May 31, 2007
‘Parliamentary system of government is the way out’
ARE the 2007 elections flawed or not flawed? It depends on how you look at it from heterogeneous perspectives. If you ask Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Lagos: was the election in Lagos, free and fair? Because his party the Action Congress (AC) won it, Tinubu will tell you it was 99 per cent free and fair. If you ask Orji Uzor Kalu: was the election in Abia State, which was won by a newly formed political party – Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), free and fair? Kalu will say it was free and fair as far as Abians are concerned. If you go to Zamfara State and ask Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) whether elections in Zamfara, which were won by his All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), were free and fair, he would say they were free and fair.
They would tell you: ‘That is our stronghold, we are expected to win and we won resoundingly.’ These are the different perspectives. It depends on whose lenses you are looking through to judge the elections. So, the outcome of the 2007 elections is not the question because we got what we had been programmed to receive.
Then there is the issue of the tribunals as you have in the Electoral Act. The present Electoral Act and the ones we had for 1999 and 2003 are different. Why the difference? It is because each Electoral Act was meant to serve a particular agenda. In 1999, all elections tribunal cases must be finished within 90 days. In 2003, that was jettisoned. All Election tribunals cases can be finished anytime even after the life of a government. And so, according to law, Dr. Chris Ngige used it to serve as Anambra governor for three years. You could not force him out because he was exercising his right under the law, structure and system. So, it was a systemic fault.
The local and international observers said that the elections were greatly flawed. If an election was greatly flawed, it means the election was observed more in the breach than in the observance of the regulations. There were more irregularities than regularities. If in an election there were more irregularities than regularities, then it is not a case for the election tribunals. It is not the judges at the tribunals that can make it to be regular. It points to a systemic failure.
Election tribunals are meant for cases where elections are generally free and fair and so accepted by the local and international observers and the participants. An election is where if you lose you can go and shake hands with the man who won and concede victory to him. So, if in 100 constituencies, the participants shook hands in 92, then you can talk about the tribunal coming in to resolve the dispute in the remaining eight constituencies where malpractice were carried out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or an overzealous candidate. Election tribunals are meant for situations where irregularity is an exception rather than the norm.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and his team have read the Nigerian mentality. Those who operate the system, like the members of the legislative assemblies, also knew what has happened or what was going to happen. The governors knew; the dominant political parties knew; and so everybody went along to do it. This is because we don’t have a true, open and transparent yardstick with which to measure the conduct and result of elections and this is part of the systemic failure.
By systemic failure, I mean that we are practising the wrong system of government, the presidential system as it is now in our Constitution – both 1979 and 1999. It is nothing but clear-cut, ready-made platform for civilian dictatorship. It promises ego worship and sycophancy, it is expensive, it destroys the party system – there is no party discipline. It promotes individualism and therefore parochialism and mediocrity.
On the positive side, people will tell you that presidentialism promotes quick decision-making for programmes and projects, etc. But in such a system, it is difficult to promote due process.
In due process you have to give equal opportunity to a wide-range of people who are interested and involved. You have to have a mechanism by which they can be assessed analytically and they can see themselves whether they met the criteria or not. So, if they lose a tender, they would accept that they lost the tender in a fair contest.
We are not only talking about politics. So how many tenders boards do we have in Nigeria after 47 years of independence? Any governor wakes up over night and awards a contract. The tender board meets within 30 seconds. We don’t go through tenders’ board of due process in the award of contracts. That is why it is easy to stash money away, fund corruption and under-develop our society.
Let’s take the defects of the presidential system to Lagos. Under the system, the AC won in Lagos State. But the AC fought against 14 other political parties. Looking at the candidates, virtually all of them are from the same root – Afenifere, Alliance for Democracy (AD), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) – all members of the same political constituency of the last 20 years. In the last eight months, 75 per cent of them belonged to the same cabinet of Governor Tinubu – from his deputy governor to commissioners.
In a presidential system, each one of them (Jimi Agbaje, DPA; Tokunbo Afikuyomi, ANPP; Remi Adiukwu-Bakare, PPA; Hakeem Gbajabiamila, AD; Femi Pedro, LP, etc) needed different political parties to contest the election because they did not have a good party machinery.
Once they were disenchanted with the party machinery, saying that it was teleguided by Tinubu, each one of them overnight became a standard bearer of a new political party. For each of them, the whole state was his constituency. One governor was needed but they all contested against themselves for the one slot. And when Babatunde Fashola was elected, all the others fell into the waste paper basket. And the deputy governor, Pedro, was removed by impeachment.
It is Lagos State that lost because they only got Fashola and lost the other capable candidates. However, in a parliamentary or quasi mixture of presidential and parliamentary systems, each of these candidates would have contested in his local council constituency and not in the whole state, with all of them belonging to the same party since they are from the same root. The chances are that 80 per cent of them would have won in their constituencies.
Therefore, Lagos State would have benefited from the quality of representation because these are people who have had experience either in executive or legislative work. And Nigeria would have been better off with these people who have track records. Even if they were in the legislative council, they would be in better position to do oversight function over the executive.
In a Parliamentary System, where is the oversight? The oversight is done in the same chamber; they all belong to the same chamber. The governor or leader of the government business is in the same chamber. He has only his constituency, which he won and not the whole Lagos State. All he needs is to win a vote of confidence to remain in office.
The governor in the parliamentary system cannot treat his commissioner for education with levity or contempt. He cannot sack the commissioner. If he sacks him, the governor would be ready to defend that action on a vote of confidence. If he loses the vote of confidence, any other members of the cabinet can be called upon to form the government.
