Why Nigeria Must Jettison The Presidential System Of Government, By Eric Teniola
Either we like it or not, the presidential system of government is killing us. It is so wasteful and too expensive to operate.
Abstract: On Saturday October 18, 1975, the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed told the opening session of the 50-man constitution drafting committee at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Victoria Island, Lagos that the “Supreme Military Council has carefully discussed and agreed on an executive Presidential system of Government”.
He said, among other things on that day, that his council “has agreed on an executive Presidential system of Government in which the President and Vice-President are elected, with clearly defined powers and are accountable to the people. We feel that there should be legal provisions to ensure that they are brought into office in such a manner so as to reflect the Federal character of the country”. I was present at the event.
Of course, when the Supreme Military Council “decided” at that time, no one could undecide. That was the origin of our adopting the presidential system of government, which has so far been operated by four presidents – Alhaji Shehu UShagari, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua and the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan.
Judging by current media reports, it looks as if most Nigerians today view the presidential system of government as defective. I say most, not all Nigerians, for the executives, the legislators and their aides will not agree with this view. Even within the government – both at the centre and in the states – there are some top officials who have since found that this presidential system of government will lead us nowhere.
Yet it was not so 38 years ago when the system was first introduced. Like a groom eager to have a bride, most Nigerians at that time applauded it. At that time, we were so enthusiastic that at last a major solution to our national problem had been found.
The military decreed the presidential system of government, the constitution drafting committee recommended it and the constituent assembly approved it. It became operative on 0ctober 1, 1979. As a matter of fact when the then Head of state, late General Murtala Mohammed announced the adoption of the presidential system in 1975, there was jubilation. He then announced the setting up of a 50-man constitution drafting committee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams, former Attorney-General of Western Region and President of the Nigeria Bar Association (1958-1968).
He then announced Mrs. O.O. Onajide, the former head of news and current affairs, Mid-West Television and Mr. R.C.O. Owokedi, senior assistant secretary, Cabinet Office, Lagos, to assist Alhaji Gidado Idris as secretary to the committee. Those who served in the secretariat of the constitution drafting committee at that time included Mr. A. Obilade, Dr. O. A. Obozuwa, Mr. E. Omofuma, Mrs. A. T. Kole, Mrs. J.O. Adeyemi Wilson, Mrs. V.O. Odunuga, Mr. J. A. Adesanwo, Miss A. E. Anwana, Mrs. J.T. Okechukwu, Mrs. M.M. Albert, Mr. A.O. Iyiola, Mrs. P.C. Adele, Mrs. M. M. Wuraola, Mr. R.O. Akpabio and Mr. E. Ojogwu.
Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo declined to serve in the committee after he was appointed. Only two members of the committee objected to the Presidential system of government. They were Mr. Kanmi Isola-Osobu and Dr. Segun Osoba, then Senior Lecturer in History at the then University of Ife, now renamed Obafemi Awolowo University. The two of them wrote a minority report and recommended a socialist kind of government which was in operation at that time in Cuba and the old Soviet Union.
The rest 47 members endorsed the Presidential system. For the records, they were: Dr. C. Abashiya, Dr. Kole Abayomi, Alhaji Abdul-Razaq, Dr. I. D. Ahmed, Mr. R.O.A. Akinjide, Dr. S.C. Aleyideno, Mr. Al-Hakim Ali, Dr. A.Y. Aliyu, Dr. S.A. Aluko, Mr. Michael S. Angulu, Alhaji Ardo Buba, , Alhaji Nuhu Bamali, Mr. Paul R.V. Belabo, Alhaji Mamman Daura, Dr. T.S. David-West, Dr. V.P. Diejomah, Mr. David D. Dimka, Professor B.J. Dudley, Dr. E.C. Edozien, Chief I. Ekanem-Ita, Dr. U.O. Eleazu, Professor E.U. Emovon, Alhaji Sule Gaya and Mr. Rasheed Gbadamosi.
Others were Dr. Tajudeen Olawale Idris, Bola Ige, Professor Obaro Ikime, Mr. S.G. Ikoku, Alhaji Ibrahim Imam, Alhaji Aminu Kano, Alhaji S.M. Liberty, Mamman Ali Makele, Col. Pedro Martins, Alhaji Shehu Malami, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Chief I. I. Murphy, Professor B. O. Nwabueze, Professor G. A. Odenigwe, Dr. P. Okigbo, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, Dr. O. Oyediran, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, Alhaji Ahmed Talib, Dr. M. Tukur, Mr. G. Unongo Paul, Dr. Y. B. Usman and Dr. Obi Wali.
After the setting up of the Constitution Drafting Committee, the committee called for memoranda nationwide and 346 memoranda were presented to the committee. Among those who sent memoranda at that time were former President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who wrote on the Proposals For Reviewing the Nigeria Constitution. Chief Victor Attah wrote form Kaduna at that time defending a non-party system. Chief Ebenezer Babatope wrote as Secretary of the Social Reformance Movement of Nigeria and Dr. G.G. Darah wrote as the Secretary of the Nigerian Academy of Arts, Science and Technology.
Other notables who submitted memoranda included Chief N.U. Akpan, Chief Alade Lamuye, Professor Eme Awa, Chief Olu Akinfosile, Professor S.J. Cookey, Chief T.A. Fagbola, Chief F. J. Elah, Justice Salidu Kawu, Justice Kayode Eso, Justice V.E. Ovie-Whiskey, Chief D.K. Olumofin, Chief Kunle Oyero, Chief Dennis Osadebe, and Alhaji Yahaya Sanni.
After the Constitution Drafting Committee submitted its report, a Constituent Assembly was then inaugurated.
Of the 248 members of the assembly, only 32 were nominated by government while the rest were elected. The assembly approved the Presidential system of government. Notable members of the assembly were Alhaji Shehu Shagari who became the first President under the Presidential system of government. Other notable members of that assembly were Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, Mr. C.C. Onoh, Alhaji Uba Ahmed, Alhaji Tatari Ali, Dr. Mudiaga Odje, Mr. Frank Alegbe, Professor A.F. Ali, Dr. Emmanuel Atanu, Mr. Paul Unongo, Mr. Mvenda Jibo, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Kaloma Ali, Dr. Joseph Wayas, Mr. D. D. Etiebett, Professor Iyi Abubakar, Chief Sam Mbakwe, Dr. J.O.J. Okeize, Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, Alhaji Lawan Kaita, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Mr. Bisi Akinbobola, Alhaji Bello Maitama Yusuf, Alhaji Adamu Attah, Dr. Sola Saraki, Mr. S.A. Onitiri, Alhaji Suleman Takuwo, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Alhaji Shehu Malami and Mr. Solomon Lar.
Now almost 38 years afte, most of us are of the view that the presidential form of government is a liability in our quest for development. The system has given the key of the treasury to the executives, legislators and their aides to loot the treasury as they wish. The poor of yesterday have become instant billionaires all in the name of democracy. The people I mean the people are getting poorer every day and are being made to be beggars in their own land. Our type of democracy has made mockery of handwork, honesty and procedure.
Humble men of yesterday now in power in this country have suddenly turned to monsters, tyrants with abundance of wealth stolen from the treasury all in the name of presidential system of Government. Either we like it or not this system of government is killing us. It is so wasteful and too expensive to operate.
Aristotle wrote that” a democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property, and vulgar employments” while Charles Loius de Secondat also wrote that “When a government lasts a long while, it deteriorates by insensible degrees”. George Bernard Shaw concluded that “Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few”.
We must find ways and means of throwing out this presidential system of government.
Eric Teniola, a former editor and ex-director at the presidency, lives in Lagos.