Why the Presidential system in Nigeria?

Making Politics Work for Nigeria:
Presidentialism and Post-National
Conference Institutional Innovation
E. Remi Aiyede
Department of Political Science
University of Ibadan
• To renounce or destroy politics is to destroy the very thing which
gives order to the pluralism and variety of civilized society, the thing
that enables us to enjoy variety without either suffering either
anarchy or the tyranny of single truths”. Bernard Crick, In Defence
of Politics (1962)
• African politics has been constituted to prevent the pursuit of
development and the emergence of relevant and effective
development paradigm and programs (Ake: 1996:1).
• Politics is about collective decision making, it is crucially important
to individual freedom and wellbeing. In a democracy, the decision
making process often involves “messy compromises, the collective
imposition of decisions and complex communication”. Sometimes
the outcome of these process may lead to public welfare, or
decisions taken in the public interest. In many other instances, they
may lead to the satisfaction of narrow interests.
• To ensure that these struggles do not endanger the state or
defeat the purpose of the state or the well-being of citizens
several rules are devised to regulate the processes and the
behaviour of actors. These rules often reflect the values of that
society and how they think that society should be organized for
effective governance and collective prosperity and well-being.
• States, faced with specific challenges, have often experimented
with new institutions, sometimes borrowed and adapted from
other climes to resolve governance challenges.
• Countries sometimes modify or change from one form or system
of government to another when they are convinced that a
specific one in use has become problematic or unsuitable for
their purpose. Nigeria used the parliamentary system at
A problem with Presidentialism?
• Now almost 38 years after [the adoption of the
presidential system], most of us are of the view that
the presidential form of government is a liability in our
quest for development. The system has given the key
of the treasury to the executives, legislators and their
aides to loot the treasury as they wish. The poor of
yesterday have become instant billionaires all in the
name of democracy. The people I mean the people
are getting poorer every day and are being made to
be beggars in their own land. Our type of democracy
has made mockery of handwork, honesty and
procedure. Teniola 2014.
• Examine the comparative experience of presidentialism
worldwide in terms of its key challenges and in relation to
• Review the presidential system and its associated institutions
against the challenges of governance in Nigeria, before and
during the Fourth Republic.
• Appraise the proposals of the constitutional conference
committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of
In relation to the basis of Nigeria’s adoption of the presidential system
In relation to the identified challenges; and
In relation to lessons from comparative experiences.
Historical Institutionalism as
Framework of Analysis
• The study of human political interactions is rewarding when
(a) in the context of rules/ structures that are themselves human creations;
(c) sequentially, as life is lived, rather than take a snapshot of those
interactions at only one point in time, and in isolation from the rule
structures (institutions) in which they occur.
(c) to understand the actions of key players, one must take cognizance of
the historical development of the institution, and the original, distinct culture
and problems in which it arose.
Thus the focus is on ideas, institutions and actors
formal rules, informal constraints and their enforcement characteristics
(North 1990). Informal constraints do not show up in formal terms. Informal
norms are more important than formal rules because they mediate
enforcement. Enforcement is never perfect. This is why responsibility is
crucial. In this wise, responsibility relates to personal maturity and the ability
to change the course of one’s action based on concern about their
consequences (Aiyede 2013).
Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective
• Presidential system of government is one in which the
president is constitutionally independent of the legislature and
serves a fixed term. The president may or may not be chosen
by parliament but once chosen he or she serves a fixed term.
The president is both the head of state and head of
• In contrast, the parliamentary system is one in which the
government depends on the confidence of the legislature in
order to exist as the legislative majority may remove the
government from office either by passing a vote of no
confidence in the government or by rejecting a vote of
confidence initiated by the government.
• Usually in parliamentary systems, the Prime minister is the
head of government, while the Head of State is usually
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt and General Secretary Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference.
Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective
• Some presidents are elected by popular elections, or by
electoral colleges or by parliament. Some presidential systems
are unicameral while others are bicameral. Some presidents are
permitted to serve only for a single term, while the common
practice is for a president to serve for no more than two
consecutive terms(see Cheibub 2007).
• There are several semi-presidential systems across the world
today, many of them established during the third wave of
democratization in the early 1990s. Under semi- presidentialism
there is a directly elected, or popularly elected, president who
serves for a fixed term. In addition, there is a separate position
of prime minister. The prime minister and cabinet are collectively
responsible to the legislature. (Elgie 2011)
Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective
• The debate on presidentialism has passed through three phases.
• The first phase focused on the comparative advantage of two forms of
government parliamentary and presidential systems. parliamentarism
was considered to be superior to presidentialism, especially for young,
untested democracies.
• Presidential systems suffer from competing democratic legitimacies
between the president and legislature which often leads to recurrent
• These conflicts are often exacerbated by the winner-take-all nature of
presidential elections, the two-dimensional nature of the presidential
office (the president represents both the state and a partisan option),
and the overall inflexibility of the system (long, fixed executive terms).