In Nigeria, either the president or governors are in the habit of changing the entire cabinet within a term of four years. Some of the governors ruled the state for three months with civil servants and it is during this time that they loot the treasury and the economy. So the presidential system is bad.
How many states governors have implemented the budgets passed by the State Houses of Assembly? The truth is that they are very few because the Houses of Assembly are paid to pass the budgets and once they pass the budget, that is the end of that budget. Then the President or governor turns round to implement what he likes and how he likes it without due process, even if the budget had been thought out properly by committees and there had been hearings and they were supposed to look at the needs of the various communities, etc.
We know all these. So, why do we swallow the whole thing hook, line and sinker and suffer under it? Nigeria can easily attain the growth rate equivalent to China if not more than China of between nine to 14 per cent per annum.
Why is politics very attractive? It is very attractive today because it is very profitable. Analyse the composition of the incoming legislatures. Only 15 per cent of the former member returned. Who removed the 85 per cent that did not return? Those, who removed them are those who also have eyes on the money and affluence. A man who cannot afford a Volkswagen beetle, when he gets there through the help of a godfather, he starts driving a four- runner, etc which cost about six million naira that he had not earned in the past 15 years. So, the avenue to quick wealth and money is politics and politics under our system of governance bequeathed to us by the military.
Why did the army bequeath to us a system, which does not guarantee true federalism? There are two answers. One, they programmed it to fail. If it fails, the army will come back into politics. A lot of people in the military found new wealth in politics as military governors, head of parastatals, etc. Immediately civilians mis-govern themselves, the army comes in.
Former President Obasanjo tried to purge the army and to professionalise it. That is a plus on his part. But it still does not remove the inducement or carrot given to a soldier or an officer that never thought that he could be rich. Once a carrot is dangled as military attach?, etc, all he has to do is to pick up his gun and you see civilians scampering through the window. He seizes the radio station and then becomes the new ruler.
The second reason is that the army does not believe in true federalism. They believe in unitary system of government because the structure of the army and the hierarchy is unitary; it is not federal. In the army, you have chains of command going upwards. It is vertical, not horizontal. So you obey the last order or command. This is one of the maxims of the military. The second is, obey before you complain, which is most undemocratic. The military is trained to fight a war. It is therefore their culture and discipline to take orders. If you start questioning orders, you may lose the war.
But in a democracy and civilian governance, you don’t do that. You have to dialogue, rationalise the issues and concluded that the way out is proper. Otherwise, you may regret what you have done and have to pay more in order to correct it. So military and civilian rules are two different things but the military bequeathed their hierarchical culture and ethics to the civilian populace for politics and governance in our country.
The last Constitutions have been given to us by the military. Since 1967, we have not sat down to fashion a Constitution of our own as Nigerians without any overhanging influence or Sword of Damocles over our heads.
The last occasion where this would have been done was at the Aburi Conference in Ghana but Gen. Yakubu Gowon adjourned it indefinitely and that conference has not been held till today. That is what people are clamouring for in a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Sovereign means there should not be any over-hanging influence, allow the people to discuss freely, formulate their own system that will ensure rapid progress, etc so that they can practice true federalism.
True federalism means that you cannot over-centralise power and each area should be able to develop at its own pace. Also, that he who contributes more to the pool that enhances the benefit for the whole should get more to solve his own basic problems. It will be inequitable to deprive him of that, as it will breed disenchantment with the system, hatred and envy and at the end, bloodletting.
Obasanjo initiated his reforms too late. He understands Nigeria’s problems because having being a head of state for three-and-a-half years and having had a respite in time to reflect on Nigeria’s problem and coming back to power 20 years later, he had a reservoir of knowledge. He had an NGO – Africa Leadership Forum, which was analysing Nigeria and Africa’s problems and manpower development.
Therefore, he was very well suited even to be head of state. His only minus was that he had a military background. Those who have military background are not used to dialogue. And that military aspect always intervened in Obasanjo’s relationship with people and caucuses.
Whether at party level, legislative, federal executive level, the fact was that he could not dialogue for long with others to exchange ideas. Some people studied him and knew when to give him ideas but sometimes the ideas led to project failures because they were not scrutinised as we normally scrutinise policies.
Obasanjo should have reformed the Nigerian system in his first term and then use the second term to consolidate on the gains of the reforms and move Nigeria far forward, making the progress irreversible by any successor government.
This is what happened in Asia where most of the successful countries have been able to separate their politics from the economy. So even when there is instability on the political side, the economic side continues because it has been programmed to succeed by everybody and accepted by everybody.
The greatest fear for Obasanjo now is that the reform policies, which only came into being in the last 18 months, might be reversed by a succeeding government. It was that fear that made him got some foreign governments (South Africa, U.S.A, EU, Britain, etc) to assist in dousing tension in the Nigerian political climate.
These governments have their own interests. And knowing that oil contributes a lot to the internal capacity of these foreign governments, they have a stake in Nigeria and the Nigerian economy. Therefore they want reform policies and things that will make the economy to continue without setback.
The reforms are positive but they are coming too late and it is a question of can they be sustained? They should be sustained but all of us have to help in this regard. We must differentiate sustenance of the reform policies from the glaring needs to reform the system politically. That will be dangerous because when political instability erupts, it is going to affect the economic stability because the economic gains have not firmed up.
This is why Obasanjo himself wanted to stay on in the corridors of power. That is why he wants to become the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That is why he has tried to fashion the PDP in his own image.
We know that Obasanjo out of power as he had been before is very critical of serving governments. But this time, he should sit down in his Ota farm and allow the new government to address the political problems so that we can have true federalism and harness our best materials for governance. A lot of people run away from governance today because it is full of violence.
- Chief Ikokwu, lawyer, Second Republic politician, is one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).