The system imagined saves the country a lot of funds spent on conducting elections into the office of the president, a ritual repeated every four years, with the rancour that usually attends the process, accentuating fault lines and deepening polarisation. Taken out is the pressure which usually comes with re-election and the scorched-earth tactics often employed in desperation…
This week, the two-term tenure of the President of a pan-Nigerian organisation with which I have association will end and a new President will emerge. The process, as provided in the Constitution of the organisation, is of a different democratic hue from the ‘universal suffrage’ model which we have become generally accustomed to, even if this popular model is only ‘universal’ to the point that it finds accommodation for adults, leaving out those deemed not to be adults, further excluding on the basis of age, in the Nigerian case, certain categories of people from running from some offices, even when they are assumed to be adults.
The process of election of the President, in the case of the organisation I make reference to, is entrusted into the hands of a collegiate, whose decision is then subject to ratification by the generality of members. In almost 4 decades of the organisation, that process has served it well – smooth transition, no rancour or friction. Contestants to the position are hardly known outside the college, with the process of managing victory/defeat taken care of within, for the good of the organisation.
I am a member of Rotary International, founded in 1905, though not as immersed in its culture as I could be. But I bet, millions have been inspired, as I have been, by its core values founded around its popular 4-way test of the things we think, say or do – Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Beyond the 4-way test, I have been fascinated by its leadership model. Leadership in Rotary, at Club, District and International levels is for one year. The President serves for only one year, speedily passing the baton onto the next. What can be done in only a year? From observation and experience, a whole lot does get done. But what is of more interest to me, within this context, in the Rotary leadership model which structures governance around a tripod, with leaders across three tenures predetermined and are made to work as one, with succession plan clearly laid out making transition from one to the other smooth and largely free of friction.
The President in office functions hand-in-glove with his successor-designate (President-elect) chosen at the same time, with the President-nominee, already designated also, waiting in the wings. Not only are the three in the Board of Directors, they are put through different leadership training programmes for the positions occupied, carefully grooming them for the one-year tenure as president.
Indeed, managing an organisation of thousands is different from leading a country of millions, with different fault lines and overbearing ethno-religious sentiments running riot. Well, perhaps, that is another consideration for a bit more thought and tact to be put to the process through which leadership emerges, as well as the preparation and succession process. There are one or two things about the Rotary process for leadership recruitment, grooming and succession planning that can possibly challenge our thought process.
The more I look at democracy in operation in Nigeria, not that it is remarkably different elsewhere, the more I wonder about how democratic the process is and can even be, given the inherent limitations and contradictions within it, which makes it difficult for the best to rise to the top, without leveraging on the shoulder of a sub-structure already compromised by what Sanusi Lamido Sanusi might have had in mind, when he spoke of “vested interest”. With time, it becomes more obvious that the top hierarchy of the power elite functions more like a ‘Boys Club’, with the doors of membership only opened as deemed fit, to whom it is deemed fit, for purposes best suited to the interest of the Boys’ Club.
Again, that is not peculiarly Nigerian, even if the place of one country on the spectrum differs from that of the other, each moving back or forth, depending on which direction the pendulum swings per time. With time, democracy begins to morph more into an oligarchic arrangement, in which universal suffrage, limited by opportunity and choice, only ratifies decisions orchestrated by the oligarchy. Where output from the system, even when compromised, largely accommodates the ‘interest’ of the masses and not too many are left behind, not many questions get asked, and the system trudges on, with the elite mindful enough to make the token concessions that keep things going. However, where the elite gets carried away or are not smart enough to recognise what self-enlightened interest dictates, it is only a matter of time before the bubble bursts.
We have a number of states in which power and governance have remained exclusively in the hands of one party since 1999, which again is not necessarily bad, but in the context here, this strengthens the argument that power/influence is on the exclusive list of select power elites in the different geographical contraptions. In some states, even where power has changed hands, while the individuals involved might nominally belong to different political parties, they essentially belong to the same club of power brokers. Power, in many states, has only been passing from one friend to the other, irrespective of party affiliation.
I am taking the liberty to re-imagine a governance architecture, taking cognisance of what we had, what we have, what we desire and what could be. I am re-imagining borrowing from the past, and merging with the present in configuring a possible future. I imagine a hybrid, a parliamentary-presidential hybrid system.
I made the point, years back, that in spite of the political tension in Ondo State, most of the major players are friends; some for over 40 years. They largely belong to one family, a close-knit club, even if disagreements here and there see to them going in and out of parties. Most of them came into prominence in 1992 under the leadership of Governor Olumilua. Both Dr. Agagu and Dr. Mimiko served in that government. Dr. Mimiko equally served under Governor Adefarati in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), before moving over to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and he served as Minister, just as Dr. Agagu himself did, only to come edge out Dr. Agagu from office, stopping him from completing a second term. Eyitayo Jegede, the PDP candidate in the last two elections, was Attorney-General during the tenure of Dr. Mimiko, who refused to back him in the last election.
Chief Olusola Oke has been around from the days of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), like the other two. He has been all over the place since 1999. He was PDP National Legal Adviser for four years. He has moved in and out of the parties, and is back in the All Progressives Congress (APC) now, where he contested and lost the governorship primary election to the incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, who served as Attorney-General in the State between 1997 and 1999. Ondo must be one of the few States, which has been governed by three different political parties – AD/APC, the Labour Party and PDP. Yet, there has been little or no difference among them, in terms of philosophical disposition and outlook. There is an agreement, across board, on what the governance template is, even if the levels of performance might differ, largely on account of focus and the idiosyncrasy of the man in charge.
