Being an excerpt from an address by Engr. Muhammed Abba-Gana, CON former FCT Minister and Presidential Adviser on Relations with Civil Society on the occasion of the Great Debate for National Unity organised by Igbo Leadership Development Foundation and Gregory University, Uturu and World Igbo Summit Group on 5th March, 2020 at Sheraton Hotel Abuja.
The other very important issue, which should form part of the coming reform/restructuring, is the matter of putting the rotational presidency into our constitution. Our political elites are very idealistic and elitist. Successful countries in the world make their constitutions and forms of government to suit their historical, cultural, religious, ethnic diversity and background. Most countries in Europe have different constitutions and forms of government. Great Britain for instance still retains their monarchy, the French have president and prime minister, the Germans also have different system etc. In the USA the Senate President is the vice president. And they have complicated system of primaries and electoral college. Therefore, in Nigeria we must design a system which ensures/guarantees political stability of our country. In Europe, Switzerland adopted the rotational presidency because they have diverse ethnic groups: German, French, Italians etc.
Now let us examine why National Unity has become elusive in Nigeria after about sixty years of self-government. In my opinion it is the tendency of the political class and the elites to always manipulate religion, region/regionalism, ethnicity, culture etc., to gain political advantage instead of talking about economic, social and industrial development and using a template of social and political and economic justice. So the manipulation of religion, ethnicity, culture and region/regionalism for political purposes undermines National Unity and also makes getting National Consensus on any issue very difficult after about 60 years of self-government.
In order to make progress, the present generation of leaders must consciously and deliberately avoid this tendency of manipulating/using religion, ethnicity, regionalism, culture etc., to gain political advantage. The focus should be about bringing peace, unity, security, creating jobs, giving quality and affordable education, health care, transportation, industrialization, electricity and water supply, housing and food security. This is the way to build a prosperous and united country in diversity.
Accordingly we must ensure that the good efforts of our 1st republic leaders who got us independence without armed struggle from the British should not be in vain. Also, we should ensure that all those who died in the Biafran war of Nigerian Unity did not die in vain by establishing a truly united, peaceful, secure and prosperous Nigeria where poverty, unemployment, hunger, income, inequality are largely absent and all Nigerians are feeling good and contented.
We must realize again that our leadership recruitment process needs to be improved substantially. If the right things happen it is because of good leaders and if wrong things happen it is because of wrong type of leaders. But getting good leaders needs a lot of effort from all citizens and stakeholders and institutions of state. Once we get critical mass of good leaders at all levels the jigsaw will fit, all National Questions will get the right answers, food will be on the table, naira in the pocket, security will be abundant and life will be nice, fun and good.
The Nigerian federation is the most unique in the whole world but unfortunately Nigerian elites and the political class are not conscious/aware of this fundamental matter. In the other major federations there is always one major ethnic group consisting of about 65%-75% of the total population of the country. The remaining ethnic groups constitute about 25%-35% of the population. So no matter what happens the major ethnic group provides political stability and the leader emerges through their consent. In the U.K. for example the English is the major ethnic group, the Scottish, Irish, Welsh all are not much more than 30% or 35% of the U.K. population. In the U.S.A the Blacks, Hispanics, Indians etc., do not account for more than 35% of the population or even less. So the Whites can determine the leadership. The black population alone could not make Barack Obama President of U.S.A. In the former Soviet Union the Russian ethnic group is the largest group, they constituted may be up to 70% of the population. In India the Hindu group are the vast majority.
But in the case of Nigeria no single ethnic group constitutes more than 30%-40% of the total population. None of the three major ethnic groups: Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo on their own can hold the country to ransom. Total population of the minority groups in the North and South may be equal or even more than any of the three major ethnic groups in population. So the Nigerian federation is unique because none of the three major ethnic groups or all the minority ethnic groups on their own can determine the leadership or anything to the exclusion of the other two major ethnic groups. So there is always close tie or stalemate. So rotation of presidency is necessary to ensure permanent political stability.
This is the reason why the 1994/1995 constitutional conference adopted the rotational presidency and the Abacha government approved it. The same thing is happening in Switzerland where ethnic Germans, ethnic French, ethnic Italians etc., adopted rotational presidency whereby each of the ethnic groups produce the leadership of the country turn by turn. It is a matter of commonsense for Nigerians to adopt rotational presidency so that our political stability and peace, unity, security, progress and prosperity are assured forever. We should not be violently and bitterly disputing election results after 60 years of self-government.
We have to take advantage of the coming political reforms or restructuring as some groups describe it to re-examine critically which form of government would serve our needs best between the presidential system we are now practicing and the parliamentary system we used to practice in the 1st republic. It is abundantly clear that the presidential system is more expensive for obvious reasons. One, for the position of the president the candidate has the whole country as his constituency i.e. the 36 states and FCT. He has to open campaign office and employ necessary staff and supply them with all the logistics and campaign materials. Whereas in the parliamentary system a federal member who has won election in any federal constituency within his or her state may end up as prime minister if his political party has majority of members in the parliament. Same thing goes for the position of state governor. In the presidential system any state gubernatorial candidate has the whole state as his/her constituency and must open campaign offices in every LGA of the state and employ staff to run such offices. In the parliamentary system any member of the state house of assembly may end up as the state governor if his political party has majority of the members in the house of assembly.
