… AKANDE, DAVID-WEST, NLC, OTHERS KICK AGAINST PROPOSAL
Prof David West
The Presidency yesterday received more knocks over its proposed six-year single term for President and governors. The executive had through the Presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati on Tuesday unveiled the plan to send a Constitution amendment bill to the National Assembly seeking its consent, but he said President Goodluck Jonathan will not benefit from its implementation beginning from 2015.
But leading the opposition to the proposal yesterday, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) through its Vice President, Comrade Issa Aremu, vowed to resist it, describing the plan as unpatriotic, self-serving and unacceptable to Labour.
On its part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, threw its weight behind the bill, saying it would benefit the country, if implemented.
An activist, Mr. Festus Okoye, said a single term for whatever number of years, would lead to insurrection and dictatorship. He spoke to Daily Sun from his Kaduna base.
Reacting to the proposed amendment, Comrade Aremu said it was undemocratic and a subversion of collective- national will. He was addressing participants yesterday at a workshop on trade union education and capacity building on formal sector, organised by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria and Friedrich Ebert Stiffung in Ilorin, Kwara State.
Aremu said President Jonathan never campaigned nor promised the electorate about tenure elongation or hidden agenda. 'The new proposal is patronizing and insulting to 150 million Nigerians and certainly, it is not presidential on the part of the President.
'The problem militating against focus of governance and institutionalization of democracy is not two-term tenure for President and governors, adding that it is the absence of development agenda on the part of ruling parties at federal and state levels as well as the unbridled desire of political office holders to sit tight and loot nation's resources,' he said.
The President was reminded that it is not how long but how well, adding that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and ex-President Nelson Mandela ruled for a short while and made all the differences that were still in the minds of the people while Robert Mugabe and Museveni of Zimbabwe and Uganda respectively had been in power for more than two decades, destroying their countries.
The labour leader, who also said that the bill has further overheated the polity which it aimed to ebb, added that what must be done is the promotion of issue-based healthy 'tensions' within the context of open and transparent electoral process.
From President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ralph Uwechue, came a commendation over the bill. He said that the plan, if implemented, would benefit the country.
Speaking to newsmen in Lagos, he stated that the move was a welcome development as it will discourage desperate political office seekers from heating up the polity with their quest for a second tenure.
His words: 'Ohaneze believes that this move by President Goodluck Jonathan will go a long way in stabilizing the polity. From what we know, it is going to be a single term and President Jonathan has said that he will not be a beneficiary. I think that it is an advantage to our country because it will discourage many of the people who are struggling to accumulate money when they are in office to run for a second term. It will also curb the desperation and put a stop the politically motivated means of eliminating an opponent.
'Secondly, we believe strongly that the offices of the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Vice President, should rotate among the various zones. If that is the case, a single term, which is likely to be shorter than eight years will make these positions go round faster in the interest of equality, equity, fairness and the federal character of our nation.
On governors who may want to go for a second term, he stated that they have nothing to fear as there was no guarantee that every governor will have a second tenure if the present four-year term is allowed to subsist.
'The fact that some of them have four years as governors, does not guarantee that they will have an eight-year term because they were not elected for eight years. So, the governors have nothing to lose and everything should be based on what is fair to all,' he stated.
Meanwhile, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) senatorial candidate for Akwa Ibom North West (Ikot Ekpene) District, Dr Anny Asikpo, has lambasted opposition to the plan.
Asikpo who is still in court contesting the result of the last April elections of which the PDP candidate, Dr Aloysius Etok was declared winner, is surprisingly supporting Jonathan on the issue of a single tenure, even as he described the action of the opposition as 'the height of disservice to a majority of Nigerians.'
'The president should go ahead with the executive bill and should even include a clause that the presidency and the governorship should rotate among all the geo-political zones in the country and all senatorial districts in the states so that there would be peace and harmony, and reduce conflicts during primaries.
'I think with this, the president would have saved this country from the bitterness that normally engulfs it during elections. It is a divinely induced decision because if it was left to the party leaders, they wouldn't have allowed it. Now, all political parties would know that they eithercollapse into one political party or decide to toe the zoning line so that if the presidency is going to come from the North Central, then all the parties would look for their materials from such zone.'
Asikpo however, advised the President that the single tenure should not be for the president and governors only; rather, it should also affect the Senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members, local government chairmen and councillors.
The National Chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Bisi Akande also condemned the plan, describing it as 'self-serving.'
