By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
Notable Nigerians are already backing a bi-partisan bill by 71 members of the House of Representatives to push for a constitutional amendment that will return Nigeria to parliamentary system of government.
Led by Hon. Nicholas Osai (Delta, PDP), the lawmakers, who spoke with National Assembly correspondents on Thursday, said they were already collecting signatures to ensure that they get the number needed to facilitate the passage of the bill.
According to them, presidential system of government is costly and not giving Nigerians the best in terms of leadership.
Reacting to the development, a chieftain of Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said he supports the initiative of the members of the House of Representatives, saying “it is a welcome development.”
According to him, “I am 100 per cent in support, for us to move from a system that we have used for 40 years. In fact, it was not fair to Nigerians in 1976 when they were not even allowed to discuss the merits and demerits of parliamentary system, which we inherited from the British. They were just told that the Constituent Assembly should just go and search for a presidential model, wherever they find one.
“Essentially at that time, it is either the French model or the United States model. It was a no go area for them to discuss the merits or demerits of retaining the parliamentary system which we inherited. It was a very unfair thing and Nigerians, I supposed, eager to get rid of the military at that time were not able to argue against this approach. They should have insisted that the matter should be debated to see whether it is the parliamentary system that has failed or whether it is the constitution that has failed or whether it is a combination of the two.
“So now that we have had presidential system since 1979, we are talking about 40 years now, all you need to do is to look at the argument that they used in 1976, 78, up to 1979 to argue in favour of presidential system of government; the presidential system that we practiced in the last 40 years, to me, it has not worked. It did not, it will not and it has not suited the Nigerian condition.
“The parliamentary system should have been better for us because, I believe, in a diverse country like our own, parliamentary system gives you the opportunity that you elect your representatives and the executive branch of government is largely, is almost completely made up of elected people because you cannot be a minister in a parliamentary system of government until you are elected from your constituency. So you are accountable to your constituency and then your prime minister will nominate you and then you will become accountable to the parliament as well as to the prime minister and so on. But what we have today is that if you are in the good book of either a governor or the president, you wake up in the morning and then you are a commissioner, even though you don’t know your own village, you don’t know the people in your area.”
He however suggested a modification, saying, “I will always argue for a return to the parliamentary system with a modification because we cannot bring the parliamentary system with the present multiple states. Because these states are unviable, totally unviable. When we had the parliamentary system that was working for us, we had only three regions in 1960. It was in 1963 that a fourth region was added – the Midwest region. The system was working for the regions and I don’t see why it will not work for Nigeria but we have to accept some modification of the present multiple states that don’t seem to work.
“You can, perhaps, look at the so called geopolitical zones; the geopolitical zones are not part of our constitution. Look at our constitution, there is nothing like geopolitical zones. But we can use them as a basis for moving from these so many useless states to more compact larger units, federating units. If we cannot go back to three regions, I think the maximum number of regions that we should accept under parliamentary system of government should not be more than six.
“There are too many states now because if you look at the states, to my mind, they are not productive and this is why we are quarrelling over federal resources mainly made up of one commodity. There is no productivity in the country because of this.”
Sharing similar views with Abdulahi, the National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who spoke on behalf of the pan-Yoruba sociopolitical organisation, said parliamentary system was cost effective and that it throws up quality representations.
“There is no doubt the parliamentary system of government is more ideal for a polity like ours in terms of representation. You don’t have to be spending the kind of funds they are spending now on election. It will reduce the cost of elections.
“If you want to become the Prime Minister of the country, all you need to do is to contest in your constituency, then you go and contest among your colleagues in the Senate. Right now, if you want to be president of Nigeria, the whole country is your constituency. How many people can afford that kind of money?
“The parliamentary system will allow for more quality representations in terms of people who have ideas, who have what it takes.
“Today, there is no way someone who has honest money can attain leadership in Nigeria. It has to be corrupt money. That is why drug money and other illicit funds have taken over our politics and that is why the former president, when talking about the Senate, said the place is full of criminals.
“I think it is a right move in the right direction. Even if not today, it is what we need at some point.”