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Nigeria: From Parliamentary To Presidential System Of Govt

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AsNigeriarevels in the celebrationofher 58th independence anniversary, OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU in this report takes a look at the systems of government the nation has experimented with in about six decades.

Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960, after years of colonial bondage under the British colonial elite who supervised the political and socio-economic development of Nigeria.

Expectedly at independence, the British bequeathed to post independent-Nigeria, including the system of government the new independent nation would run.

Like their French counterparts which bequeathed their system of government on their colonies at independence, the British handed down to Nigeria at independence the parliamentary system of government, which was the system of government in Britain at Nigeria’s independence.

The parliamentary system of government is where the executive branch of government enjoys direct or indirect support of the parliament, which is usually shown by a vote of confidence.

Also the relationship between the executive and the legislature in a parliamentary system is always almost cordial; as members of parliament in most cases are also part og the executive arm of government.

In the parliamentary system of government, the principle of separation of power, especially between the executive and the law making arm, the legislature is not always obvious.

However, parliamentary system of government evolves different ways of balancing power among the three arms of government, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

There is usually a head of government in a parliamentary system of government distinct from a head of state, which in most cases are ceremonial. The head of government is a prime minister, who wields the real power, while the head of state may however be an elected president or a monarchy, where constitutional monarchy exists.

The British parliamentary system, sometimes called cabinet government, operates essentially through elected representatives of the people in parliament, who exercise sovereign power on behalf of the people.

The actual conduct of the government is in the hands of the leading members of the majority party (ministers) which form the government, thereby constituting the cabinet. The ministers are usually individually and collectively held responsible to the parliament for the activities of the government, which is referred to as “the doctrine of ministerial responsibility and accountability,” a fundamental part of the British parliamentary system.

It is this system of government that the British colonial masters bequeathed on the merging Nigerian state at independence in 1960.

However, perhaps, because of the peculiarities of the new born nation, certain aspects of the system she inherited from her colonial masters were abandoned along the way.

For example, between 1960 and 1965, the Nigerian parliament sat for only about 38 days per annum as against the British parliament which sat for average 160 days per annum. This simply implied that unlike their British parliament, the Nigerian parliament no doubt preferred other preoccupation other than the one they pledged to and for which the Nigerian citizens entrusted their mandate to them.

The Westminster-type of parliamentary system of government is a product of historical evolution over the years, but from experience, it partitioned the country into two: government and opposition, and to make matters worse, this partition was into ethnic lines and that has been one of the major problems hindering the growth and development of the Nigerian nation till this day.

Political parties in the Nigerian parliamentary experiment were ethnic based, with alliances based on which ethnic group is ready to work and align with which ethnic group. Worse still, each of the three major ethnic groups at independence: the Yoruba, found in the Western part of the country; the Igbo which occupied the Eastern flank and the Hausa, which occupied the Northern region of the country,  all had one derogatory name or the other for each other and it was not strange for top politicians then to insult politicians from other divides openly and even on television.

The Nigerian parliamentary system of government for as long as it lasted up till 1965, was never in any way a semblance of the Westminster type bequeathed on the young nation by her colonial masters.

Parliamentarianism in Nigeria was replete with history of ethnic bickering and turbulence until it was abruptly terminated in January 1966.

At independence, Nigeria stood on the tripod of the North, West and East, which each region administered by an elected premier and an appointed governor serving as a ceremonial or nominal head.

The Western region comprising of present day Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta states, was later dismembered with the carving out of the Mid-Western region in 1963; the Norther region comprises of the present 19-state structure of the North East, North West and North central geo political zones, while the East was populated with the present day Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States.

The North adopted the Westminster parliamentary system with a premier as head of government and chief executive, while there was also a ceremonial governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

It also had a bicameral legislature, made of the Northern Region House of Assembly, made up elected representatives and the House of Chiefs, made up of emirs and chiefs.

The Western Region, which seemed the only homogeneous region with predominantly the Yoruba people and was granted self-rule in 1957, also had similar structure of government with the Northern region; also with an elected premier, who was the head of government and chief executive officer overseeing the day to day running of the government of the region.

There was also a ceremonial governor, who was more or less a figure head in charge of ceremonial function.

It was the same story for the Eastern region, with was an elected premier, who was also the head of government and Chief Executive Officer in charge of the running of the affairs of the region; with a governor who was also ceremonial like the Northern and Western regions governors.

Both the West and the East also had bicameral legislatures, like the North, but the East did not have strong and influential traditional institutions like the North and the West.

The regional governments of the early 1960s laid the foundations for the developmental strides of the respective regions and it has been argued in many quarters that the country would have fared better if the regions had not been dissolved and the country balkanized into the present states system.

At Independence, there were three dominant political parties, founded along regional and ethnic lines: the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC; the Action Group, AG in the West and the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns, NCNC, which was predominantly peopled by the East.

By 1962, the NPC was in control of the Federal Government, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the first Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe emerging the second and third Governor-General of Nigeria, first from 1960 to 1963 and again from 1963 to 1966.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo opted to be the leader of opposition, when the NCNC teamed up with the NPC to form a coalition government.

The faulty foundation of the First Republic, characterized by ethnic chauvinism and rivalry lead the death of that republic on January 15, 1966, when Nigeria experience the first military incursion into her political journey.

This military interregnum lasted till October 1, 1979, when Nigeria returned to democracy with the United States of America’s presidential system of government as the adopted model.

Recall that there are basically two systems of government, the parliamentary, which has been tested in the First Republic and the presidential system which has since October 1999, till date been the system of government in operation, except for a period of another military interregnum between December 31, 1983 and May 29, 1999.

A presidential system of government is a democratic and republican system, where the head of government leads an executive branch, which is distinct and separate from the legislative arm; and here the head of government is always almost the head of state, also known as the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

The executive in the presidential mode of government is not only elected independent of the legislature, but is also not responsible to the legislature. The entire country is the President’s constituency and under normal circumstances, the legislature cannot dismiss the government, like in the parliamentary, the legislature has the power to remove the President, through a process called impeachment.

There is contrast between the parliamentary and presidential system of government. For example, in presidential system, the head of government is elected to power by the electorate, unlike where the head of government in the parliamentary system of government is elected to power through the legislature.

Between October 1, 1999 and December 31,1983, when the Second Republic was buried through another military intervention, there were six political parties: the major one being the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, which though came with the toga ‘national’, but was ethnic in structure and Northern in outlook; the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, with its roots in the West and the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, with its roots in the East. There were the minor parties, the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, headed by Aminu Kano, the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, headed by Waziri Ibrahim and National Advance Party of Tunji Braithwaite.

There was a short-lived Third Republic built on the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC).

The country continued with the presidential system of government in the Fourth Republic, which was ushered in on May 29, 1999, with three political parties, which more or less were also built on ethnic basis: the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the Alliance for Democracy, AD and All peoples Party, APP.

Today, Nigerian has more than 90 political parties and running one of the most expensive presidential system of government, where about just less than 10 percent of elected and appointed officials corner about 90 per cent of nation’s resources.



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