By Richard Olanrewaju Odusanya
As the ongoing National Conference gathers momentum, many Nigerians have been making good contributions towards the improvement of our system of governance. Some have argued for the scrapping of the Presidential System because it is expensive to run, and revert to the Westminster Parliamentary model that was bequeathed to us by our former British Colonial Masters in 1960. Although we agree that the Presidential system is expensive, however it is in this system that Democracy is best practiced because of the practice of separation of powers. In a Parliamentary system, there is no separation of powers rather we have fusion of powers. Members of the Executive arm are drawn from the Parliament and as such there is no checks and balances. This system thrives in Britain because the UK is a Monarchy where Her Majesty the Queen serves as the Head of State and a symbol of Unity and Sovereignty.
Parliamentary Democracy would not flourish in Nigeria, it would rather compound our problems because there wouldn’t be separation of powers and ultimately no checks and balances. This may even lead to abuse of powers by the Prime Minister. A parliamentary system requires a high degree of discipline and tolerance. Secondly since we are not a Monarchy, we would then have a Prime Minister who will be the Head of Government, and a ceremonial President who will be the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The ambiguity in this system created a mutual distrust in the first republic between the Great Zik who was the President and Head of State, and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was the Prime Minister and Head of Government. We certainly do not want a repeat fight between two political heavy weights at the national level, for when two elephants fight, only the grass suffers. We hereby submit that we need to keep and possibly modify the presidential system to suit our own peculiarities, but should not revert to the Parliamentary model.
Interestingly nearly everyone agrees that we need true federalism in Nigeria. The need for true federalism therefore cannot be over emphasized. However we want to add that true federalism cannot be achieved with the present structure of 36 States. Nigeria is highly over governed. There is an urgent need to downsize the federal structure in order to achieve true federalism. In fact it is a prerequisite. At independence in 1960 Nigeria practiced true federalism. We had three viable regions as the federating units. The North invested massively in Agriculture which led to the groundnuts pyramid. The East was exporting Palm oil and in the West, Cocoa produce was the mainstay of the economy.
Consequently there was a healthy and robust competition between these three regions. The 1963 Constitution enhanced federalism further by providing for 50% derivation while the rest 50% went to the Centre. The three regions were all viable and in fact were funding the centre. This was the arrangement in place until the military struck on the 15th of January 1966 and suspended the 1963 Constitution. Similarly in the United States where we copied Federalism from, the 50 States are all viable and do not depend on the Central Government for resources. They are all self funding.
In Nigeria presently we have 36 States that depend largely on the centre for survival. Most of the States cannot even pay salaries without the allocation from the Central Government. What we have today is more unitary than federal. We therefore recommend to the National Conference to downsize the federating units to six to reflect the present six geo-political zones. This will form the basis of a federating arrangement in which the States would be viable and fit for purpose. The idea behind creating multiple States was to spread developments across the nation. This aim has been defeated.
Rather than create more developments, we have created more bureaucracies, more wastes, more offices that add nothing to the standard of living of the people. Nigeria is indeed over governed. We have thirty six Governors, thirty six deputies, thirty six State Parliaments and so forth. Multiple States would have been ideal if they were viable, but owing to the monocultural economy of oil, we have only succeeded in creating offices instead of creating developments. We therefore urge the National Conference to consider seriously the downsizing of the federating units to six, with more devolution of powers to the 774 local government areas in the Country.
Richard Olanrewaju Odusanya, Executive Chairman Leadership Rescue Initiative (LRI)