He described the move as a distraction, saying rather than Mr President concentrating on the serious problem of unemployment and poverty confronting the nation; he is trying to create a distraction.
He told reporters after opening the National Working Committee (NWC) Retreat of the party, held at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan, yesterday that the ACN was not surprised at the move by the ruling PDP since according to him, the PDP was only confirming the appellation given to it as a party of 'the Republic of the Fools'.
He said ACN members in the National Assembly would work against the bill when it is time for its debate and would also lobby other opposition parties to frustrate it.' If other parties believe in what we believe in, we would work together to frustrate its passage'.
Also condemning the bill, former Petroleum Resources Minister, Prof. Tam David West, yesterday said the proposal, if operated, would breed worse inefficiency and corruption in government.
The university don who spoke with Daily Sun in Ibadan yesterday, also described the idea as the manifestation of the unseriousness of corporate Nigeria, especially the legislature, regretting that the nation was still groping for models of governance after 50 years of independence.
He also faulted the premise of those who mooted the 'frivolous and irresponsible' idea, which, he argued, could not scale through the rigorous conditions of constitutional amendment, because 'outside Aso Rock and the National Assembly, there are saner Nigerians, more circumspective Nigerians and clearly more patriotic.'
Moreover, he said the Bill was bound to fail like the Third Term gambit agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, because it was 'a personalized, fraudulent move to tinker with the constitution, the fundamental document of the nation.'He also warned Nigerians not to trust the President's pledge to exempt himself from benefiting from it.
He said: 'Whoever believes him (Jonathan) is a fool, a compound fool, suffering from amnesia, because Jonathan has no record of respecting his signature or his word'.
Picking holes in the reasons advocates of the bill gave to justify it, David West said that it was not true that governors spent most of the first tenure years campaigning for second term. Even if this was true of some of the 36 governors, he argued that: 'You don't because of a few exceptions make a universal law to bind everybody. It is an aberration'
Noting that two terms of four years each worked perfectly in the First Republic, he declared that the problem was not with the structure, but in the people, who operated the system, prostituting the constitution and manipulating it to suit their selfish interests.
'The beauty of the two terms of four years each is that it makes them look above their shoulders because they want to do well, so as to get a second term. Fashola's brilliant stewardship of his first term qualified him for the second term. He is a good example that first term for responsible governors is a preparation for securing second term.
David-West said that there was no guarantee that the six-year single term would cost the nation less in terms of financing, noting that governments in Nigeria since 1999 had been expensive because of profligacy and the jumbo salaries and allowances public office holders awarded themselves. He impugned the sincerity of the president's declaration exempting him from the new arrangement, saying his antecedents in reneging on the matter of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoning policy, promise to form a national government and the issue of minimum wage did not give hope that he would honour his word. His words: 'Jonathan was number 34 of the signatories that approved the adoption of zoning for his party as deputy governor of Bayelsa representing his governor then. The same Jonathan, when it suited him said there was nothing like zoning. Look carefully at his statement, 'I'll not be a beneficiary'. Why is that necessary to say? Is it a Freudian slip of a hidden agenda? Why must he bring himself into it?
'Secondly, Jonathan proposed a national government; he reneged again on something as fundamental as that.'
David-West described presidential spokesman, Rueben Abati's defence of the bill as sterile and intellectually flawed.
Abati had said the current arrangement did not help the focus of governance and institutionalization of democracy.
But to the former minister, there had been no democracy in the country since 1999 as most of the rulers were rigged into office. He particularly noted that Abati, who he described as erstwhile objective frontline critic of the system, was verging on demystifying himself as an intellectual with his justification of some goofs allegedly committed by his new principal.
He cited how Abati defended President Jonathan's visit to receive the British Prime Minister in Lagos, instead of Abuja, the nation's capital, on the grounds that the Constitution did not forbid it and that the PM was on working visit and not a state visit to Nigeria.
But David-West rejoined: 'This is not a constitutional matter, this is international protocol matter. If Jonathan visits Liverpool, will the PM leave London to receive him in Liverpool? To me, I'm surprised he should think like this. Would he have thought the same way, if he were still in The Guardian?
President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Joseph Bodundrin Daudu, SAN, also condemned the proposal.
He said it was as time-wasting and indeed unnecessary dissipation of the mandate' given to the government. Speaking at the National Executive Committee (NEC) in Katsina on Thursday, Daudu, warned President Jonathan to retrace his steps.
