There are two major systems of democratic governance, the parliamentary and the presidential. A parliamentary system is a democratic form of government in which the executive proceeds from the legislature, normally called the parliament, and in which the party or a coalition of parties with the highest number of members in the legislature form the executive, the leader of the party becoming prime minister.
Executive functions are exercised by members of the legislature appointed by the prime minister to the cabinet as ministers and the cabinet is also held accountable to that parliament.
The presidential system on the other hand is the form of government currently practiced in Nigeria. It is a democratic and republican government in which the head of government is also the head of state and leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This system was invented by America’s founders in 1787, it separates the three branches into different institutions: executive, legislature, judiciary, and above all, gives the people a direct say.
Nigeria has since its independence in 1960 practiced different systems of democratic governance, namely the parliamentary constitutional monarchy, the parliamentary republican constitution and the presidential system.
The country started its self-governance political journey with the system of constitutional monarchy which was inherited from Britain, its colonial masters. Between 1960 and 1963 when Nigeria adopted a parliamentary republican constitution, the Queen of England was the Head of State. By 1963, the country became a republican constitutional democracy and replaced the queen with a president of Nigerian origin.
This parliamentary system was practiced for another three years until the January 1966 coup which ushered in the first experience of Nigeria’s military rule. By 1979, when the nation was returned to a democratic rule, the presidential system of government, which is still being practiced, was introduced.
Although the presidential model conjures a strong and centrally focused political leadership, some political pundits have argued it has not worked effectively in Nigeria, a nation of diverse ethnic nationalities and long history of ethnic rivalry.
Some analysts also argued that the presidential system has given rise to a seeming fear of insecurity and domination of some ethnic groups over others based on majority or having their people in high political offices such as the president and governors in various states.
Whereas, in the parliamentary system, the political leadership diffuses over time. It is not centralised as the prime minister will only campaign in his constituency as a candidate of a party and will only face his colleagues as a political party with the highest number of parliamentarians to become primus inter pares (first among equals).
This process is adjudged cheaper, unlike a presidential system where a candidate is expected to campaign across the country with its attendant costs.
Proponents of the parliamentary system further argued that the system engenders fusion of the executive and the legislature, allowing the prime minister choose his cabinet members among the legislators usually with the consent of other party leaders, thereby encouraging intra-party consensus and harmony.
Pro-parliamentary system canvassers say it provides a simple mechanism for dissolving parliament and the executive without damage to the body politic. When a vote of no confidence is successfully passed, the prime minister and the cabinet stand dissolved, thereby paving way for a fresh election.
But in a presidential system, there are no straightforward means of replacing the president. The impeachment provision in Nigeria’s second and fourth republics is reserved for ‘gross misconduct and what constitutes ‘a gross misconduct’ can only be defined by the National Assembly. Having experimented with these systems of constitutional democracy, some Nigerians and stakeholders in the polity who claimed to have examined the pros and cons of the three systems suggested that the parliamentary republican system should be adopted.
Those who believe in this school of thought opined that Nigeria, a diverse nation of over 250 tribes where about three are regarded as majority tribes while more than 240 tribes comprise the minority tribes, needed a system of government that must soothe its diversity and protect the minorities.
For instance, in 2018 some lawmakers sponsored a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria to reintroduce a parliamentary system of government.
The bill sponsored by 71 members sought to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary where the government will be run by the parliament.
Prominent amongst the sponsors of the bill are Abdussamad Dasuki (PDP, Sokoto), Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno), Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), late Ossey Prestige (APGA, Abia), and Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers).
The lawmakers believed that the parliamentary system of government would help achieve economic growth and development in the country.
A prominent civil society leader in the country, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the parliamentary system would be more effective and more likely to deliver good governance in Nigeria because it has mechanisms that will check the conduct of the executive as it is also part of the legislature.
Auwal who is the executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) noted the cost of governance and the massive popular participation in corruption by public officials. The presidential system as it is practiced in Nigeria is more costly than the parliamentary system.
“In the Parliamentary system, there is less tendency of disputes and conflicts, which makes it comparatively easier to pass legislation and implement it. This type of government is more flexible as, if required, the prime minister can be changed. A parliamentary democracy allows representation of diverse groups, this system gives opportunities to various diverse ethical, racial, linguistic and ideological groups to share their views and enable making of better and suitable laws and policies. Since, the executive is responsible to the Parliament; it has the power to keep a check upon the activities of the executive.
“Moreover, the members of the Parliament can move resolutions, discuss matters and ask questions of public interest to put pressure on the government. This enables responsible governance, Parliamentary system prevents autocracy, this is because the executive is responsible to the legislature, and it is possible to vote out the prime minister through a no confidence motion, thus, power does not get concentrated in the hands of only one person. In case, the no confidence motion is passed, the leader of the state invites the opposition to form the government. Thereby, this system provides an alternate government,” he said.
Another analyst, Anthony Akinola, who argues in favour of a presidential system, said, “The impact the presidential system of government is capable of having on a society that is as heterogeneous as ours may not necessarily be the same as the parliamentary alternative.”
He added, “The presidential system of government is not complicated for Nigerians. In fact, it should be taken as an insult that a system that has been in practice in one nation for more than 200 years is considered to be complicated for Nigerians of the 21st century.”