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Parliamentary Or Presidential System of Government.....Which suits Nigeria the More

A group of 71 lawmakers of the House of Representatives led by Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) and Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), have canvassed for the return of Nigeria from the presidential to the parliamentary system. They argued  inter alia, that the parliamentary system, as opposed to the presidential system, suits Nigeria because it is more economic friendly, cost effective and largely efficient in the conduct of government business. Whereas, the presidential system has “reduced Nigeria to the poverty capital of the world”, apart from the other claims  that “Studies have shown that countries under the presidential regimes consistently produce lower output, volatile inflation and greater income inequality relative to those under parliamentary system.

This call by the members of the National Assembly will surely provoke public debates especially across the Nigerian society as to the propriety or otherwise of the application of the system. Joining the expected reactionaries, I shall therefore, attempt to bring to the fore, some salient advantages and disadvantages of the two systems for public consumption by way of my contribution to the debate.
The presidential system of government exists in a state where both executive and ceremonial powers are concentrated in the hands of one man called the President. He is both the Head of State and Head of Government. He is the embodiment of the state. He is not a member of the legislature and is not elected by the legislature but by the electorate. The present government in Nigeria and the United State of America offer good examples of the presidential system of government.
Secondly, presidential system promotes national unity and integration. In a country marked by political instability, selecting one man to rule the country could bring about unity, provided the man has a national outlook and acts as a national symbol. The whole country is the President’s constituency. The presidential system thus acts as a means of developing and maintaining national awareness.
Thirdly, the Presidential system might expedite the decision making process in government. In other words, it provides for quick decisions and actions on national issues. This is because the President has executive powers derived from the electorate and from the legislature.
The presidential system provides able and effective leadership for the country operating it. The President, being popularly elected will be more responsive to the wishes of the electorate, knowing fully well that he might be voted out of power in the next general election if he has not performed well during his first term of office.
Another merit of the system derives from the fact that the President and the members of the executive are above party pressure. Although, he may be the leader of the party, yet once he is elected into office as President he is above the party. Hence, the President is free to exercise his power and implement his policies without necessarily going through the party.
The principle of separation of power coupled with ‘check and balances’ that obtain in the presidential system is another advantage. Under the system, the President and his cabinet are not members of the legislature. In addition, a member of the legislature who is invited to join the cabinets must first resign from the legislature before he can do so. The judiciary is also independent of the executive and the legislature. However, these three organs also act as checks on each other. This help to prevent tyranny and abuse of power.
Although, the advantages of the presidential system seem so overwhelming and appealing, the system however, has its own demerits. First, if adequate safeguards are not provided, the Presidential system of government can easily degenerated into a dictatorship. This is because it is very easy for the President to become dictatorial given the wide powers vested in the Presidency. ‘Power’, Lord Acton declared, ‘corrupts absolutely and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. This is one of the concerns of those legislators calling for return to cabinet system in the country.
Secondly, the system could be subject to abuse especially in the appointment of cabinet ministers. This is because appointments may be based on nepotism and favoritism rather than on merit. There are dangers that the President could surround himself with a coteric of friends who are incompetent and inefficient but whose qualification are personal loyalty to him. Moreover, the Ministers being hand-picked by the President, there is always the danger of arbitrary dismissal of the cabinet members especially when such a member disagrees with him on principle.
Thirdly, the operation of principle of separation of powers under this system may sometime hinders the smooth running of government. There is possibility of constant conflict between the legislature and the executive. For example, the recent actions of the National Assembly members on the 2018 budget passage delay and the non confirmation of some head of agencies among others portrayed the dangers inherent in the application of the principle.
In the cabinet or parliamentary system of government on the other hand, the legislature is the source of authority for the executive. In other words, the executive is subordinate to the legislature. The Head of State is not usually the Head of Government. The two main functions of Head of State and Head of Government are shared between the President as ceremonial head and the Prime Minister. While, the President under the presidential system of government has executive powers, in the parliamentary system he is usually a constitutional or ceremonial Head of State. Executive power is vested in the cabinet headed by the prime minister who is often the leader of the majority party in the legislature. The Nigerian first republic government (1960-1966) and the British government are potent examples of the parliamentary system of government.
One of the merits of the parliamentary or cabinet system is that it promotes harmony and co-operation between the executive and the legislature. The executive and the legislature often have to co-operate in many government functions. This close relationship between the two organs facilitates prompt execution of government policy. The chances of the executive impending the implementation of laws passed by the legislature due to clash of interests between the two are reduced to a minimum. The parliamentary system also ensures the rapid enactment of government ideas and proposals into laws. This is because members of the cabinet can sit in the legislature to see to the passage of their bills.
Another merit of the parliamentary system is that the cabinet can be replaced when political circumstances in the legislature or in the electorate at large makes such a change necessary or desirable. The presence of cabinet members in the legislature also presents an opportunity for parliamentary checks on the actions of the executive.
In addition, most countries which operate the cabinet system have opposition parties. In such countries, the opposition helps in checking the excessive use of power by the government.
However, the merits of the parliamentary system of government notwithstanding, there are issues against it. One of which is that it can lead to the formation of a coalition government. This is particularly so in countries where the multi – party system is in operation. In such a country, it is often difficult for one party to win a clear majority in the legislature as a result of which a coalition government is formed. However, coalition governments are usually weak and unstable. Often, a party in a coalition government withdraws support for the government, leading inevitably to the fall of government.
The increased power of the cabinet and the prime minister is yet another limitation to the parliamentary system. The powers of the cabinet, especially in the parliamentary system, have increased tremendously in recent times which tend to make the legislature redundant. Similarly, there has been a great increase in the powers of the Prime Minister. No longer is he considered ‘first among equals’, he is viewed as having owner and prestige akin to that of an Executive President. This enormous power of the Prime Minister could also make him an autocrat or a dictator. The power could be misused anytime.

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