'The expectations of the generality of Nigerians who voted President Jonathan to power is in the region of economic transformation of Nigeria and not in any perceived political transformation,' insisted the fiery NBA chief.
Daudu frowned at the persistence of the President in taking the political route instead of giving the nation a strategy for massive industrial revolution, sound agricultural programme and more than mere lip service in the area of solid mineral production, national road network and modern rail transformation among others.
Hear him: 'Our President ought to build on the gains of the last election in terms of political maturity rather than proceeding on this misadventure of constitutional amendment at this stage.'
The proposed one-term rule will deprive the people of the services of a conscientious and indeed dedicated leader who has discharged his constitutional mandate and ruled in accordance with his oath of office but has not completed his programme.
Also contributing, Mr. Okoye, a member of the defunct Uwais panel on Electoral Reforms warned that single term of either six or seven years would lead to internal insurrection.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Sun in Kaduna, Okoye noted that rather than dissipate energy on the issue of single tenure, President Jonathan and the political class should focus attention on security, youth unemployment, corruption and other challenges confronting the nation.
While insisting that a single tenure would breed dictatorship, Okoye said that only a visionless leader would argue that four years was too small to make an impact, adding, the late Head of State, General, Murtala Muhammed did not spend four years, yet his positive impact on the nation was there to see.
'If you read the contribution of the PDP to the Uwais committee, it proposed a single term, of seven years. I was a member of that committee, and that had been the party's position. The only thing is that when the things were hot, party faithful abandoned that position and moved away from it.
'For me the beauty of democracy is the promise of choice. Choice in the sense that at periodic intervals, that is what it is called, at periodic intervals, elected officers must go and renew their mandate. If they have done well, electorate will give them pass mark and say continue. If they have not done well, the electorate will give them zero and say, don't go, let somebody else go. That is the promise of democracy, which is the promise of the electoral process.
'A single seven-year or six-year tenure will breed dictatorship, because the moment you secure that seven or six-year mandate, you are not accountable to anybody; you become a dictator. I cannot see what a visionary, courageous, creative executive cannot accomplish in four years. 'But the only thing is that people do not prepare for public office in Nigeria.
On the argument by the proponents of the idea that renewable tenure of four years, was responsible for the electoral violence that we have had, Okoye again said 'As far as I'm concerned, we have never had crisis pre and after elections in recent times. The crisis we have had is that at various times, people had attempted to come into power other than through the provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act.
On his part, a member of the Nstional Assembly between 1990 and 1993, Senator Francis Okpozo described the move as an aberration of the nation's constitution and urged the president to withdraw it.
He described the excuse that President Jonathan would not be a beneficiary of the system which would take effect from 2015 if passed, as 'unreasonable and unacceptable.'
Disagreeing with the critics, a monarch in Delta State, Obi Anyasi, the Obi of Idumije-Unor in Aniocha North Local Government Area, said the proposal would help reduce the cost of conducting election to the offices of the President and state governors, adding that frequent elections and the craze for second term by sitting governors and presidents has been a source of distraction to good governance. He urged the National Assembly to treat the bill dispassionately.
Senator Okpozo who spoke with Daily Sun on phone in Asaba, stressed that the campaign to return to office by elected governors does not affect good governance. He added that Nigerians were politically matured enough to vote out non-performing politicians.
'It is an aberration because the constitution says fours for the first term and another four if possible and that makes it eight years. In the first instance, that is what is practiced in the United States of America where we copied from. People should be wary of what happened in the failed third agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo,' Okpozo stated.
A group, National Prayer Movement, also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to attend to the immediate needs of Nigerians rather than waste energy and resources on tenure of public office holders.
Reacting to the proposed executive bill on six year single tenure in a statement signed by its General Secretary, Mr. Oluwagbemiga Olakunle, yesterday, the group stated that the challenges confronting the country go beyond tenure review.
According to the movement, President Jonathan should concentrate energy on solving the security, economic and socio-religious challenges that the country is presently facing.
'The President should please address the issue of insecurity and ensure that lives and property of Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria are safe. And also tackle the issue of food security and energy crisis.
'Whatever may be the merits of the proposed bill; its introduction at a time like this is very untimely and uncalled for. It is also diversionary and tantamount to providing job for the 'boys' in the National Assembly.
'The electorate are yearning to see and enjoy the dividends of democracy before planning for generations yet unborn. This present generation of Nigerians does not want to die of hunger and preventable diseases. Nigerians want to travel and live in any part of the country without any threat to their lives and property', the group stated.