Your Excellency, Mr. President, while I have nothing but commendation for the courageous steps your administration is taking to confront the corruption virus ravaging the moral fabric of Nigeria.
I, however, most respectfully wish to draw attention to the urgent need for a deeper investigation – beyond the current flurry of arrests and prosecution of suspected corrupt politicians and erstwhile public officials – into exactly how we, as a nation, steadily edged ourselves into the lethal clutches of this scourge.
To effectively do this, and thus evolve a realistic solution, we have to examine critically when, where and how we deviated from the path of probity.
Sir, after a personal evaluation of the country’s gradually worsening circumstances over the years, I am constrained to conclude that the present mire in which have found ourselves owes largely to the significant changes, nay, convolutions, our constitution and governance policies have been subjected to, ostensibly for less than altruistic intentions.
Upon independence in 1960, Nigeria inherited from Britain the Parliamentary system of government. It may not have been a perfect system – which is, anyway? – but with the benefit of hindsight we must concede that it was better suited to good governance in the country’s circumstances as a multi-ethnic society.
And while it had worked almost seamlessly for centuries in the United Kingdom, which, like Nigeria, is a multi-peopled society, what was needed to smoothen out the imperfection creases in Nigeria was a sustained commitment to improving it to suit our development goals.
The first assault on that system, which was largely not acknowledged with regret then, came via the January 15, 1966 coup by the country’s military, which suspended the Constitution and promptly imposed a unitary system of government. The central government literally became overlords and the states, vassals.
Both the 1967-1970 civil war and the multiple coups de tat in the country contributed immensely to the decline in probity by public officials and Nigerians generally. The desperation by the populace for improved existence after the devastation of the civil saw morals relegated to the background; just as each military coup was accompanied by mass purging of public officials. With insecurity of tenure, the inclination to steal while in office heightened.
The final straw that broke our probity backbone, in my opinion, was the Presidential system of government the military crafted for the country. Virtually a winners-take-all system, the lucre in public office made it irresistible to many, who were prepared to break the bank to attain or retain it. Representation, having become restricted to the moneyed, became poor.
Thus, while in the First Republic debate was robust – though sometimes raucous – in Parliament on salient issues on national development, the Second Republic saw a legislature that, by virtue of the operation of an alien Presidential system, was remarkably deficient in service delivery in comparison.
To worsen matters, the 1999 Constitution, on which the current civilian dispensation is pegged, was fashioned by a Military that initially intended to have its Top Gun at the head of government.
Coupled by a system that is heavily themed in money, it would amount to living in a fool’s paradise to expect any cogent commitment to service from public officers. And with the constitution bugged with landmines which require a legislature imbued with unity of purpose to amend, the country seems consigned to perpetual mediocrity if we do not act fast.
The ongoing display of shamelessness in the National Assembly is ample evidence of a system gone wrong. While it took a mere three years of the First Republic to achieve the monumental creation of the Mid-West as the fourth region in the country in 1963, the current legislature is not minded to close ranks on any issue other than that which offers the promise of multiplying their already-bumper incomes.
Your Excellency, are we going to allow the nation to be continually hobbled by a faulty system? Methinks your administration is making giant strides in the anti-corruption war. But there is a yearning need to go deeper in our search for deliverance.
The viral corruption in which grip the country is enmeshed is but a mere manifestation of the problem; the root cause is the operation of an unsuitable system of government. Change the system, and we can begin to see positive reversals.
A honest evaluation of the various governments the country has had since independence reveals that the most significant political and socio-economic infrastructural development experienced so far in Nigeria was during the First Republic.
Not only was there a strong opposition that was able to stand up to the ruling party, policies were well-articulated and debated before enactment into law, and the method of turning up representatives to Parliament was such that continued membership of such hallowed Houses depended on sterling performance by the incumbents. It is pertinent to add that the Presidential system came in with corruption in terms of lobby and pressure groups.
Mr. President Sir, it is my considered opinion that you should capitalise on the current widespread enthusiasm being expressed for a review of the constitution by putting in top gear, plans for a REFERENDUM in which Nigerians would decide what system of government the country would adopt.
Should we continue with the Presidential system of government or go back to the Parliamentary system? Beyond that, Nigerians should determine whether the country reverts to the old regional government system, which proved to be economically viable, or continue to plod on with the present system that has led us into a cul-de-sac, with a majority of the states unable to fulfil the most basic of duties such as paying salaries to staff?
Prudence and probity in public office must be entrenched if we are to build a Nigeria that our descendants would be proud of. You are laying a commendable foundation, but I dare say that the task demands in-depth analyses and vigilance for sustenance of such values.
Your Excellency, the teeming youth are restless, and are looking up to your government to fashion for them a brighter future. You can not afford to fail; the consequences are too dire.
God bless our amiable President Mohammadu Buhari, GCFR; God bless Nigeria.
Signed: Surv. Joseph O. Agbenla, FNIS.