement of a new constitution as well as the restructuring of the country, which according to him, has become the only imminent sine qua-non for progress and development, disclosing that the region will communicate its position to other ethnic groups in the country with a view to also prompting them to taking a cue from South-west's push for regional autonomy and join the struggle.

Profligacy of Presidential System

The presidential system of government which Nigeria presently operates was copied from the United States of America when the country returned to Democracy in 1999 after a long period of military interregnum. Thus, Nigeria subsequently operates a bi-camera legislature which comprises 109 senators and 306 members in the House of Representatives.

But since Nigeria's adoption of this system, there have been myriad of problems as the system seems not to be working for the country. Government, by virtue of this system, constitutes a burden on the people as its recurrent expenditure is always higher than its capital expenditure which has continued to impact negatively on the economy.

For example, from 1999 to date, official statistics from the Federal Ministry of Finance indicates that the three levels of government were said to have shared from the federation account, a staggering sum of N36. 4 trillion

But despite the huge resources, governments at all levels still face the challenge of delivering dividends of democracy to the people as the cost of running government remains at great discomfort . Currently, while N2.472 trillion is proposed for recurrent expenditure in the budget, a figure that accounts for the 72 percent of the total budget, a paltry sum of N1.32 trillion, representing 28 per cent, is fixed for capital projects.

From statistics, the budgetary implication is that less than one percent of the population consumes the over 80 percrnt of the budget. Nigeria is therefore in this mess because of the over-bloated public offices in the federal, state and local governments which have continued to hamper adequate delivery of democratic dividends to the people.

Ironically, the National Assembly is fingered as the most expensive arm of government because of its high cost of maintenance. For example, an average Nigerian senator is said to earn more than the US President, fuelling opinions that the presidential system is unsustainable in the face of the country's dwindling economic fortunes.

Fears that the nation's economy may collapse soon was heightened last year when the Governor of the Central Bank (CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi, raised the alarm by drawing the attention to the high cost of maintaining members of the National Assembly. According to Sanusi, N158.91 billion was spent on the legislature's overhead last year which amounted to 25 percent of the total budget.

According to reports, the quarterly allowance for a Senator is N45million and N42 million for a member of the House of Representatives. The salary and allowances reportedly approved by the RMAFC for political, public and judicial office holders with effect from July 2009 allocate to a senator, an annual emolument of N8, 206, 920 while a member of the House earns an annual income of N6,352, 680. Each senator is said to be entitled to N11, 145, 200 in allowances, which the RMAFC described as non-regular. It is collected at the beginning of the tenure.

The total annual emoluments, however, comprise the basic salary, which is N2, 026, 400 for a senator and N1,985, 212.50 for a member of the House. Besides, there are allowances for vehicle maintenance, fueling, personal assistants, house maintenance, domestic staff, entertainment, utilities, constituency, newspapers and periodicals. The non-regular allowances include accommodation (N3, 039, 600 for a senator); furniture allowance (also N3, 039, 600); and vehicle loan (N5, 066, 000). Besides, each Senator is entitled to an annual leave allowance of N202, 640.

The non-regular allowances of the members of the House include: accommodation allowance of N2, 977, 818.75; furniture allowance, N2, 977, 818.75; vehicle allowance, N4, 963, 031.25, leave allowance: N198, 521.25 per annum.

Also, the Senate President earns N7, 452, 727.50 while his deputy and other senators will get N6,927, 500.25 and 6,079, 200 respectively. For severance gratuity, a senator and member of the House will take home 300 percent of his annual basic salary.

In the House, the severance gratuity as approved by the RMAFC, is N7, 431, 330 for the Speaker; N6,861,102.75 for the deputy and N5,955, 637.50 for others.

To buttress the fact that Nigeria squanders her huge resources on over bloated public officers, a rights group, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), came out with a report which indicated that a huge sum of N1.15 trillion is being spent annually on 17,500 public officers and their retinue of over 24,000 aides, despite report that Nigeria has the lowest public service productivity index in the world.

In the report signed by the group's Chairman, Board of Trustees, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi, it listed the public officers wasting such funds as 3,096 local government executives and 8,692 councilors of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, 1,152 House of Assembly members, 469 federal lawmakers, among others.

