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Parliamentary Democracy, The Change We Really Need. Manasseh F. Paul-Worika

In the wake of 2019 General elections, some members of the 8th national assembly had initiated a discourse on the relevance of the parliamentary system of government to the Nigerian polity. As it were, the intense pre-election anxieties of the time precluded a thoughtful examination of that proposal. But now that the elections have virtually come and gone, and we have a new dispensation, it is necessary to reopen the conversation on that noble idea.

I wouldn’t know the number of people who really took time to reflect on the preparations, campaigns and tours of the presidential candidates of the major political parties in the 2019 elections. But I can tell that I was almost brought to tears as I watched great Nigerians straining themselves, moving from Sokoto to Calabar, Kano to Lagos, just to secure votes for their parties. Incidentally, from practical observation, it is obvious that the Nigerian masses are not really enthusiastic about a presidential candidate they may never come across in flesh all their lives.

The interest of the electorate, in most cases, is the extent to which the presidential candidate of a political party is impressed upon them by the local political elites. The masses are more interested in the candidates in their immediate environment whom they can assess with greater scrutiny; representatives they can physically behold, if not always, at least once in a while.

So, just for a moment imagine that we were running a parliamentary system of government. All the expenses and labour committed to such criss-crossing of the country by the various presidential candidates would have been saved for some other ventures. What Buhari, Atiku, Moghalu, Sowore, Durutoye etc needed to do was to simply campaign within their federal constituency or Senatorial zone, as the case may be, where they have direct relationship with the people.

Off they go to Abuja as members of the National Assembly, where any one of them could be chosen by their fellow parliamentarians as the Prime minister of the country. This does not only save the cost of that expensive countrywide campaign, but more important, the nation is availed the services of these great Nigerians.

Think of the quality of ministers that would come from such assembly. Imagine we had in our parliament the likes of Buhari, Atiku, Moghalu, Sowore, Charles Soludo, Donald Duke, Pat Utomi, Raji Fashola, Oby Ezekwesili, etc. Even if the best among them do not emerge as ministers, one can be sure that such calibre of men and women will not sit idly by and watch incompetent persons occupy the driving seats of a parliament in which they belong.

When we put this in perspective, it stands to reason that, in a parliamentary system, every constituency would wish to send their best materials to the parliament. Even the most formidable godfathers would vie for a seat in the assembly, instead of populating such positions with their cronies. That is to say, only the best from each zone would come to compete in our assemblies.

Indeed, if you do a critical appraisal of Nigeria’s political history, you would realize that our best politicians, some of whom we still adore to this day, blossomed in the parliamentary system of government; NnamdiAzikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Michael Okpara, Dennis Osadebay etc.

I recently watched a video  clip on the official speeches of Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister. Wonderful! Honestly for a while, I thought I was watching an Oxford-trained British Statesman. His thoughts, accent and carriage were impeccable. After seeing a Nigerian leader manifest such brilliance about sixty years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder why we have failed to build upon the outstanding performances of our founding fathers. Then I remembered our ill advised recourse to a bogus presidential system of government, operating with a unique Parliament, with all its costs and duplication of functions. A presidential system that only concentrates power in one man, thereby engendaring mediocrity and dictatorial proclivity.

Even in appointment of ministers, an elected office holder would always have a greater sense of responsibility to the electorate than a political appointee whose loyalty is first to his boss, the authority to whom he owes his appointment. As it were, in a Parliament system, all the ministers will come from the elected members of the Parliament. None of them will be intimidated by the Prime Minister, being that the prime minister is simply first among equals and can easily be replaced by his colleagues.

 Indeed, parliamentary government fosters a spirit of give and take. Not the current “Winner takes all”attitude that breeds a culture of desperation and fight to finish. On some occasions in a parliamentary system, no one party may be able to secure sufficient majority to form a government. Such situations compel an inevitable resort to compromises and alliances.

The beauty of this arrangement comes in bold relief when you recall that ours is a multi ethnic society where only inter-group understanding and cooperation can guarantee true national development.On the contrary, once a president is in power, his opponents can go to hell for all he cares. He simply looks forward to the next cycle of elections or just sits and watches his defeated opponent contend with the vagaries of litigation.

Political opponents are not enemies but brothers and sisters who just have a different vision of governance. Imagine the many members of the opposition parties since the advent of the presidential system in 1979, that government never had the opportunity to tap from their knowledge and passion for service: Aminu Kano, Waziri Ibrahim, Tunji Braithwaite, Olu Falae, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu etc. Same is applicable at the state level. If we had a parliamentary government when these eminent persons were contesting for Presidency or governorship, they probably would have all ended up in the assembly, contributing their quota to the development of their fatherland.

You can see how the presidential System of government stifles the collective potentials of a people.Permit me to add that the variant of parliamentary government I have in mind should be tailored to our Nigerian reality. There should not be a bicameral legislature that would give room for two unnecessary arms of the parliament. Nigeria does not need such luxury now. One chamber is enough. It could be modelled in line with the Federal constituencies or senatorial zones, or a structure that collapses both Chambers to form just one parliament.

In the same vein, the proposed model should be without a ceremonial president like we had With Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe in the first Republic of the 1960s. A Prime minister operating without a ceremonial president would save cost and help avoid not just irreconcilable differences between the president and the prime minister, but a situation where executive tendencies will begin to build around the office of the ceremonial president, with creation of subordinate offices, multiple aides and an endless coterie of advisers.

It is reassuring to note that some of the vocal proponents of the parliamentary government in the 8th National Assembly succeeded in their re-election bid. Let’s hope they will, in the 9th assembly, form the vanguard of a Nigerian movement for a comprehensive review of the current constitution. And, by so doing, engrave their names in the chronicle of a rejuvenated Nigerian Nation.

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