igerian democracy has been in place for about 22 years. There has never been a better time to evaluate the 1999 Constitution’s fitness than today. It is even more powerful in light of recent events in the country, particularly the indiscriminate massacres by Boko Haram, the kidnapping of innocent people by bandits, and the insecurity of lives and property that have become the norm and part of the people’s daily existence. Indeed, many Nigerians are fleeing for their lives rather than looking for work.
Regrettably, the budget for 2021 prioritizes recurrent spending over capital initiatives. The recurring expense is for the upkeep of politicians and their countless aides. The expense of administering government has been steadily increasing since the return to civil rule. This just goes to demonstrate that the 2014 Conference report should be implemented and the 1999 Constitution, which serves as the republic’s guardian angel, should be repealed; or, better yet, we should return to the parliamentary system of government.
Indeed, the 1999 Constitution is riddled with anomalies and prejudices that have continued to wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people in this country. The presidential system of government is the model of governance established under the 1999 Constitution. It is a form of government in which the President has broad powers to act as the nation’s chief executive, independent of the legislature. The President possesses executive powers in this country, which he can use personally or indirectly through his Ministers.
Sections 5(4)(a) and (b) constrain the President’s broad powers. According to the aforementioned clauses, The President can only proclaim a state of war between the Federation and another country with the approval of both houses of the National Assembly. Without the approval of the National Assembly in the form of a resolution, he can send any member of the Federation’s Armed Forces on combat duty outside of Nigeria.
The President also serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the Federation’s Armed Forces. He is responsible for determining the operational use of the Federation’s military forces under section 218 of the 1999 Constitution. These are truly broad powers! Despite the fact that section 218 (4) states that the National Assembly has the right to enact legislation governing the President’s responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Federation’s Armed Forces.
This is insufficient to restrain the President’s vast powers granted under the section in question. Acts or rules cannot account for every possible human event, hence effective power regulation is impossible. The President’s huge powers can be checked by an active National Assembly, but there is a limit to what the National Assembly can do in the face of such enormous powers.
Our experience has frequently brought this to the fore, prompting the question: Can we afford to entrust vast powers to a single person? The framers of the 1979 Constitution, which for the first time in our political history introduced the presidential system of government and was later replaced by the 1999 Constitution, did not foresee a President who could become a civilian dictator.
We have since awoken from our stupor! Proponents of the President’s strong powers, a key aspect of the Presidential form of government, feel that such powers are necessary for strong and cohesive leadership, particularly in times of crisis and given the country’s wide ethnic mix. These are solid arguments, yet we have witnessed the opposite.
And what had transpired in previous administrations before our own eyes are enough to discredit this system of government in practice till date.We have a President who secretly removed Governors and Senate Presidents using state power; a President who disobeyed court orders; and a President who manipulated many of his party’s candidates into office. These are, without a doubt, the perils that come with a Presidential system of administration.
Every constitution, no matter how wonderful, is built on the assumption that the operators will be gentlemen and men of honour. Our experience has demonstrated that we do not always have honourable men in power, and we should not wait until another dictatorial leader emerges to realize our error. It is time for us to shift gears.
There is no way that everyone will not be at the President’s beck and call in a country where political patronage is the main source of income and a President who controls the allocation of cash and all administrative structures, extremes that should not exist side by side. We need to return to the Parliamentary system of governance that was in place during the First Republic, as defined by the 1960 and 1963 constitutions.
For a moment like this, the Parliamentary style of governance that we practised back then provided some valuable insights. Under the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, the Parliamentary system of governance had four distinct characteristics:
- The separation of the Executive and Legislative branches of government. That is, separation of powers between the President and the Prime Minister.
- The Executive’s plurality.
- The Executive’s Parliamentary nature;
- Ministers’ accountability to the Legislature.
All other cabinet members are on an equal footing – one man, one vote. Primus inter pares (first among equal) is the Prime Minister. Because they leave office when the Prime Minister’s tenure ends, the Council of Ministers derives its authority from him. He appoints his Ministers from among his Parliamentarian colleagues. The Governor-General, who later became the President (under the 1963 constitution), was the Head of State, while the Prime Minister was the Head of government.
The Prime Minister, along with his cabinet, is in charge of coordinating the government, with the Governor-General serving as a ceremonial figurehead. Executive members are also members of Parliament, giving them a Parliamentary character. The cabinet is made up of Representatives from the political party with the most votes.
The Legislature’s responsibilities to the Executive.
The cabinet is more under the jurisdiction of the Legislature in this situation. They have merged into one. Any of the ministries, including the Prime Minister, might face a vote of no confidence by the Legislature. Let us now consider how the aforesaid characteristics of the 1960 and 1963 constitutions apply to our current circumstances. Non-implementation of the budget, which has resulted in infrastructural depreciation and the absence of democratic dividends, has been a frequent issue from the National Assembly in the current republic. In a Parliamentary government, when the Legislature has more power over the Executive, this is impossible.
“The major task of the cabinet is not to lead the party, manage the parliament, or think out policy, but to coordinate administration, ensure that Legislative proposals are acceptable to the Departments concerned, keep senior Ministers in touch with the various lines of activity, and give the work of government a measure of unity,” as the First Republic’s Executive was described.
Proponents of the Presidential system of administration can claim that the Legislature has the authority to probe government Departments and Parastatals under the 1999 Constitution (section 88 of the 1999 constitution). That is because the National Assembly has failed to fulfill its responsibilities, and as a result, we have had that unpleasant experience.
Although the ability to investigate is curative in nature, the Parliamentary system of government will allow us to take a proactive approach to the problem, preventing it from occurring. This proverb nicely summarizes the point: “Prevention is better than cure.” Furthermore, the Parliamentary system of government’s collective responsibility makes long-term planning easier and successfully checks any slide into civilian autocracy or dictatorship.