The system of government is not Nigeria’s major challenge, it’s the absence of strong institutions

Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. Corruption is still very rampant in the country and development is snail-paced. With the country’s population growing faster than the economy, prospects of improving people’s standard of living are dim. Some lawmakers in the country think Nigeria’s problems stem from its presidential system of government which they say is expensive to run and lacks consensus building often required for making sound economic decisions. While the lawmakers made valid points, Nigeria’s challenges are beyond its system of government, claims Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

“It is not necessarily the system that is at fault in Nigeria, but chronic shortcomings in public administration, i.e. the apparatus of government – not its nature,” Professor Chan told The Nerve Africa.

“Corruption is part of those shortcomings,” he added, stressing that as things stand, “even an honest government would not necessarily be able to deliver reliable benefits to its citizens.”

Nigeria practised the parliamentary system of government during the First Republic before military took power in January 1966. The country’s 1979 Constitution, however, ushered in the US-styled presidential system of government. The backers of the constitution cited tensions and acrimonious politics of the First Republic as reasons for dropping the parliamentary system.

While poor public administration has been a challenge in Nigeria for decades, the situation has not been helped by the indecisiveness or lack of opinion, of current leader President Muhammadu Buhari, on critical issues. Being the man at the centre who holds most power, the president’s actions or lack thereof, has a major influence on outcomes.

As Professor Chan told The Nerve Africa, “A federal structure does demand a strong and coherent centre,” attributes the present government has been said to lack.

The lawmakers pushing for the parliamentary system of government claim that the over-centralisation of government decisions in the current system in Nigeria, obstructs economic development.

Ossai Nicholas Ossai, who represents oil-rich Delta State in Nigeria’s South-South region highlighted the lawmakers’ reasons for asking for a change in the system of government.

“Our position in this legislation clearly points to compelling advantages of parliamentary systems of government to economic growth and development.

“Studies have shown that countries run by presidential regimes consistently produce lower output growth and more volatile inflation. Political and economic instability also pervades and there are countless empirical records, which show that output growth under presidential regimes is in zero point (negative).

“While out growth under Parliamentary systems clocks from one point and above (positive), in countries run by presidential systems, inflation is on average six percentage point higher than those under parliamentary regimes.

“Presidential regimes consistently produce less favourable macroeconomic outcomes which prevails in a wide range of circumstances (The Nigerian example),” Ossai claimed.

A bill to push this stance, which was promoted by 71 members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives has passed the first reading. The supporters of the bill are members of different parties, including the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Tombari Sibe a Nigerian Development Strategist and Political Commentator agrees with some of the points made by the lawmakers.

“Ordinarily, I think the parliamentary system will be less expensive than the presidential system and if you also look at it properly, there will be more representatives of the people, of the democratic process. In a presidential system, you have the president unilaterally appointing ministers as he pleases, if anything he obeys the fact that it has to come from all the states in the country. But ordinarily, a parliamentary system will allow for such post to be drawn from the pool of what we give the parliament at the time,” Sibe said.

“Another thing the parliamentary system will do is that it would elicit a new level of interest by everybody, because you know that that your unit level is very important. It can get you to as far as a prime minister. So it will bring a new level of consciousness in the politics – a new level of democratic consciousness.”

While it is true that it was a parliamentary system of government that produced leaders like Ethiopia’s revolutionary, who would have struggled to win popular vote in a different system, there are several examples of presidential systems of government that are doing well and improving the lives of their citizens. So, Sibe asked; “is it always the problem of the system or the way the system is run?”

“Every system can be abused, even in the parliamentary system,” he pointed out. However, he admits that the system we currently practise in the country is not working efficiently.

Just like Professor Chan noted, Sibe said that strong institutions are critical to the effective running of a presidential system.

“The presidential system will only thrive when you have strong institutions that put everybody in check, but unfortunately our institutions are quite weak,” Sibe said.

He also said devolution of power could attempt to solve some of the problems the country currently faces.

“It won’t solve all of the problems, maybe it will metamorphose at a cellular level, but fundamentally, it will be better if we have a less concentrated system at the centre. The centre is too attractive and we have too much at stake.”

However, it believes the quest for a parliamentary system of government is coming rather late in the present political cycle as elections hold next year.

“They have less than less than six months left of their tenure. So, for fundamental changes like that, it would also need endorsements from state houses of assembly as well, I don’t think that will be successful at this time,” Sibe said.