Nigeria and Presidential Democracy: Any better alternative? (2)- Hassan Gimba
By Hassan Gimba
This, being a follow-up to last week’s write-up, was first published on February 22, 2021.
We have looked at various forms of government in the first part of this treatise. We ended with the posers, “Can we continue this way? Is it the fault of the system or the operators of the system? Should we scout for a better system or better operators? Should we look inwards? Will a system in tandem with our inner being be the answer to our multifaceted and ever-growing problems as a nation?” We signed off with this thought: “Perhaps we have been imposing on ourselves systems that are alien to us, to our culture, to our souls.”
Some think there is something wrong with the system we are practising. And some swear it is our fault, leaders and followers alike.
Parliamentary democracy crashed in Nigeria with the 1966 coup. Then the soldiers kept pushing each other out, with new entrants claiming the dethroned didn’t know how it was done. Our first experiment with presidential democracy lasted about 58 months – from 1979 to 1983. We now have 23 years, and hopefully, it has come to stay.
Nigeria has experienced gains and developments in all the types of governments we have practised. This proves that there can be developmental strides in any type of government depending on the operators. And this is why even in dictatorships there are the malevolent.
While not making a case for any form of government, one may say Libya, Iraq, China, Cuba, most of Eastern Europe, Asian Tigers and Russia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, etc., all experienced their development under one form of dictatorship or the other.
Apart from the United States of America, Brazil, Georgia and Indonesia, Ghana, Niger and Kenya are some countries that are successfully practising the presidential system of governance.
Russia, France, Romania, Taiwan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Egypt are successfully implementing the semi-presidential system. It is a system where there is a president and a prime minister and the president has genuine executive authority, unlike in a parliamentary republic, even though some of the roles of a head of government are exercised by the prime minister.
You find successful countries among those who are practising parliamentary democracy as well. Those that readily come to mind are Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Singapore and Turkey. These are countries with a president who serves as a symbolic figurehead. A prime minister is the active head of the executive branch of government and also the leader of the legislature.
Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates practise absolute monarchy in which the monarch is the de facto head of the executive branch and exercises all powers, while Denmark, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden practice constitutional monarchy where a prime minister is the head of the executive branch of government and also the leader of the legislature. And the head of state is a constitutional monarch who only exercises his or her powers with the consent of the government and is largely a figurehead.
Iran practises theocracy and China is a one-party state. Yet all the mentioned countries are developing steadily, boosting local production, taming crime, having low rates of unemployment, having enviable GDP, impressive foreign reserves and sturdy currency, etc.
In our last discourse, we looked at just one aspect that could change Nigeria for good – capital flight occasioned by the government buying foreign-made cars. Between 2015 and 2021, the Office of the President alone spent N5 billion on vehicles.
In this year’s budget, the president’s office is to spend N1.6 billion on new vehicles – it was about N500 million the year before.
In 2018, the Senate, House of Representatives and the management unit of the National Assembly spent about N6.6 billion on new cars. Senators’ purchases totalled N3.2 billion, the lower chamber acquired theirs at N3 billion and the management of the National Assembly procured cars worth N430 million.
In September 2019, the 9th Assembly spent N5.5 billion and voted for the procurement of their own – Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for each of the 479 members of the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly.
To cut a long story short, this year alone, the Presidency and Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government are expected to spend at least N40 billion to purchase vehicles. And this is just a conservative figure. Add to it the cost of tires, maintenance, etc., and you will be left with a mind-boggling figure. Join that of the National Assembly, states and local governments to it and think of how such amounts can change the lives of millions of Nigerians.
Can you imagine the ripple effect of such monies going into enhancing our local car production efforts? The glass manufacturing industries, car upholstery, tyre production, etc., which would sprout up, as a result, will surely help in cutting down our unemployment rate and arresting galloping inflation by strengthening and stabilising our currency.
Again, with such an amount, each of Nigeria’s 774 local governments can get at least a comprehensive health centre at N10 million each and a standard referral hospital, one in each geopolitical zone. Imagine how these would improve our overall health and give livelihoods to hundreds of thousands.
You may even go further to think of N50 million spent in each local government to set up cottage industries or invest N5 million in each of Nigeria’s 8,800 wards to upgrade one vocational centre to teach self-sufficiency skills to our youths. Imagine the number of people that would be taught how to fish!
There are many, many ways such money would be more beneficial to Nigerians than spending them on cars to massage the desire for luxury among government officials.
Considering some of our misplaced priorities, we may, after all is said and done, conclude that it is not so much the system but rather the people that is Nigeria’s problem. To this, I do not see many denying it.
Gimba, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime writes from Abuja