Filed in News by on August 14, 2010

Parliamentary system is best – Ibiyinka Solarin, US-based professor of Political Science
Saturday, 14 Aug 2010

Professor Ibiyinka Oluwole Solarin has taught Political Science at the Texas College, United States of America for almost three decades. He speaks to ADEOLA BALOGUN while on holiday in Nigeria recently about how Nigerians can realise their dream of a functional democracy and how to check the systemic decay in the polity

As a Nigerian in the Diaspora,

how would you compare

Nigeria’s image now to what

it was some years ago?

I think, to a great extent, we have to be grateful to God for His mercies on this country. Our image is being redeemed gradually, but we still have significant challenges concerning how we manage this transition to a full fledged democracy. Let us be candid; ours is not yet a fully functional democratic system. We should say we are in a transition. We like to call it here in Nigeria transient democracy. Right now, there is so much arbitrariness, so much capriciousness in the way our system of government works. Service delivery, transparency, electoral process, these are challenges that we have. The fact that sovereignty belongs to the people, consent of the people are the canons of a democratic system. But that is a major challenge to our great country.

It is often said that our democracy is patterned after that of America. As someone who is conversant with both systems, do we really operate a federal system here?

Well, we always like to say that we are in a federal system, but in reality, because of the lopsided nature of our governance here, we are more or less far shy of a federal system. We are a federal system in name but a unitary one in practice, and that is not the way it should be. The federal government here is too big, too profligate. The power concentrated in the hand of the federal government here undermines the very tenets of a federal system. The states are basically attached to the fiscal appendages of the federal government. Many of the states are unviable and they develop this morbid attachment to the federal government because without federal allocation, they can not even pay their wage bill. The autonomy that is normally granted is not there, so the federal government basically is the be all and end all, and that is not how the federal system should be. They should be coordinate; not that the federal government should lord it over the states. Let me give you an example: each state should have their own constitution under a functional federal system. However, if there is a conflict between the state and the federal law, the federal law (supremacy law) will override the state law. That is how it should be. That is why it can arbitrarily withdraw allocation. In a fully functional system, there should be pluralism where different political parties are empowered in different parts of the country.

It is often said that Nigerian president is too powerful and that is why no governor is able to confront him. Is that how it should be?

Definitely no. I am not an advocate of the presidential system. I think Nigeria is better run under a parliamentary system, because that fits the plurality and multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual nature of our society. The president that is far more remote and so far away from the concerns of people in Oturkpo, Ado Ekiti, or Yenagua can not know the local complexities of a particular state. So, if we have a functional six or eight-region structure, I think that will serve our country well. Right now, we have a concentration of power in the federal government to the extent that 60 per cent of our revenue accrues to the federal government alone. It should not be so. That is the problem we have right now. We fail to understand the tenets of fiscal federalism. It is not that the states will not get anything from the federal government, because there is a pool. But they should not be tied to the apron string of the federal government like this where they are all, for all practical purposes, parasites. Many of the states can not generate revenue, and we have a rapacious federal government that consumes so much money and delivers so little.

Now that we have found ourselves in this state, what should be done?

Our system of government right now is dysfunctional, and we know it. It is not working for the majority of our people. Look at our road network. Look at the educational system. Look at the health sector. I think Nigerians should sit down, call it a conference if you like, to deliberate on the future of the young people who constitute the majority. I think that if we are honest, we can design a more manageable system. For example, people are calling for more states. This is, in my judgment, totally counterproductive to the realities of Nigerians. Creation of more states will not help this country. Look at how much we spend on overhead alone in Nigeria. Now we want more states and yet some of the states are not viable. The earlier we do it, the better for Nigeria. Nigeria is marooned in a sea of want, of lack and deprivation. That should not be. I know young people with bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics, Biochemistry, etc, who are selling recharge cards, riding okada because they can not get jobs years after leaving school. Sixty per cent of the population of Nigeria is under 30, so it is imperative for us to design a working, functional political system that gives them a promise of the future; not the one we have now. In a democracy, the voter is the king; not the brigandage and the violence that we have witnessed in the electoral system. I know that we have an electoral reform in place and I know that we have a credible electoral administrator in place in the person of Professor Jega, but a thousand Jegas can not deliver an election. We are the people that can do that.

Someone commented in the media yesterday that instead of addressing issue-oriented politics, we are still battling with the issues of zoning and what nots?

These are some of the challenges of the nature of our society. Nigeria is not a nation; it is a nation state. I understand that there is unity in our pluralism. We are all Nigerians, but for God’s sake, in the 21st Century, merit, as opposed to state of origin, should be the tenet of our public governance. Again, I must be realistic, there is a history behind zoning. There is a reason why zoning has assumed this passion and salience in our political system, because of our history of military rule and the kind of lopsided federal system we have. But nonetheless, what we want in Nigeria is merit and excellence in governance; not the place of origin of a particular person in governance. After all, whoever comes from a particular region, look at the history of our country now for almost 50 years, has it benefitted people who have come from a particular place? Has it translated into better governance for them? Do they live better than the rest of Nigerians? That makes the whole notion of zoning a mockery, a charade. Because the idea that somebody comes from a particular place does not translate into verifiable, tangible and credible, good governance in Nigeria, and even for the place of origin where the person comes from. So, it is a bogus argument. What Nigerians should be looking for is merit. Who is the best candidate? Who best articulates our passion, our hopes? Who can deliver this country from the throes of want, deprivation, unemployment? Not the place of origin of the candidate. Nigeria is seen as the beacon of hope for the rest of the black race, and we should do away with the bogus issue of zoning. We should not forget something: this zoning thing is a PDP affair, so we should be careful not to equate it as Nigeria’s problem, because PDP is not Nigeria. How they manage their own internal crisis should not be our concern.

From all intent, the president is being propped up to run for the presidency in the 2011 election even when he has not delivered fully the programme that he and the late president started. What is your view on this?

I think in a democracy, anybody who wishes to run for any particular office under the law should be allowed to run. I do not share the position that a particular post should be zoned to any place, anybody. Let all who want to run, run. Just because the PDP is the dominant party does not mean that we should equate that to Nigeria. All things being equal too, that the incumbent president belongs to the PDP does not mean he must win. After all, we had an election in Ghana where the opposition beat the incumbent. The President is free to run, but that does not mean he is going to be elected. If he is elected, fine. But we should not assume that because he is running, therefore it is guaranteed that he is going to win.

Do you think the present INEC as headed by Professor Jega can deliver a credible election this time around?

Well, Professor Jega is well known. He is a credible person by all account; at least from all I have read about him. But our problem is systemic and attitudinal. If we Nigerians want to have a credible electoral system where the voter is the king, where the voice of the people is guaranteed, we can have it. I understand now that he has been granted the bill he proposed to conduct the election. He has his work cut out for him. But we Nigerians must educate ourselves too. We should know how to protect our votes and how to make our vote count so that at the end of the day, the person who wins is the person most of us have chosen. It is not a challenge for Professor Jega alone; it is a challenge for millions of Nigerian voters.


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