Presidential system has failed Nigerians, says Yakassai

Yakassai spoke against the backdrop of speculations that some powerful interest groups in the north are already exploring how to install one of their own to replace the medically challenged President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Elder statesman, Malam Tanko Yakassai has canvassed a return to the parliamentary system of government in the polity. In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, he said the call was based on the fact that the presidential system has failed to achieve the desired result of ensuring socio-economic and political development of the country.

Yakassai spoke against the backdrop of speculations that some powerful interest groups in the north are already exploring how to install one of their own to replace the medically challenged President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to him, “I supported the creation of the Executive President in Nigeria believing that it would be the instrument to bring Nigerians together. But I now realized that instead of promoting national unity, and because of the enormity of the powers vested in the presidency, everybody now is not looking in terms of developing his own area but looking for that single seat of the president so that they would be in control. And therefore we have forgotten about the development of the country.

“We are all looking for power because it is there that you will get oil allocation, get contracts, get approval for the development of the road in your area and so on and so forth. So because of that I now have a change of mind that the executive presidential system in Nigeria is counter-productive. It is not helping the nation.

“It is not helping the unity of the people of Nigeria. Rather it is making people put their eyes on that single position and forget about the issues that border us as a country. So I am of the view that we should go back to the parliamentary system of government so that when you elect a President or Governor, you cannot remove him except though impeachment supported by two-third majority of the legislature, which is not easy to attain in Nigeria. But if you change to the parliamentary system of government, the stability of the government is in the hands of the parliament. If the government is not performing, through a vote of no confidence, a government can be removed and a new one installed.

“That would make people who are ruling Nigeria to think twice before they resort to embezzlement of public funds and so on as we now see happening in this country. The presidential system is an experiment but this experiment has not achieved the desired result. It has become a source of division among Nigerians.”

Yakassai who was Presidential Liaison Officer to former President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic said it was wrong to compare Nigerian federal structure with that of the United States of America (USA) which had independent component states that voluntarily came together to donate portions of their powers to the central authority.

The politician who also served as a member of the 1994/95 Constitutional Reform Conference said that Nigeria which used to be a single entity conquered by the British in two installments of southern and northern protectorates from 1900 to 1914, was fashioned along the line of a unitary system of government due to years of the military intervention.

He said, “The states in Nigeria are not federating units. But in America till today, it is the states that are the federating units and each is entitled to breakaway because it was a single entity before the creation of the USA. Nigeria created the states whereas states created the USA. That is the difference. We must take cognizance of our history.

“The military intervention created a near unitary situation in Nigeria because the Commander-in- Chief appointed governors or administrators or whatever. That is one mentally that the political development of the country created in Nigerians. The second point is that originally, we were dependent on our own efforts based on agricultural proceeds. Then all of a sudden in our history, we woke up to find oil money, which we do not sweat to produce. And therefore we spend it anyhow. But the money is centrally collected and donated to the states.

“This is what is bringing about the maintenance of unitary psyche in our governance. As long as states are dependent on federal allocation, we would continue with this psyche. It is not a normal case but it is the reality of the Nigerian situation. Nobody can deny it.”

Going down memory lane, Yakassai who was a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), said, “To those of us who were privileged to see through the transformation of Nigeria from a colonial territory to an independent nation and who is aware of the history of the political development of the country, we are surprised at the inconsistency on the part of those who are agitating for the restructuring of Nigeria because the agitation for the creation of more states in Nigeria was by and large supported by some political figures from the South West.

“The Action Group (AG) as a party representing substantial number of people from the South West supported the agitation for the creation of Middle Belt in the north and the creation of the CORA state – Calabar – Ogoja – Rivers state movement and they, at the same time opposed the agitation for the creation of the Mid-West state which was at the time part of Western Nigeria. And yet the leaders of the Southwest at the time, were supporting the dismemberment of the North and the East but were opposed to the creation of state from their own area of control.

