Cerebral nonagenarian and former President Shehu Shagari’s Liason Officer to the National Assembly, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai has said that the military working in concert with some civilians lowered the value of democracy in Nigeria.
Yakasai, a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and Northern Elders Council said that the military disposed the former parliamentary system in practice before the advent of military regime and made the outcome of the 60 wise-men Constitution Drafting Committee to depend on the configuration of influences of the dictatorial tendencies of the military at the time.
According to him, it was a deliberate effort by the military to change the first system to presidential system, pointing out that what they did was to make the system even under civilian administration to toe the path of military dictatorship. Excerpt:
Some Nigerians have queried the cost of governance in Nigeria not so much because of the system we operate, but they say it is the lack of vision and mission of the leadership and how ineffective they have been able to use the resources available to them. To this category of Nigerians, leadership has become a way of looting the nation’s treasury. But let me draw your attention to a statement by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently at a wedding in Lagos, where in his conversation with the former Emir of Kano, he said Nigeria cannot afford to spend 70 per cent of her budget on overhead. He also made reference to the Oransaye Panel Report and said government agencies would be collapsed. They also talked of the fact that we should have a unicameral legislature. What kind of system would you like to see and how do you want it to be in terms of protecting the future of the country and effective utilization of both human and material resources?
If I can have my way I will say we should go back to parliamentary democracy because what brought about it is the concentration of power in the hands of the chief executive at the federal and state levels. Both the president at the federal level and the state governors at the state levels have the power to appoint and to award contracts. So, it is a question of the system. Don’t concentrate power in the hands of an individual. Let the power be in the hands of people. In America, they operate the same system like we do; the only thing is that they are now advanced so much so that there is nothing like the money grabbing thing that we do here. But all said and done it was the military that put us in this kind of situation. We didn’t complain about the system we were practicing before. What brought this system was the military coup. Before 1966 there was no situation like people stealing money left, right and centre before the military came although I must admit that few people made money, but it was not this money grabbing spree that we have now. But it was the military that came and imposed this idea of presidential system on us. Now, after so many years of practicing this presidential system we have found out that it has taken us deeper into crisis and now it is difficult to find our way out of the problem they created by this imposition. What to do now is to do away with this system that concentrates power on one man. What the vice president said is okay, but the unfortunate thing is that would the same people we are complaining about disarm themselves? Would they deny themselves of what they are getting for themselves, their families and friends? That is not possible with human beings. So, this is our problem. It is a big problem for this country and Africa because Nigeria being the biggest country in the continent there is tendency for other countries to copy what Nigeria is doing. Unfortunately, I cannot see how people can disarm themselves of what they are enjoying.
You are suggesting we go back to the parliamentary system of government, but Alhaji Balarabe Musa who was also a key player in all the Republics we have had just like you is suggesting we adopt the regional system…?
(Cuts in) No. Regional system is a different issue. We are bound to continue with the federal structure system because there is no way for the regional system now. But the system can be parliamentary or presidential. Talking of creating regions or states does not answer the question of systems. It is the system, whether parliamentary or presidential that you will find the solution to the problem. In the First Republic we had a federation of three regions. We can go back to the parliamentary system. I think the sentiment now is that of six geopolitical zones. Everybody agrees that there is a problem in this country and the problem is that of embezzlement, mismanagement of the resources of the country. Instead of deploying them for the development of the country they are using the resources to enrich their families, friends and cronies. To do away with this type of thing is not a question of how many regions or states. Let us do away with the concentration of power in the hands of one man and go back to parliamentary system which means removing power from an individual and we will begin to see how we can address our concerns.
This is why people are talking of restructuring which also entails devolution of powers so that states can use the resources at their disposal to enhance development in their states and in the process encourage competition and…?
(Cuts in) My brother, most of the people saying this, I am sorry to say, have not seen it all. The problem is not that of restructuring. The problem is the system and how to do away with a system that allows an individual to do whatever he wants to do with power? That is the issue.
I am glad you have said power is being concentrated in the hand of an individual and now people are saying devolve power so that some aspects of the power can go to the states while some remain with the federal government. Is there anything wrong with that?
I am coming to that. But let me ask you: at state and local government today are there no abuses of power? How do you solve that problem? We are going to slide deeper into crisis if we follow that trajectory. Let us change the system first. With devolution of powers how have we solved the problem when our resources are being misused. The issue is let us go back to the parliamentary system. When we quit the parliamentary system it was not because we had something against it, but the military who are used to concentration of power in one man changed the system to suit their own style of governance. Let me tell you; with the exception of General Yakubu Gowon most of the military rulers had this idea in their heart of hearts of wanting to transmute themselves from military rulers to civilian leaders. They did not come out to say so per se, but if you studied their languages and actions then you will understand me. When Murtala Mohammed constituted a committee it was clear from his body language that he wanted them to dump parliamentary system. He indirectly suggested to the Constitution Drafting Committee then to dump parliamentary system for the presidential type of system. And this was what happened and this is what we are now suffering from. Other African countries like Kenya that did not go our way are not today suffering the kind of thing we are suffering now.
In other words, we should blame the military for our woes today for foisting the presidential system on us?
Oh! certainly. It is so because it is not the making of civilians; it is the making of the military that we adopted this presidential system. And how many years did the military spend ruling Nigeria compared to civilians. What is more they ruled with decrees and you know as soon as they emerged what they did was to suspend the constitution of the civilian leaders before them. They then reconstituted the security apparatus. They reconstituted the Constitution Drafting Committee, but they didn’t want Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the committee so they devised their strategy of appointing him as just a member of the then 60 wise men committee and then made Chief Rotimi Williams who was having problems with Awolowo the chairman. Before Chief Rotimi Williams quit politics you cannot say that the relationship between him and Chief Awolowo was cordial. Now, for Chief Awolowo to go and serve on a committee that Rotimi Williams was the chairman became impossible for Chief Awolowo. The military knew he will never accept the appointment so they got rid of him. They knew that with him they cannot do whatever they liked. After getting rid of him they were now able to get round the members of the committee and sold the idea of presidential system to them. I was conscious of what was happening at that time and so were some other people. Prof Ben Nwabueze was a prominent member of the Constitution Drafting Committee that drafted the 1979 Constitution. So, it was a deliberate effort by the military to change our first system to presidential system. What they did was to make the system even under civilian administration to toe the path of military dictatorship. Again, it was so done that should they decide to transmute they can still wield the same powers they wielded under the military regime. This has become our enemy till today and it was made so difficult for civilians to undo it. I gladly supported it without knowing the implications until lately. We started discovering the leakages not too long ago. Unfortunately, as it is, we just have to find a way of going back to the parliamentary system if we really want to develop as a nation. This type of presidential system that we currently practice, that concentrates powers in the hands of one man can only allow for dictatorship because of the landmines erected by the military.