SIX YEAR SINGLE TERM FOR NIGERIAN PRESIDENT

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I have been preaching five year single term for our president and governors since after the 1999 election. I raised the issue again after our 2003 general elections, then during Chief Obasanjo attempt to elongate his tenure and after the 2007 general elections, which was adjudged by both local and international observers as the worst elections ever held any where in the world.

The elections were marred by monumental rigging and glaring inadequacies:

(1) Voting did not start in time in many places as usual.

(2) Voting materials were inadequate in most stations.

(3) Security agents were absent at many of the polling stations.

(4) Election did not take place in over a third of the designated places for elections.

(5)Election boxes were hijacked or stuffed illegally with election papers in most places.

(6) Violence marred the election process at many polling stations.

(7)INEC officials and security agents colluded with some unknown persons to disenfranchise voters at many polling stations.

(8) Many people voted more than once, including teenagers who spotted in most queues.

(9)Election results in many places were known and posted on the Internet by INEC, days before the actual elections. But these were not our worst problems; we had a dictator for president, encouraging and sponsoring criminality in governance. Obasaanjo was a Tin-God but all African leaders tend to be like that. They think they are Emperors, conquerors, kings and kings are supposed to rule for life. Daniel arap Moi was in power in Kenya from 1978 to 2003. His 1992 and 1997 re-elections were marred by massive irregularities leading to civil unrest and agitation for military intervention in Kenya. Moi could not be defeated while in office until Kenya’s constitution was amended to bar him from contesting in the 2003 general elections. The field was thus thrown open for fresh ideas and Kenya’s ruling party, KANU presented a new torch-bearer in the person of Uhuru Kenyatta, while the opposition parties teamed up in the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), to present Mwai Kibaki, who won. Kenya’s 2003 general elections were adjudged some of the best ever held in Africa. Like Moi who would not surrender power voluntarily even when nobody wanted him to continue in office, the new Kibaki started rigging too to perpetrate himself in power leading to serious civil unrest in the last general elections that recorded hundreds of fatal casualties. The story is the same in Zimbabwe, Cameroons, Gambia, Code d’ Ivore and several other countries in Africa, including all of Northern Africa. African leaders consider it a disgrace to allow themselves to be voted out of office. This is one of the strongest reasons why the single term tenure is best for Africa, particular in countries like Nigeria with a multitude of tribes, religions and interest, ready to destroy self and others to take control of national affairs. The influence of incumbency heightens do-or die politics in our clime. It began during Obasanjo’s presidency with the attempt to doctor electoral laws. At first the president and his cohorts in power, were against the registration of new political parties. When the registration of new parties became inevitable due to public pressure, the incumbents in power tried to limit the number of the new parties to three and to restrict their activities to the local government elections.

Gani Fawehinmi, a civil rights lawyer and other opposition parties went to court for succor, and the courage and impartiality of the judiciary facilitated the opening up of the political space to accommodate over 30 political parties. Obasanjo virtually controlled INEC. Although new parties such as the Advance Peoples Congress (APC) and the Movement for the Restoration and Development of Democracy (MRDD), were registered in January/February 2006 to open up the democratic space, a chieftain of the ruling party, the PDP, was quoted in the press at the time to have said: “Anybody can decide to go and contest anywhere but let them go and get their INEC.” This is the dilemma of our Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is not independent. The President determines who works there and who leads it; when to release funds to it and how much to release, thus making INEC staff feel that their tenure and fortunes are tied to their loyalty to the President. Of course, there is the Council-of State involvement in aspects of INEC’s process, but the Council is merely a rubber stamp contraption.

Obasanjo’s presidency had access to INEC’s confidential information such as the design and security features of voters cards and boxes, the registered voters lists. Location of polling stations etc, which it could use to the detriment of the opposition parties. The presidency knew in advance, who was going to serve where and when and had total control over the movement of voting materials and security agents especially at a period when voters’ movements were seriously curtailed nation-wide. There was strong evidence that some election results were fed into computers before elections actually took place. This was disgracefully demonstrated in the Lagos state governorship results when INEC forgot to erase in time, their fake result awarding the election to the candidate of the ruling party at the centre, PDP, in Lagos state even after they had announced Bola Tinubu of the AD as the actual winner. At the party primary level too, the presidency’s rigging streak knew no bounds. They numbered the voters cards state by state to discourage voting against the president because anyone doing so could be identified. The delegates’ list was expanded by nearly 50%, against party constitution, with the names of Ministers, Ambassadors, Advisers and other appointees of the President smuggled in. Most of the President’s cronies were not even card carrying party members until the eve of the party primary. Only the president had prior access to the full list of delegates, and he utilized it to write passionate, self-selling appeals to the individual delegates before the party primary. He, rather than the PDP, financed and sponsored the transportation to the venue, and the hotel accommodation for most of the delegates not seriously identified with the opposition candidates. Every ordinary delegate with one vote at the primary, returned home with at least N100,000 bribe from the President, while the Governors and leaders of delegations who could influence block votes each, received N5 – N10 million naira, depending on the size of the block vote. The overbearing influence of the president and governors, in terms of limitless funds, intimidated the voters, provided financial muscle for the president and governors, and determined the date and venue of party primaries at the Federal and state levels.