“So people started to wonder why were they supporting splitting of other areas and you are not prepared for the split of your own area because what is good for the goose is good for the gander. That was the beginning of the suspicion. But they campaigned and argued that the north was too big to be allowed to continue as it were because it was made up of two-thirds of the land mass in Nigeria and more than 50 percent of the population and therefore people could see the justification of the argument for the creation of states from the north.

“And secondly Southern Nigeria is distinctly divided into three naturally. The Igbo are one group of people distinct from the Yoruba who are also distinct from the Southern minorities who are a chunk of different ethnic groups. Even though the Middle Belt is not clearly demarcated in terms of territory or population as is the case of southern minorities, many people bought the idea of creating states from the North, East and Mid-West region.

“The creation of Mid-West was by and large through the support and cooperation of the people from the north. Later on during military regime, particularly during the Gowon era, because of the agitation of minorities in the South-East, I recall that they led a powerful delegation to the then Military Governor of Northern Nigeria, Col Hassan Katsina and also to the Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon. That was the time when Ojukwu was preparing for succession.

“They explained that if the East was allowed to secede from Nigeria with them, they would remain forever second class citizens in that portion of Nigeria and therefore they urged Northern leaders not to let them down. It was because of that the Northern leaders mobilized support in the north for their case. And this was the reason why when it was apparent that Ojukwu would secede; Gowon had to declare the creation of the twelve states structure – six from the north, six from the south. It was done with the concurrent of northern leaders.

“I happened to represent Kano in a thirteen-member committee that recommended the creation of states to the Federal Government. The Federal Government requested Hassan to consult widely with the leaders in the North and therefore sound their opinion as to what extent they were prepared for the creation of more states.

“I recall that the people of Rivers said they were not prepared to go with the Calabar and Ogoja people which necessitated the creation of a separate Rivers state from Calabar-Ogoja which was then under the South Eastern state under Governor Esuene. So we recommended the creation of twelve or fourteen states and we gave Gowon the alternative to choose from and eventually he accepted the twelve states structure. Now it was a big sacrifice on the part of the north because as you can see this is the reason why the North is backward because there is no common strategic policy to ensure the growth of the region.

“The region is now divided into 19 or 20 states plus Abuja. The Governor of Sokoto cannot decide for the Governor of Borno, Adamawa or Kwara. Same thing is happening in the South but the division is not as clear-cut as it is in the North. Now we have gone far with that sacrifice. Then all of a sudden the people who were agitating for the splitting of Nigeria to more constituent units have now turned around to agitate for the amalgamation of the states that they themselves agitated to be created. This is bound to make people suspicious and particularly if we view from the background of parliamentary representation, revenue allocation and others. So we realize that the motive has not been explained.”

On why the north is uncomfortable with the restructuring of Nigeria, he said: “We are suspicious that the motive was to deprive the north of two important issues – representation at the National Assembly which is on the basis of population and secondly because there are more states in the north than in the south. When it comes to revenue allocation on the basis of equality of states and local governments, the north is bound to benefit more.

“The idea behind the agitation for restructuring is to demolish those two advantages that are naturally due to the North in terms of representation and revenue sharing. What is disturbing is that those behind it are unable to come out with a blueprint of what restructuring means to Nigeria. Anybody who is hiding his motive on an issue that would affect Nigerians has something bad up his sleeves.

“Nobody has told us the benefit we would derive from it. What we are saying is that it is not that the north is afraid but why should people be inconsistent. This is the reason why northerners who know what they are doing and who know the background of the agitation, are not comfortable with the call for the restructuring of Nigeria.

“There are two things. One you know if people do something, the first thing anybody would consider is their motive. If the motive were good, people would feel comfortable with it and would tend to accept the idea. But if the motive is suspect, people would not feel comfortable and they would not accept the idea. There are two fundamental shortcomings in the idea of restructuring Nigeria.”

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