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Parliamentary system, single-term presidency signpost hard choices before Nigerians

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Parliamentary system, single-term presidency signpost hard choices before Nigerians

After the return to the old national anthem, which is now ironically the “new national anthem,” Nigerians face additional significant decisions.

Sixty members of the House of Representatives are rallying prominent Nigerians to support a shift from the current presidential system to a parliamentary system, which they argue is less costly and less cumbersome. In February, these lawmakers sponsored three bills to amend the 1999 Constitution to implement this change by 2031. The bills are: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2024 (HB.1115); Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2024 (HB.1116); and Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2024 (HB.1117).

At a press briefing following the presentation of these bills, their spokesman, Abdussamad Dasuki, highlighted the cross-party and regional collaboration behind the proposal. 

He argued that the current presidential system, modelled after the United States, still retains characteristics of military rule, making the Nigerian president one of the most powerful in the world. 

Dasuki cited high governance costs and excessive executive powers as major flaws of the presidential system.

“No wonder the Nigerian president appears to be one of the most powerful presidents in the world. Over the years, the imperfections of the presidential system of government have become glaring, despite several alterations to the constitution to address the shortcomings of a system that has denied the nation the opportunity to attain its full potential,” Dasuki remarked.

He elaborated on the high cost of governance under the current system, which leaves fewer resources for crucial areas like infrastructure, education and healthcare, thereby hindering national development. The excessive powers vested in executive members, who are appointees and not directly accountable to the people, were also highlighted as a significant issue.

 “Our founders, in their wisdom and in a political atmosphere devoid of compulsion, considered the interests of their native peoples and their desire to live together in a country where truth and justice reign, where no man is oppressed, and where all citizens live in peace and plenty. They adopted the parliamentary system of government, which was the governance system of the First Republic. For six years while it was in operation, the system worked for the country,” Dasuki said.

The lawmakers have initiated broader consultations with key stakeholders in the country, having met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Aminu Dantata, Professor Ango Abdullahi, and other influential figures who have expressed support for the proposal.

Earlier this week, another group of over 30 members of the House of Representatives proposed a single six-year term for the president and governors, as well as a proposition for two vice presidents, alongside other electoral reforms. The members, under the aegis of ‘Reform Minded Lawmakers’, detailed their proposals in 50 bills presented before the House for amendment.

At a press conference, spokesman Rep. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere emphasised the urgent need for constitutional and electoral reforms to address Nigeria’s ongoing issues since independence. He highlighted the group’s commitment to reducing governance costs, ensuring equity and combating corruption through legislative instruments.

“We are a group of over 30 reform-minded lawmakers from different political parties committed to ensuring a working Nigeria using legislative instruments within our power. We aim to ensure the reduction of the cost of governance and campaigns; unite our country, ensure a seamless transition, continuity, uninterrupted development, justice, equity, independence of INEC, efficient use of state resources, and tackle nepotism, state capture, and corruption in electoral processes,” Ugochinyere said.

The lawmakers proposed several significant reforms, including the constitutional alteration to provide for the rotation of executive powers among the six geopolitical zones, the recognition of the division of Nigeria into six geopolitical zones, and a single six-year tenure for the president and governors.

These changes aim to reduce government spending, increase efficiency in governance, and provide national stability.

Among the proposed amendments is the creation of two vice presidents’ offices to emerge from the southern and northern parts of Nigeria. The first vice president would be a succession vice president, while the second would be a minister in charge of the economy.

Another proposed amendment is that of financial autonomy and accountability of local government councils by prescribing an independent consolidated local government council account and imposing long-term imprisonment for any misuse of local government funds.

There are also amendments to ensure state governments remit allocations to local government councils within their jurisdiction, with penalties for non-compliance. These, however, may be belated if the federal government succeeds in its suit against the state governments now before the Supreme Court to secure an order granting full autonomy to the local governments.

Ugochinyere further stressed the necessity of electoral reforms to improve Nigeria’s democratic processes. These include: conducting all elections (presidential, governorship, National Assembly, state houses of assembly and local governments) on the same day; ensuring election results align with the list of accredited voters and the B-VAS machine; and holding INEC officers accountable for declaring false results through civil and criminal actions.

Others are resolving all election-related litigations before the winners are sworn into office and making all election-related documents and materials available to those who participated in elections and who have reason to question the outcomes.

The lawmakers acknowledged the significant challenges facing Nigeria, including economic hardship, insecurity, disunity, weak institutions, corruption and wastage of state resources. They stressed the critical phase Nigeria is in and the importance of their reform efforts for the country’s survival as a political and economic unit.

Experts and civil society organisations (CSOs) have, however, expressed mixed reactions to the proposals. 

Dr Abubakar Kyari of the University of Abuja opposes both the return to parliamentary system and the single six-year term, arguing that governance issues stem from implementation rather than system structure.

“I am not convinced by the reasons advanced by the canvassers of this particular position. They have mentioned the issue of cost. I think the issue of cost is just a matter of the implementers and not the system. No matter what system of government is operated, as long as there are no checks and balances, or as long as there are no deliberate attempts to ensure that officials of government do not turn the public treasury into their own personal treasury, there will be profligacy and unnecessary spending of resources,” Kyari said.

He further critiqued the idea of returning to regionalism, questioning how the regions of 1960–1966 could be relevant today. He also argued that the current geopolitical zones do not reflect present realities and that any such move would be impractical.

His position on the parliamentary system of government reiterated that earlier espoused by Professor Auwalu Yadudu, a renowned constitutional lawyer.

In an earlier interview with Daily Trust, Yadudu said with the current situation in Nigeria, a return to the parliamentary system of government may become a recipe for inertia and chaos.

“You simply don’t know what exactly the parliamentary system will throw out for you, because I can imagine the kind of instability, political inertia, and even the total chaos in the country if you were to go for parliamentary system of government, which is so prone to instability, and given our ethnic, religious and geopolitical differences, I don’t see people really minding their business and allowing the system to work for five years,” he said.

On his part, Mallam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), spoke on the need for democratic, transparent and inclusive power rotation at both federal and state levels.

He warned against federal overreach into state affairs, as exemplified by the Kano State emirate crisis, which he argued undermined state rights.

“In addition to the rotational presidency and governorship positions, Nigerians are demanding that a five-year single term be adopted to create political stability and inclusion for now,” Rafsanjani said.

Also, Comrade Ibrahim Zikirullahi, Executive Director of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), called for caution and vigilance regarding the proposed bills, questioning the motives behind their initiation.

While supporting some aspects, such as the single tenure and financial autonomy for local governments, he raised concerns about expanding bureaucracy with the introduction of two vice presidents and the implications for the electoral cycle.

“Conducting two different elections for the legislative and executive arms will not only erode the gains from reducing the election cycle for the president and governors by two years but will further increase the overall cost of elections,” Zikirullahi noted.

Thus, while the proposed constitutional and electoral reforms by Nigerian lawmakers aim to address critical governance and political issues, they have sparked significant debate among experts and civil society. The discussions and consultations continue as Nigeria navigates these complex political reforms, with the potential for a substantial impact on the country’s future.

 

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