The Imperial Presidency, By Eric Teniola
Of all the sub-committees of the constitution drafting committee of 1975, none was more important than the subcommittee of the executive and the legislature.
The subcommittee was saddled with working out the modalities for the operation of the Presidential system of Government, which was a new novelty at that time considering the fact that we have never operated the Presidential system of Government before.
The subcommittee was headed by Alhaji Abdu Ganiyu Folorunsho Razak (87), the Mutawali of Ilorin and the Tafida of Zaria, who was born in Onitsha in the present day Anambra state and served as the Nigerian Ambassador to the Ivory Coast (Cote Ivoire) between 1962-1964. He is the first lawyer from Northern Nigeria.
Alhaji Razak was a delegate to the 1960 constitutional conference in London, a member of the Leaders of thought from Northern Nigeria for the 1967 constitutional conference, Minister for Railways between 1965-1966 and a man of distinct letters. He declined to be a High Court Judge when his name was gazetted for the appointment. Long before Dr. Abubakar Olushola Saraki, the late Waziri of Ilorin, Alhaji Razak was the “grand commander” of politics in Ilorin. Very urbane and highly civilised. I met him for the first time in 1975.
Other members of the subcommittee were Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, former Minister in the first Republic and my very good friend, Alhaji Shehu Malami, former Chairman of Union Bank and later Nigerian ambassador to South Afica, Professor G.A. Odenigwe of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, former Minister of Works, Dr. Kole Abayomi, Senior Lecturer at Nigeria Law School in Lagos, Dr. I.D. Ahmed, a councillor by then in the Kano Local Government Authority, Mr. Sam Ikoku, who was then of the University of Lagos and former Secretary of the defunct Action Group, who later became the Secretary of the Peoples Redemption Party of the late Aminu Kano.
The other two members were Alhaji Sule Gaya, a former Minister in Northern Nigeria and Dr. U.O. Eleazu, Lecturer in Political Science in Institute of Management and Technology, now Co-ordinator and Director, Nigeria Policy Development Centre (Think Tank).
The subcommittee recommended, among other things, that the future President of Nigeria “must perform and be seen as performing the following functions: that of being a symbol of national unity, honour and prestige; being a national figure- a political figure in his own right; and that of being an able executive-someone who can give leadership and a sense of direction to the country”.
The subcommittee declared “We were very much influenced by the debate on national objectives and public accountability and the need to avoid concentration of power in the hands of a few, or a sectional group; the need to replace ethnic with national politics, etc. In short, it is the intention of the sub-committee that anybody who wants to be a President must strive to become a national figure, and the method of his election is meant to provide him with a means of nationalising himself as well as test his standing as a national figure”.
The subcommittee declared further “what has been uppermost in our minds is how to provide for an effective leadership that express our aspirations for national unity without at the same time building up a Leviathan whose power may be difficult to curb”.
Call it rotational principle, call it zoning or call it Federal Character, it was Abdu Razak’s committee that first proposed this idea as far back as 1975.
The subcommittee insisted that rotational principle must be embodied in the constitution “ Here again the question that bordered the sub –committee was how the kind of national figure which we envisaged could emerge. We were very much influenced by the debate on national objectives and objectives and public accountability and the need to avoid concentration of power in the hands of a few, or a sectional group; the need to replace ethnic with national politics, etc. In short, it is the intention of subcommittee that anybody who wants to be a President must strive to become a national figure, and the method of his election is meant to provide him with a means of “nationalising” himself as well as test standing as a national figure.
The sub-committee went further to group Nigeria into four zones. That was in 1975 when we had nineteen states. According to Razak’s committee of 1975, zone 1 shall consist of Sokoto, Niger, Kwara, and Kaduna states, zone 2 will comprise Kano, Plateau, Benue, Borno, Bauchi and Gongola states, zone 3- Lagos,Ogun,Oyo,Ondo and Bendel states and lastly zone 4 which were Anambra, Imo, Rivers and Cross Rivers states. The recommendation of the sub-committee was that there shall be rotation of the Presidency and each of the four zones should have the Presidency once in a while.
In defending rotational Presidency, Alhaji Razak’s sub-committee submitted that ”By and large, we have been very much influenced by the experience of political leadership in this country-both civilian and military; the need to de-commercialise politics (or to undecorated politics as one member put it); the need to balance the stakes politics so that each section of this country will come to feel a sense of belonging to a great nation; the need to develop an approach of consensus to politics and finally the need to accentuate our national inclination towards a bargaining approach to decision-making rather than regarding politics as a game of the winner-take-all”.
Incidentally most of the Abdu Razak’s committee’s reports were accepted by the constitution drafting committee later. On November 1 1977 the Chairman of the constitution drafting committee, Chief Rotimi Williams presented a bill to the constituent assembly for a new constitution. He said
” Safeguards Against Abuse of Power, all of us in the Constitution Drafting Committee, without exception, were eager to ensure that the sovereignty of the people is not merely manifested in the choice of the persons entrusted or to be entrusted with power. We were also concerned to ensure that no functionary of the State shall be in a position to instal himself as a dictator over the rest of the country. Hence provisions were made in the Draft Constitution to prevent the over-concentration of power in any one hand or in the hands of a few and to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances to avoid the abuse of power”.
In my later discussion with a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, the Otun of Ikorodu, he said” concentration of power in the hands of just one man could disintegrate the country. All that we did between 75 and 76 was to ensure that the government truly belongs to the people. And truly we have no apology for that”. He was a member of the sub-committee on the Economy, Finance and Division of Powers. He wrote most of the reports of that sub-committee.
If you take a look at the 1979 and especially the 1999 constitutions one could see the imperial powers of the President of Nigeria.
Having read and reread the report of Abdu Razak’s committee, am still not sure that it is what the committee recommended that is in practice today, with the imperial, dominant and regal powers of the President crowned by the constitution and a cash sharing National Assembly that has made itself impotent in an era where sycophancy, hero worshipping and boot licking is the only industry around.
If one reads the 1999 constitution, one will be puzzled and astounded by the extensive wide powers of the Nigerian President. In short he almost owns the country. In a land where majority are very poor one can’t have all these wide powers certainly without inviting envy, jealousy, outright grudge if not hatred.
Our biggest dilemma is how to cope with the authoritarian and absolute powers of the President as decreed by the constitution. It is these powers that have made the race for the Presidency absolutely desperate.
Just imagine the despondency of the incumbent to retain his Presidency at all costs as if there is no more life outside government having been in power for over fifteen years and the desperation of his political adversaries to dislodge him by all means.
We shall see in the coming weeks the ugly effects of the despair and hopelessness.
If we have reduced the power of the presidency and made that post less attractive, may be and just may be the forlornness will be avoided. A Presidential election is not supposed to be a do or die affair. In some countries the Presidential election is a celebration period. That is the way it is supposed to be.
Mr. Teniola, veteran journalist and former director in the Nigerian presidency, writes from lagos where he now lives.