After the primaries, came the general elections where the influence, of incumbency was exemplified by the effrontery and arrogance of security forces who hijacked election materials and or assisted INEC personnel to doctor such materials at several polling stations around the country, especially in areas of strong political opposition. Opposition party leaders and their followers, particularly in remote areas of the South-East, South-South and South-West, were threatened not to come out of their homes to vote. Only in Lagos was Tinubu able to counter the Federal security and financial might. What helped Tinubu, was that he was already a pariah of his original regional Afenifere politics and knew he was on his own. His principal foe, turned out to be the presidency, which he marched thug for thug and naira for naira. The other South-West governors were complacent. One of them even boasted before the elections that he would not spend more than N50,000 of his own money to campaign and win, he lost. The presidency pumped millions of tax payers’ money to compromise INEC and security agents from the level of state commissioners to look the other way, down to the polling booth kids who each received no less than N25,000 to thumb-print materials and or assist the President’s party members to stuff up ballot boxes.

Inspector General of police at the time made some of his billions of naira loot from this project only to be hounded out of office later and jailed for stealing by Obasanjo who used him. Incumbent presidents and governors surround themselves with ‘yes’ men. In other words, with criminals like themselves who rig themselves into office like their benefactors. There is no way we can move forward as a people if criminals continue to rule us. Criminals and greedy people do not owe loyalty or allegiance to any one but themselves so incumbency factor becomes a life and death matter. The National Assembly has a responsibility to remove this cancerous sore from our polity by amending the Constitution to limit the term in office of the President and Governors to a single term of six years each as is being proposed by President Jonathan. It is an extremely patriotic move that all well meaning Nigerians must support even if Jonathan benefits from it or not. And why should he not if he performs well? The best time to send the bill to the National Assembly and settle the issue is now because later would arouse suspicion of attempt to elongate self tenure and create serious distraction in governance.

The single term of six years, apart from eliminating or minimizing the damaging effect of incumbency factor in our elections, would improve access of all Nigerian tribes and even religions to the coveted leadership positions, and encourage stronger healthier feelings of belonging and citizenship. For our zoning champions, it means leadership would rotate more frequently between North and South and at the governorship level, marginalized tribes can aspire to lead sooner than later. I am not a strong advocate of zoning, I think merit should be our watch word, but in a society like Nigeria where every tribe is virtually a nation on its own, we need to let the presidency and governorship positions move around as rapidly as possible for now, and single term in office would facilitate that.

Single term tenure reduces acrimony in politics and creates level playing ground for all candidates of elections. By and large, no candidate would have undue access to the national purse or overwhelming control of the media and INEC. Single term reduces cost of conducting elections in our large society of over 70 million voters and growing. There is a good chance that tribes and zones would attempt to put their best candidates forward to prove something at the centre, whether as presidents or governors.

Six years is enough for any President or Governor to make a great difference in the lives of the people especially because of the lack of distraction by election matters throughout the period, unlike with the eight year system, when over half of the period is spent on trying to win and keep power. The political parties have special responsibilities in single tenure regimes in a multi-ethnic and religiously divided society like ours if they want to win elections. Candidates must be picked according to the candidates’ liberal antecedents across political, social, tribal and religious nuances that divide us. A candidate must not offend any of our sensibilities and must bring merit to the table. Nigeria is in dire need of good leaders so, although we accept that zoning is inevitable for now in our country, each zone party is expected to endeavour to put their best candidates forward because if they don’t, the lackluster performance of their candidates in office would reflect negatively on their zone and tribe in the long run. If the party’s candidates perform well in office, the party has a good chance of wining the next election and so on. A good leader has no hiding place. Take Governor Fashola of Lagos State currently, for instance. His performance in Lagos is responsible for the feat achieved by the ACN in the recently concluded national elections nation wide. The cost of running our presidential system is scandalous, consuming some 80% of our annual budgets at all levels of our governments. No country can make any developmental impact on its citizens with only 20% of its annual budget going into capital projects. The bureaucracy is too cumbersome at all levels of our governments with our leaders parading battalions of advisers, hangers-on and an over-bloated civil service system.

The presidency, for instance, surrounds himself with a myriad of advisers and deputy advisers duplicating the jobs of his Ministers and deputy Ministers. The national Assembly leaders too have their own complements of advisers, all of them with a retinue of office staff, lavish pecks of office, including cars, housing, estacodes and what have you. The solution could be a return to the parliamentary system or a combination of that with the presidential one. Whatever it is, we would not know without a parley of some sort between all the ethnic stakeholders in the project called Nigeria. There is a serious need and urgency to structure the nation to create a level playing ground for all our ethnic nationalities through dialogue. The PDP seems to shy away from what some have described as a Sovereign National Conference. But until the issues involved are amicably settled, Nigerian unity would continue to be a mirage with ethnic agitations continuing to grow to implacable and monstrous proportions.

Written by Naiwu Osahon, renowned author, philosopher of science, mystique, leader of the world Pan-African Movement.

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