• In the second phase of the debate, Mainwaring (1993) argued that the
problem was not presidentialism per se, but rather the ‘difficult
combination’ of presidentialism with fragmented multiparty systems.
Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective
• In a third phase, the ‘difficult combination’ argument was critiqued by
scholars claiming that
presidentialism could work like
Presidents were capable of building stable multiparty coalitions, even in weakly
institutionalized party systems, using agenda power, budgetary authority, cabinet
management, partisan powers, and informal institutions.
Whereas in parliamentary systems a ruling party ‘fuses its executive and legislative
functions’ because the party leader is chosen and held accountable through
internal selection and deselection procedures, in presidential systems parties
delegate greater discretion to their leaders because presidents are elected
independently of the legislature (Shugart and Mathew 1992, Samuels and Shugart
Leadership that adopts a positive role in relation to policy-making and government
management, but are motivated by essentially pragmatic goals and considerations.
Prominent amongst these are likely to be the maintenance of party unity and
government cohesion, and the strengthening of public support and electoral
Such leaders act as brokers who are concerned to uphold the collegiate face of
government by negotiating compromises and balancing rival individuals, factions
and interests against one another.
Why the Presidential system in Nigeria?
• Distinction between the Head of State and the Head of
Government would result in potential clash of personalities and
interests, a conflict of authority and an unnecessary complexity
and uncertainty in governmental relations.
• The presidential system is characterised by decisiveness and
vitality for the challenges facing the country.
• The separation of the Head of State from Head of Government
involves a division between real authority and formal authority.
The division is meaningless in the light of African political
experience and history.
• Presidential symbolic value that complement the advantages
stated above.
(i) a symbol of national unity, honour and prestige;
(ii) a political leader in his own right;
(iii) someone who can give leadership and a sense of direction to the
country” .
Challenges of Presidentialism During the
Second and Fourth Republics
• Second Republic(1979-1983)
(1) the increase on the cost of governance,
(2) the tendency towards dictatorship as shown in the abuse of national
(3) display of parochialism by the president,
(4) the poor appreciation of the operations of federal principles by the
leadership at both national and sub-national levels and
(5) widespread corruption.
• Fourth Republic (1999-)
(1) Executive-Legislative gridlocks (budget implementation)
(2) third term agenda
(3) Yar’Adua’s iIlness, Death and the Succession crisis (doctrine of
necessity & constitutional amendment
(4) High turn over legislators
(5) Abuse of legislative oversight
(6) rubber stamp legislatures at the state level
The National Conference and the
• National Conference Committee on Political Restructuring and
Forms of Government
accepted the presidential system as suitable for Nigeria.
modification of the presidential system to reduce the cost of governance,
make governance more effective and efficient and to check impunity,
corruption and waste.
abolition of the bicameral legislature for a unicameral legislature.
composition of the unicameral legislature, based on 50 percent
representation the basis of population and 50 per cent on equality of
• National Conference Committee on Public Service
Part-time legislature
Other Options for Nigeria
• There are no conclusive evidence that the backsides of the
presidential system cannot be overcome.
• executive legislative gridlocks, the fallout from the absence of
president Yar’Adua and the third term agenda have been
managed in a manner that demonstrate the flexibility of the
presidential system
• ills of the presidential system as a whole be separated from the
ills of specific elements of the presidential system, such as the
type of legislature, its mode of selection, operation and
• The cost of governance has to do with an emergent political
culture that must be changed to release the potential of energy
and despatch of the presidential system.
Other Options for Nigeria
• process of the selection be designed to ensure that outstanding
individuals emerged, with rigorous requirements that include
their education, family life, service career, and the party primary
process (electoral college and popular votes).
• No direct linkage of cost of governance to bicameralism.
Unicameral system may not be less expensive
• Limit the number of ministers, advisers, assistants etc.
• Peg salaries and allowances of political office holders to public
service salaries
• Enforcement of laws on campaign, candidate and political party
• strengthen accountability institutions such as the office of
Accountant Generals and Auditor General
• Fight corruption vigorously
• No rush into a wholesale change of regime and systems.
• Solve problem as they arise through constant debates and
dialogue with a sense of sobriety, vision, justice and
• The purpose of changes should be to strengthen or build the
state and empower ordinary citizens, real citizens. Only a
“politically conscious society that is aware and jealous of its right
to choose those who direct public affairs” is capable of stopping
the abuse of power.
• There is interconnection between the economic situation in the
country and essence of political power as source of wealth.
• The values promoted by the political leadership today will not
reduce the cost of governance nor empower the people
because it remits public fund in a few political hands, albeit by
corruption, and sharpens the competition for public office,
rendering politics as warfare.
• Economic and political institutions must be mutually reinforcing
to protect private property, promote a level playing field in the
economy, and reward entrepreneurship.
• The effort at institutional development must seek to create a
“new public service bargain that creates a balanced set of
incentives and sanctions for those who dare to step into the
arena” of politics (Finders 2012:186).
Thank you for listening
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