With such facts, calls for a return to the parliamentary system had been constant even though not much attention has been accorded it by those in authority. The mood is also usually controlled by the prevailing socio-political situation at the given time.

The Court of Public Opinion

Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), had once said in a newspaper interview that all the arms of governments were involved in acts of profligacy. According to him, "the question of whether or not Nigeria needs a bicameral legislature cannot be detached from the question of whether or not Nigeria needs the presidential system. The high cost of running government is not restricted to the legislature but, indeed, starts with the executive, at the federal, state, or local government level.

"I believe that we just have to take a decision, and go back to the Parliamentary System, which is less costly but more effective. We can only do this through the instrumentality of a National Conference. But the present National Assembly cannot bring it about, for several obvious reasons. We have an excessive system of government with 37 Chief Executives at the federal and state levels in terms of the president and governors with their deputies.

"America perceived as the richest and most powerful country in the world does not run our type of excessive government. Most of the earnings of the various governments in Nigeria are dissipated on recurrent expenditures at the expense of capital projects," he said, canvassing the need for to revert to parliamentary system.

Former Work Minister, Senator Seye Ogunlewe, also said "it is cheaper, accountable and reliable to allow policy makers to be responsible to their parliament. In the parliamentary system, you have to vote for the people that will rule you than that of the presidential system where you vote for only two people- the president and the vice president and the president has to appoint his own ministers that will not be accountable or relevant to the parliament.

"That is the kind of system we have in Nigeria. It is not going to help the country. Semi-dictatorship and will be very difficult for Nigeria to grow in this kind of system. In the parliamentary system, you have to vote for everybody that is going to be part of the administration that the parliament can hold responsible for any interruption or failure to deliver dividends of good governance to their parliament. Every participant in the administration is not accountable to one person like the federal system where all the minister are appointed by the President and are not effective in their respective duty to deliver to their parliament; they report to the president, vice president, senate president, and the speaker," he said.

The former Works minister said: "It is the most corrupt and dangerous system to run and it will not help in terms of development and transparency in a country like Nigeria," adding that the Legislature has to change it. "Our policy makers have to do something about it. Ghana is a parliamentary system but they still have president. So, why don't we emulate Ghana? Their president and the other arms of government are all accountable to their parliament. There government is doing perfectly well in terms of delivery and transparency to their parliament. So, why don't we do the same thing rather than depend on one person to decide on what do? The presidential system is not good for Nigeria- a developing country. So, our policy maker has to do something about it fast."

On his part, former Anambra State governor, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, said during the independence in 1960, Nigeria adopted the parliamentary system of government and obviously in keeping faith with Britain which had practised for decades. But the parliamentary system, the former governor said, may not have been imposed on Nigeria, rather, it was taken for granted from speeches by delegates to the constitutional conferences that Britain was resolved to transfer to Nigeria and other former colonies, the system practised in their country.

He noted that the parliamentary system had worked well in Britain but that it didn't mean that what worked in Britain must work in the British colonies. Ghana, after their Independence for example, voted to jettison the parliamentary system and replaced it with presidential system taking example from America.

"After six years of parliamentary hiccups or of wobbling and fumbling, the system, in 1966 finally crashed with a coup and take-over of the government. Through various attempts at constitutional conferences here at home, Nigeria finally emerged with a presidential constitution and government akin to that of the United States of America whose system of government and administration we adopted despite the constant rising and falling under series of military incursions and interregnum beginning with General Aguiyi-Ironsi, to General Yakubu Gowon, then General Mohammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo.

"The first presidential system we had was that of Alhaji Shehu Shagari which started in 1979 till the Army took over in 1983 with General Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State. After him was General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, and then a civilian, Chief Shonekan, and back again to General Sani Abacha, to another General Abdusalam Abubakar before Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came on board followed by Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, and presently Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

"Recently there are strong and growing opinion in the country that our woes can only be solved if we jettison the presidential system of government and go back to the parliamentary system we had at independence in 1960. There are pros and cons but I don't believe that the presidential system has failed us," he said.