In the parliamentary system ministers in the cabinet are appointed from amongst the members of the federal house, usually from the same party as the prime minister. But if there is coalition of political parties forming the government, the prime minister can appoint ministers from amongst the members of the political party forming the coalition. Same thing goes for the appointment of commissioners at the state level. The state governor appoints his commissioners from amongst the members of the state house of assembly. In presidential system, the president and state governors are free to appoint any suitable person, elected member or not, politician or not. Sometimes even apolitical technocrats are appointed ministers or commissioners.
Therefore we need to decide which form of government best serves our needs along with other matters under the National Question. If for any overriding reason the presidential system is preferred we must face the reality of high cost of its operation and high cost of electioneering campaigns particularly in the case of presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial candidates needing billions of naira for campaign. We cannot get good leaders elected because quite a large number of suitable candidates cannot afford to raise the billions of naira needed. Because of this, a way must be found to drastically reduce through whatever means the high cost of elections, otherwise the leadership recruitment process will forever remain in favour of the highest bidder not necessarily the best or most suitable candidate. So good governance, transparency, accountability will suffer in such leadership recruitment process.
The other problem of the presidential system is that it puts a lot of state power and material resources under the control of one person, the president or the governor. It is a matter of common sense that if you put so much material resources and state power in the hands of one person, the president or the governor the chances are that such material resources will be mismanaged from time to time and also the state power will be abused from time to time.
The problem is that in our practice of presidential system in Nigeria the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary has been compromised in practice. Obama, former U.S.A President said in Africa we need strong institutions. But in Africa too many strongmen do not allow institutions like legislature, judiciary, political parties, electoral bodies, and security agencies to become strong and independent. And
even the media and civil society are sometimes compromised, sometimes subtly and sometimes directly.
In the parliamentary system power is more diffused or shared. This is because the prime minister at the federal level and the governor at the state level are also elected members of parliament and they operate on the floor of parliament – matters are openly debated, questions are asked and answered by the prime minister/governor on the floor of the parliament, with speaker presiding and in control of the proceedings. The presidential system we have is really like mild dictatorship or monarchy because the separation of powers does not work properly, for now, and the institutions of state are compromised or can be compromised by strong hands of the executive.
So, what is the way forward? The time has come to stop copying political systems from other countries without infusing our peculiar needs and taking into account our level of political and social development etc. The electoral code which made/produced the most free, fair and peaceful election, the Abiola victory was our own open ballot system. Voters queue behind the photograph of the candidates of their choice. The result: zero rigging. Nobody complained among those who contested.
All over the world countries make constitutions, rules, regulations, social and economic policies which reflect and accommodate their history, well known peculiarities and social, economic, religious and ethnic diversities. That is how the much desired unity in diversity can be achieved or realized by having sensible rules and realistic fundamental laws for our meaningful existence on our God given country, Nigeria which is full of resources.
Concluding, we must note that ordinary Nigerians are really not the problems of Nigeria as a country. The ordinary people live peacefully with each other and manage to sustain themselves with really very little support from governments at all levels. Even the minimum expected from the governments at all levels, security and the welfare of the people is now difficult to access.
In this situation the least the political class should do is to avoid making the existing bad situation even worse through dangerous rhetoric, incitement, disinformation and misinformation. As far as I can assess most of the crises and difficulties in Nigeria are caused by inordinate ambitions, greed and ego of not more than one thousand (1000) privileged Nigerians and the 200 million Nigerians are in hostage situation. It is a fact that the inordinate ambition of one leader or the unchained/unrestrained evil in one leader can destroy a whole country like Hitler in Germany, bad leaders in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
Therefore the present situation in Nigeria needs to be managed carefully, responsibly, patriotically, patiently and with fear of God. This is why the recent nationwide resort to prayers and fasting is a welcome development because God is Almighty and All-Knowing, our Creator and Sustainer and He Alone Has Power over everything. We should also know that some cures can be much worse than the disease. And curing the disease by killing the patient is definitely no use.
Nigeria as presently constituted and with a vision for the future, no ethnic group can be better off outside Nigeria than remaining inside Nigeria. They say there is always safety in numbers. All the influential and important countries of the world, even the most prosperous ones, have large populations. In human affairs and in the march of human civilization, things happen in God’s own time and not when we human beings expect. What we cannot achieve now our children and grand children can achieve in their own time no one generation can resolve or find solutions to all problems and difficulties arising in the nation building process. Therefore, we must not spare any effort to keep Nigeria one and united for the sake of our children, grand children and future generations of Nigerians and also for the sake of all the black people of the world.
In times like this, we must think and worry about the unintended consequences of what we do and what we say. This is because every action, every law and every policy, every doctrine etc., has unintended consequences both positive and negative. All these must be objectively assessed by knowledgeable and patriotic persons. But not by the mob or crowd.
At the age of 77, I would like to leave behind a united, peaceful, prosperous and secure Nigeria. I would like to caution that there is no easy or peaceful way of dividing or breaking up Nigeria and I HATE to see it happening in my life time. God forbid.
Finally, for now the most urgent matter facing all of us in Nigeria is really an existential one. This is to quickly overcome the multitude of internal security crises and restore peace, unity and security of lives and property throughout our beloved country, Nigeria.
This is one task that must be done with our prayers to God the Almighty and All- Knowing Our Creator and Sustainer for He Alone Has Power over everything. With all our hands on the deck, our Lord help us, have mercy on us, return our beautiful country to normalcy in permanent peace, unity, prosperity and security. Amin.