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The Case For Plural Executive At The State Level In Nigeria

By: Kurtis Adigba
 minute read

What is the Plural Executive?

It is a system in the United States of America that allows members of the executive branch of government to be directly elected by the people to serve alongside the governor who is the head of the executive branch.

In Nigeria, under the 1999 Constitution as amended, and those before it, a governor and his deputy is elected on a joint ticket, and he makes appointments into other positions within the executive branch. These positions include but not limited to Commissioners, Account-General, Head of Service, Secretary to the Government, and others. They have no secured or guaranteed tenure, they hold their jobs at the pleasure of the governor who is the all and be all.

Governors in Nigeria are more powerful in their States than the President is at the Federal level. While no House of Assembly leadership can challenge the governor and retain their jobs without the backing and support of superior forces or powers, Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives have confronted Presidents and even threatened to impeach them in the past. Some past Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House have been removed in the past or threatened with Removal by an overreaching president capitalizing on the unbridled ambitions of some legislators bent on holding those positions. Senators Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, and Marc Wabara were either impeached or forced to resign as president of the Senate. While Ghali N’Abba and Aminu Masari were almost impeached as Speakers of the House of Representatives.

In the United States, the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution provides”, Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, States can exercise powers not expressly given to the FG and deny to States. States have the power to conduct elections; establish a Court System with appellate Courts up to the Supreme Court of the State; Tax System; Education System( subject to laws against discrimination and civil rights); Police; Troopers, Guards, and Offices. States have their constitutions and Statutes. In Nigeria, States can only legislate on issues that are listed on the Concurrent Legislative List. They cannot deal with matters on the Exclusive List.

In Twenty-six States and Four Territories in the United States of America, the lieutenant governor is elected on a ticket with the governor; eight of them using separate primaries. In others, the lieutenant governor is elected separately. In most states, members of the executive branch are elected and they share executive power with the governor in executing the duties and functions of their offices. In Texas, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately and can come from different Parties. For example, When George Walker Bush, a Republican, was governor between 1995-2000, the lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, was a Democrat. The lieutenant governor has specific duties carved in the Constitution. For example, the lieutenant governor is in charge of the affairs of the Texas Senate.

In Texas also, the offices of Attorney-General, Treasurer (Account-General), Auditor, Superintendent of Public works (commissioner for works), Agriculture Commissioner, Insurance Commissioner, Labor commissioner, and Land Commissioner, Tax and Mine commissioners, Secretary of State, are all contested for in an election, and they perform their functions and duties without interference or hindrance from the governor who has his powers and duties clearly spelt out in the Constitution. Section 4 of the Texas Constitution recognizes Plural Executive.

The executives can come from one Party or different Parties so long as they are elected by the people. They hold secured and guaranteed terms except impeached from office by the Texas Assembly for criminal or gross misconduct, or resigned. This system has worked very well in Texas and other States. It ensures that there is check and balance in the system, promotes cooperation amongst the officials, and prevents the culture of fear, intimidation, and silence, that has kept appointed officials tied to the apron strings of governors in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the State Governor is the only one elected in the executive branch. He has the power to appoint other members of the executive like Commissioners, SSG, HOS, Accountant-General, and other executive positions. They all hold their offices at his pleasures. No member of the executive can disagree with or stand up to the governor without risking a sack. This fear of sack promotes corruption in the system. For example, a corrupt governor can ask the Account-General of the State to illegally transfer government funds into his personal accounts, he will have to do it because he knows that he will be sacked if he doesn’t. But if he is elected by the people and he has power and protection from the governor, he will reject the illegal request. In addition, all the executive officials will not be beholden to the governor but to the people who elected.

The argument against plural executive is that it generates conflicts because of the different power centres created. We have not seen such evidence from the places where it is in practice. On the contrary, we have evidence that it promotes transparency, good governance, and cooperation, because negotiation amongst the offices and not sheer force of authority and power, is the currency of governance. The governor cannot command the Account-General or any other executive official to do anything illegal by sheer force.

I know that more people are more fascinated by the process of politics than by the substance of policies, but it can be done if we set our minds to do it. All the governors will be in opposition to the idea, but the reality is that this system is unsustainable. Democracy is about building a system of flexible accountability and not one rigid power focused and power centred political base. The problem with most government emanates from unelected members of the government who do not have any sense of accountability to the people because they were not elected by the people.

The way to change this situation is to allow State officials to seek votes of the people and be accountable to them.


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