Mbadinuju, however, admitted that there is better discipline of government and governance under the parliamentary system with prime minister and opposition leader and all elected parliamentarians facing each other during debates in the National Assembly in the case of Britain.

But former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, said neither the presidential nor parliamentary system would be effective if the nation's leadership remained flawed. He said a parliamentary system of government is not the magic wand needed to change the fortunes of Nigeria.

According to him, every country has its unique characteristics. "Parliamentary or presidential is not the issue with Nigeria. When you have bad leadership, even with a new constitution being advocated, nothing will work."

Mr. Fred Agbaje, a law lecturer at the Lagos State University (LASU), said "despite the inherent abuses in the presidential system of government, it still remains the best form of government for Nigeria. Nigeria, as a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation needs a presidential system, particularly because of minority ethnic groups that otherwise will be highly marginalised.

"Nobody should take Nigeria back to a cabinet system of government when we had fewer states, because it cannot work under the present socio-political economics of the country. Minority areas that are recognised constitutionally and provided for will fizzle out under a parliamentary system," Agbaje said.

In his submission, National Coordinator of Nucleus Eagles, Atoye Ariyo-Dare, said due to decades of mutual suspicion, marginalisation and also the heterogeneous nature and population size of Nigeria, the parliamentary system of government is no longer feasible. By history, from independence when it was practised, it was a system primed to fail as it could not accommodate our diversity.

"We got it wrong at Independence. The first assignment of our founding fathers was to have ensured that Nigerians of diverse groups and nationalities developed a sense of ownership towards the country. But as we progressed, we became more divided along regional, ethnic and religious lines, not even the Unitary System of government practised by the military succeeded in uniting Nigerians because the fundamentals were not done. The lack of general sense of genuine ownership and our diversity suits the Presidential System of government in Nigeria.

"Though it is very expensive to maintain, but it fits into our system and the exigencies of our diversity. What we need to add to presidential system now is an understanding on rotation among the geo-political zones and a fixed term with a fixed number of years. After over 50 years of Independence, events in the past 12 years have shown that our unity is suspect and a Parliamentary system could have worsened it. Parliamentary will not work in Nigeria; obviously, it does not suit the nature of our nation."

Member representing Riyom and Barkin Ladi Federal Constituency area of Plateau State in the House of Representatives, Hon. Simon Mwadkwon, said he strongly believes that no system of government is without its negative and positive sides. It is the people that run the system, and people must be willing to effect positive changes on the lives of the citizens.

He however said the parliamentary system will be good and successful only when those running the system are patriotic. "Of course, the only difference is that parliamentary system of government is less expensive to run compare to the present presidential system."

Mr. Unimke Nawa, a former National Publicity Secretary of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), said in a national daily that there was nothing wrong with the presidential system. "Our problem is not with the system we operate; there is nothing wrong with the presidential system. The problem is that we have failed to run it right."

The PPA chief said the constitution had stated clearly how the federating units in the country should relate, but added that the constitution had been jettisoned in that regard. According to him, too much concentration of resources at the centre has made it too attractive to the politicians.

He, therefore, called for more autonomy in all the three tiers of government to discourage further clamour for the parliamentary system.

Deputy National Chairman of United Nigeria Peoples' Party (UNPP), Chief Winston Odumo-Ojobi, canvassed for a return to the parliamentary system because the presidential system is too expensive for the country.

"The presidential system is a very expensive system of government that is yielding no result in the Nigerian setting. It makes it impossible to allow the electorate to kick out the non-performing leaders. The process of recalling non-performing leader is easier in the parliamentary system, like it is done in England," Odumo-Ojobi said. He explained that a parliamentary system of government would give room for the opposition to be heard.

Chief Charles Nwodo, the National Chairman of the Progressive Action Council (PAC) expressed support for the parliamentary system because it is less expensive to run.

"The process of change of leadership is also easy in the parliamentary system with a simple majority in the chambers, and the president can be easily replaced. It does not include the type of things we have in the presidential system which goes vis-a-vis with the corrupt system.

"Parliamentary system remains the answer to the problems associated with the presidential system; it also encourages the growth of democracy. It saves cost, controls corruption and also brings down the cost of running a presidential system," Nwodo said.

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