In other states, where power is not being passed from one to the other through the agency of a godfather, it is among a group of friends, which effectively confirms the hold of the oligarchy. If it is the case then that what we largely have is governance in accordance with Plato’s template, should we not be asking if there is a need for the elaborate and expensive democratic institutions we have in place to superintend over the process through which leadership emerges, when in reality, the process is more about the ratification of candidates put forward by the Club of Afobajes, with the doors effectively shut to those outside these circles and the contest for power more of a game of musical chairs among friends.
Even then, I do not make the conclusion that oligarchy emerging as icing on the cake of democracy is necessarily good or bad. I identify and isolate it as a trend, one which we are seeing fully in bloom, which has to be recognised for what its is, whatever the objective might be – to make it work for the good of all, side-step it or even overturn it. Rather, I am cautiously looking at the argument by Plato for philosopher-kings, wondering if the expensive, expansive ‘democracy’ that we purport to practise is worth the expense and trouble that comes with it, if at the end of the day we are constrained to only a few options and determination on the way forward remains at the behest of an oligarchy thrown up by the system.
I wonder if this expansive presidential system that we have is actually native to us. Of course, it does not have to be to work for us. However, I wonder too if some of our traditional leadership and governance systems, even if where they manifest more as monarchical, do not rest more on oligarchy as a base. Could it mean that even though we now have what ought to be an open-ended democracy, we still find a way to make it more of oligarchy, given that we are more at home in that zone?
I am thinking about Professor Sophie Oluwole and her exposition on the the Yoruba governance philosophy, which, as she explains, is four dimensional: “Àgbà mẹ́rin loń’ṣè lú – Àgbà Ọkùnrin, Àgbà Obìrin, Àgbà Ọmọdé, Àgbà Àlejò”. Under this “democratic” arrangement, governance is all-encompassing, as everyone has a role to play. The place of the women, the youth and the foreigners are assured under this arrangement, as accommodation is found for segments of the populace usually left out in popular democracy. “Àgbà mẹ́rin loń’ṣè lú – Àgbà Ọkùnrin, Àgbà Obìrin, Àgbà Ọmọdé, Àgbà Àlejò”.
I am taking the liberty to re-imagine a governance architecture, taking cognisance of what we had, what we have, what we desire and what could be. I am re-imagining borrowing from the past, and merging with the present in configuring a possible future. I imagine a hybrid, a parliamentary-presidential hybrid system. With our ‘predisposition for oligarchy, we might, as well, lean more towards institutionalising collegial systems through which our leaders emerge, enabling a culture of collegial leadership, rather than proliferating strong men all over the place and yearning for one strong man at the centre to solve problems that are better addressed at the local level.
By and large, this re-imagination of governance is not oblivious of the fact that a system is only as good as the people in whose hands the running of the system is entrusted. Yet, we must keep imagining and re-imagining, fired by hope that somehow, time and circumstance will push us into embracing the best course of action…
At state and local government levels, I imagine a parliamentary system of governance, with State governors and chairmen, being primus inter pares, emerging through a College of Parliamentarians directly chosen by the people, and restricted to only one term in office. The commissioners will also emerge from the parliament, playing the dual role of being representatives of the people and superintending over assigned cabinet duties. This arrangement puts paid to the practice at the moment where some governors function more like emperors, spending more time in Abuja or outside the country, with commissioners rendered redundant and state legislature function more as an afterthought and appendage to the executive. I imagine a collapse into a leaner, more transparent, responsive and accountable system.
At the national level, I imagine a parliamentary-presidential system with executive power residing in a college of six, with each of the ‘geopolitical’ zones from which the president emerges on a rotational basis, serving a single term of five years. The president, being primus inter pares, is head of government, with the other members serving as vice-presidents, with cabinet duties, like other ministers. The legislative arm will be unicameral, from where ministers will be appointed and assigned cabinet positions. Everyone holding office is, first and foremost, a representative of his/her constituency.
The parliament and college serve as grooming and preparatory ground for anyone who would emerge as president, not only imbuing him with knowledge of legislative practice, it keeps him grounded, being first a member of parliament, before he can become a member of the college and eventually the president, on account of his party securing majority control of seats in the parliament. A vote of no confidence in the parliament leads to the president vacating office, to be replaced by a member from the zone serving its turn in office.
The system imagined saves the country a lot of funds spent on conducting elections into the office of the president, a ritual repeated every four years, with the rancour that usually attends the process, accentuating fault lines and deepening polarisation. Taken out is the pressure which usually comes with re-election and the scorched-earth tactics often employed in desperation to either retain office or take out the incumbent. As imagined here, all executive positions will only have single-term tenures.
Needless to say that this re-imagination of governance envisions a devolution of powers to other tiers of the federation, making the centre more of a clearing house than command centre, with respect to the fundamental issues with direct connection to the lives of the people, majority of whom are stuck at the bottom of the pyramid, struggling with rudimentary necessities which should be catered for at sub-national levels.
Well, whatever postulation has been laid out here only stems from the realm of imagination, limited by the fact that it has not ventured into the arena of how what is proposed can be accomplished. Without doubt, fulfilling some of the ideas here will amount to some members of the privileged class taking some losses. Yet, there is only so much that can be accomplished without some form of elite consensus around it. To imagine that the Nigerian power elite will have the courage and stamina, even for self-enlightened interest, to re-imagine the governance architecture and leadership model to the point where power devolves and it is more broadly shared, with greater control returned into the hands of citizens as it is here imagined, is indeed a tall order.
By and large, this re-imagination of governance is not oblivious of the fact that a system is only as good as the people in whose hands the running of the system is entrusted. Yet, we must keep imagining and re-imagining, fired by hope that somehow, time and circumstance will push us into embracing the best course of action for the sake of a sustainable tomorrow. If only we will dig deep, we just might find out that what we are looking for is there in what we left behind.
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