The political history of Nigeria post-independence has been a very wavy curve between the leadership provided by military and civilian governments. The military incursions at different periods in the country’s political history had corrupted, to a very large extent the practice of democracy in the country. Those who fashioned democracy as a system of government never envisaged that the seeming political rape of the system would be as perennial as it has been especially in Sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria.
One of the legacies of military rule in Nigeria is the fact the military command and control system of leadership seems to have drifted into the democratic system practiced in the country even more than two decades after the return of civilian democracy. Nigerian presidential democracy seems to invest too many powers in the executive arm of government and that possibly explains why the presidency and the governorship positions are so coveted and seem very imperial wielding enormous powers that often emasculates other arms of government especially the legislature.
Those who fashioned the democratic system of government came up with the three arms of government; executive, legislature and the judiciary because according to Montesquieu, “when the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body of magistrates, there can be no liberty”. The different arms of government are supposed to be the drivers of the best tenets of democracy for the best output for the people but the Nigerian story especially has been the story of very powerful executive whose exercise of their powers often seem to emasculate the legislature at both the local, state and federal levels thereby impairing the functionality of the democracy practices.
Sometimes, the overreaching exercise of power by the executive is euphemistically defined as ‘executive-legislative harmony or party loyalty’. A close study of the the Nigerian brand of democracy shows why the whole system appears very dysfunctional as the presidency and the governors wield very enormous powers that inadvertently portray them as imperial rulers.
The Roundtable Conversation believes that to get back to practicing the best tenets of democracy will make the system of governance work for the people. Nigeria must have a paradigm shift. The core tenets of democracy must be practiced for the people to progressively benefit from the type of government that gives power to the people and not to any one individual or group.
The Roundtable Conversation feels that part of the obsession with the Presidency to the almost total neglect of the legislative arm at all levels is due to the huge powers inadvertently granted the executive in a system that should see the three arms as equal partners.
We spoke to Anthony Kila, a Professor of Strategy and Development and the Director, Center for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS). We asked him what his views are about the emphasis on the executive to the detriment of the legislature. He believes that the paradox is that the people have empowered the executive arm of government so much and the irony is that they do not build institutions. He maintains that we must recognize that we have rushed into a presidential system that has made the executive too powerful and the executive does not build institutions. The paradox is that we have empowered the arm of government that does not build what we need most which is institutions.
Strangely we have abandoned institutions and gone for programmes. Without strong institutions, we cannot get a functional democracy which is about liberty, rule of law and checks and balances and it is the legislature that can give us that. Really the founders of democracy started it from the parliament and the reason being that democracy runs effectively on checks and balances. This means that no office will be powerful enough, no group or individual must be rich enough to buy or oppress the rest of the people.
To get our democracy right, we must understand that we need institutional reforms and to make that possible, we need a strong legislature. In essence, while the presidential and gubernatorial candidates regale us with programmes they intend to execute if and when elected, we can ask those vying for legislative seats on where they stand about restructuring for instance. It is laughable to hear people ask a President about restructuring and they too often promises or declines. We must all realize that the executive has no such powers in a democracy.
We must begin to rediscover the real functional roles of the legislature at local, state and national assembly levels. That will be a way to rediscover and reset our democracy to better functionality. We must begin to have this very complex but urgently needed conversation. If we do not have that conversation, we might not achieve the development we so desire.
Asked why he feels the middle class and other intellectuals do not see value in taking up legislative seats at any of the three tiers of government. He believes again that the system as presently run gives enormous powers to the executive and some party leaderships. They demand utter loyalty from the legislative arms and most of the middle class people might feel too independently liberated to kowtow before those people so they rather stay away. Their mindset is often not to become an appendage to anyone just because they want to serve.
However, he believes that some of the big names in politics seem to have gone through a certain form of political ladder at least since 1999. The likes of the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike was a local government chairman, served as chief of staff to the governor, became federal minister of state for education before becoming governor. The Vice presidential candidate of the opposition PDP, governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state almost has the same growth process including being a Senator too before becoming governor. Prof. believes that there are pockets of experienced politicians who have gone through the different stages in the democratic process but he expects more people to get into the train too.
He equally believes that there is an idea that can be brought to fruition to help the system. He feels that it is quite paradoxical that the people we tend to leave core politics to are often merely interested in just winning elections and getting power for its own sake and they can do anything just to be elected. He feels that to change this attitude, more people must be ready to embrace functional diversity that we see in other democracies.
He suggests what he calls the Association of Non-Contenders (ANC).This could be an association by patriots who are interested in nation building but not necessarily active political participants. We need people who are committed professionals or skilled in all fields but who are non-partisan that can contribute intellectually based on knowledge and good conscience on what to do to enhance nation building. They could for instance work on measures to improve the electoral system like working towards eradicating vote selling and buying through education and community service.
The Roundtable Conversation believes that nation building is not for politicians exclusively. However, politicians often have the opportunity to guide the citizens through the right policies and programme to build a functional system that promotes the welfare of the people. Nation-building is a collective duty of every citizen who must take civic responsibilities very seriously. Democracy is a collaborative work. The seeming excessive powers of the executive arms across states and the federal level has happened because there are missing links that must be filled with vibrant citizen participation especially the middle class, exhausted as they might be due to socio-economic challenges. There must be that conscious step taken to right the wrongs especially those bequeathed by the military that usurped power for so long and left a legacy of authoritarianism.
The Nigerian citizens must realize that democracy is not just about the presidency or the governors. The legislature is a huge pillar of democracy and the functionality of the executive is dependent on how vibrant and knowledgeable about legislative duties that those elected at ward, state and federal levels are. An active legislature is the soul of democracy. Nigerians must therefore begin to demand better performance from the legislators.
The people must also realize that all elected candidates are not meant to be imperial leaders but servants of the people that must play by the rules or the same democratic rules under which they were given mandates can be used to strip them of the powers they wield. The coming election must see the Nigerian people doing things differently if they expect to have a system that the next generation can be proud of.
The Nigerian middle class has a duty to use their education and exposure to contribute to nation building. Partisan politics must not be seen as the exclusive preserve of any one group. The growth we seek can only come from the people holding politicians to account. Politicians are all elected politicians either in the executive or legislature to deliver services. It is high time Nigerians focus attention on the three arms of government because focusing on just the executive especially the presidency has not done the country any good.
The dialogue continues…