Westminster has been the focus of international news of late for the wrong reasons. It is not often the case that the ‘mother of parliaments’ is the epicenter of such political theatre as it has been, especially in the last couple of months.
First, the larger-than-life, affable, charismatic, bombastic Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was forced out of office by his Conservative parliamentary colleagues on September 6, 2022, for not being ‘fit for office’ (he told so many lies to so many audiences).
Then came in Liz Truss; a seemingly upright, no-nonsense, straight talker from the right-wing of the party. Her evangelical, puritanical, extreme ideological approach to policy jolted and rattled her party and the British economy like a thunderbolt. She was forced into an immediate retreat on her plan for “high growth”tax-cutting conservatism. In ordinary parlance, it is known as ‘trickle down’ economics.
It is the discredited idea that society does better if you set the highest income earners free to make even more money by reducing their tax burden. The ensuing prosperity would eventually filter through to the rest of society. She tried to ram that down the throat of the British population, but was met with stiff resistance by the establishment, especially, the triumvirate of financial markets, media, and the treasury ‘mandarins’ (top civil servants).
When the heat became too much, she responded by sacking her ideological soulmate, the cerebral finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, in a futile attempt to calm the jangling nerves.
The scavengers, however, smelt blood, and came out even more forcefully against her. She finally succumbed to the pressure and announced her resignation as prime minister on October 20 2022, after only 45 days on the job. Truss, like another famous Nigerian politician, had nursed a lifetime ambition of becoming the head of government of her country.
Little did she know what fate had in store for her upon attaining the office. Lest anyone be mistaken, a Nigerian politician in Truss’s shoes would not have resigned. He would have derided and seen off his detractors and their ‘campaign of calumny.’
Why it is nigh impossible to claim the scalp of a powerful politician, and bring him down from his high horse in this part of the world, is precisely the essence of this write up. And, it is not for the reasons you think.
It has to do with something more fundamental; systemic resilience, and a perverse conception of public duty. A ministerial appointment in the United Kingdom is an invitation to serve. A similar appointment in Nigeria is an invitation to ‘come and eat.’
In her resignation statement, Truss said, “We set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit. I recognise though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party. I have therefore spoken to His Majesty the King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.”
This sounds pretty high-minded, yes, but it only came after her attempt to hang on to power had failed. The ‘vultures’ (a chunk of her parliamentary colleagues) had let it be known that they wanted her out by all means.
Prior to Truss’s resignation, her newly appointed Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, had earlier tendered her resignation from government on October 19, 2022, “with the greatest regret” for breaching the ministerial code.
She, in her resignation letter, stated, “Earlier today, I sent an official document from my personal email to a trusted parliamentary colleague…This constitutes a technical infringement of the rules. As Home Secretary, I hold myself to the highest standards and my resignation is the right thing to do.”
Again, this also sounds pretty high-minded, sense of duty, ministerial adroitness kind of thing. On closer examination though, she was forced out. The ‘technical infringement’ referred to in her statement was in fact ‘market-sensitive.’ Divulging such information to a colleague (albeit inadvertently), is tantamount to ‘inside information’ that can be traded for financial gain in the market.
In other words, she would have been sacked had she not opted to resign. Resignations from high offices are usually dressed in such flowery, high-minded language in the UK, and elsewhere in Western democracies because it paves the way for a future redemption. It makes a return to another high office possible sooner or later. Heavens rejoice, when sinners repent, they say. This happens, to a lesser extent, in parts of Africa as well. Eleven cabinet members of South Africa’s African National Congress stepped down after the Parliament accepted Thabo Mbeki’s resignation in September 2008. Firmin Ngrebada resigned as Prime Minister of the Central African Republic along with his entire cabinet in June 2021. This followed a row over the government’s apparent ‘close ties’ with Moscow, to the annoyance of France, which had been shoring up the country’s military.
Furthermore, in Burkina Faso, Prime Minister Christophe Joseph Marie Dabire stood down with his entire cabinet in December 2021 amid mounting protest against the government’s inability to stem the tide of jihadist attacks on their country. In Ivory Coast, Prime Minister Patrick Achi tendered his resignation and that of his government to President Alassane Ouattara in April 2022, barely one year after he was sworn in.
He was accused of ‘incompetence.’ Last but not least, and not too long ago, on October 11, 2022 Prime Minister Albert Padacke of the Republic of Chad resigned, paving the way for a new government after the country pushed back elections by two years. Padacke, a civilian politician, was named PM of a transitional military government last year after President Mahamat Deby seized power following his father’s death. The military was originally meant to rule for 18 months, but has now pushed back democratic elections until 2024.
By contrast, in Nigeria, when the 2023 general elections were declared open, several ministers scurried along to political party headquarters to pick nomination forms for the contest whilst still in office and contrary to the President’s direction for such officials to resign first.
Even the supposedly apolitical Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, had the audacity to openly court nomination for President. Nonetheless, the moment many of them saw that they had a narrow path to victory in their party, they promptly resumed their duties without batting an eyelid, and with no repercussions.
The reader would have noticed that the spate of resignations from government in the UK and in some African states happened where the institution of government is separate from the presidency. In a parliamentary model of governance, the head of government is separate and distinct from the head of state.
Under this system, continuity of government is assured by the presidency, even as ministers come and go. But in a federal system, the President’s tenure is almost mathematically fixed. The date Mr President assumes power and leaves office, is set in stone. He is the Chief Executive, the high and mighty.
The ‘father of the nation’ and his cabinet are protected from pressure, within or without. The only mechanism available is the impeachment in the National Assembly, which is ineffective where the president’s party has an overall majority. And, where it does not enjoy an overall majority, it is fantastically difficult to push through an impeachment motion that will carry two-third majority in both Houses.
It is generally thought that this system guarantees stability. The problem is, it is a double-edged sword; it guarantees stability for a competent, people-oriented cabinet to the same degree as it does to a rogue cabinet. Is this another argument for ‘restructuring,’ calling for citizens’ action, or just another sobering thought on the state of Nigeria’s political life? That is for you to decide.