When the military overthrew democracy in the First Republic, in January 1966, substantial blame was heaped on the politics of regionalism and a parliamentary system of government which over-exaggerated the divisions in the country. Consequently, subsequent military administrations demarcated the erstwhile four regions into smaller states and enjoined learned Nigerians to seek a political arrangement that would promote unity more than the erstwhile parliamentary system with its divisive government and opposition attributes. It was in view of the latter that eminent wise men and women, led by the legendary Chief Rotimi Williams, came up with a presidential system of government patterned after the American presidential-congressional system. The military may have overdone the creation of states with the existing 36-state structure, what cannot be denied is the fact that the issue of state creation was once acrimonious and violent. Prominent politicians of the independence era, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mr. J.S. Takar in particular, championed the cause of state creation.
The interesting or distressing thing about Nigerian politics is that both regionalism and the parliamentary system of government have vociferous proponents calling for their reinstatement. The way and manner they go about the latter would have made one to wonder if we did miss a golden era. Far from being that golden era in their thinking, the picture of politicians telling prospective voters that their political party had won an election whether voted for or not would always re-echo in honest minds. Even the post-independence federal elections hardly resulted in properly constituted and principled government and opposition format of the British tradition. More often than not, they ended up in governments of national unity in the aftermath of acrimonious elections. The presidential system of government that replaced that system is an informal coalition of political parties, most suited to our type of divided society. This rather more appropriate alternative may have been the reason for the relative governmental stability enjoyed in the last twenty or so years.
The point one will be making is that the problem of democracy in Nigeria is more attitudinal than structural. If one may restate former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerians urgently need to restructure their minds to fit into the democratic culture. Until this restructuring of the mind is done, we would forever remain crude practitioners of a culture of governance that demands the best in human behaviour. With our current democratic culture unchanged, even a new constitution or mode of governance dictated by Heaven would not be long in breeding customary discontent.
The British whose model of democracy we inherited at independence in 1960 do not have a written constitution. They do not have a document one can refer to as the British Constitution. They are governed by Conventions, unwritten practices which have developed over time and regulate the business of governing. Statutes passed by Parliament are generally the highest form of law. And, of course, the common law is law developed by the courts and judges through cases. The British Parliamentary System has survived more than 300 years of practice. The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Treaty of Union by Acts of Union passed by the Parliament of England, established in 1215, and the Parliament of Scotland, established about 1235.
The United States of America has the oldest written constitution in the world. Theirs is a well-crafted document extolling the wisdom of men and women who had the capacity to see into the distant future. There has not been a constitutional convention since that of Connecticut in 1787. According to an authoritative source, thirty-three amendments to the US constitution have been proposed since the Constitution was put into operation on March 4, 1789. Twenty-seven of these amendments have been incorporated into the Constitution, having been ratified by the required number of states. The presidential system features a president who has the entire nation as their constituency and a Congress made up of the Senate and House of Representatives. The tenures and ages of qualification vary with these offices.
Our most urgent task in Nigeria today is to work with determination against those attitudes that make our democracy a caricature of what obtains in developed democracies. Our politicians are corrupt and greedy. They appropriate themselves hefty salaries and allowances. Whereas purposeful politicians would want to be remembered for the laws they have enacted and the developments they have brought about, ours seem to have been an exception. Our peoples would need to be educated and be active participants in the democratic process, beyond being mere electors into political positions. A developed economy and an atmosphere of security are prerequisites of any nation harbouring an intention to make a mark in an ever competitive world. Our journey as a people must not be at cross-purposes, with one group calling for unity and development while the other is plotting domination and conquest. The challenges of building a great society are enormous in nature, we must however not give up.