TENURE OPTIMISATION, NOT ELONGATION: THE REAL ISSUES

By NBF News
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It should be obvious to any sincerely objective observer that there is no hidden agenda or unseen hand behind Dr. Jonathan's promotion of a single term in office for the President and Governors in Nigeria.

He has been consistent in his assertion that the struggle to return to office for the second term is often the cause of unnecessary acrimony and bitterness and that it distracts the office holder from the real task of governance.

This is neither a new theme in his political life nor is it a self-serving one. He has made it abundantly clear that he does not intend to benefit from the extension of the constitutional tenure that he has proposed and that he will not seek to remain in office after 2015.

This should surprise no one who has taken a genuine interest in the career path and the performance in office of Dr. Jonathan. Even his critics have admitted that his effectiveness in performing tasks assigned to him when he was Deputy Governor and Vice President illustrate his desire to place performance rather than personal gain at the centre of his political life. Now that he has been given the opportunity to operate at the pinnacle of power it would have been disappointing if he did not attempt to impose some of his core principles on the political space that he has been given the opportunity to lead for a limited time.

This is the main issue that Nigerians need to consider as they engage this innovative suggestion of Dr. Jonathan. It should also come as no surprise that Goodluck Jonathan is introducing what some see as a distraction and an obstacle to the smoothening of his pathway in relations with his fellow politicians. The announcement that if the reform was passed he would not benefit from it could have surprised only those who have not closely observed the career path of Dr. Jonathan and his attitude towards political office.

We have heard it said again and again that while Dr. Jonathan acts like a political amateur he often ends up claiming the prize that those who are supposedly more schooled in political ways fail to achieve. This reality suggests that he innovates and makes up his mind on the moves he should make rather than calculating his next move on the basis of expediency.

To many observers this makes him a new phenomenon in Nigerian politics; an actor in the political arena who believes that service to the common polity should take precedence over service to a privileged elite. However while this might be the major impulse driving Dr. Jonathan's personal objective it is quite clear that he is operating within a system that does not consider his thematic style complementary to its traditional formula of leadership.

The response to his suggestion that the tenure of executive leadership should therefore be rationalised and effectively reduced has made this very plain. Even legislators, who might have been expected to regard this as being one way to curb the excessive and over-bearing control of the states' political space by Governors, have been reluctant to join the movement.

The Governors who often attempt to seize and control the legislative mandate through manipulation of their powers have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to the Jonathan suggestion. It would be interesting to see what their reaction would be however if Dr. Jonathan should suggest that the executive tenure should be a single term of eight years rather than six. If indeed the purpose is to eliminate the acrimony and distraction caused by a run for office in the middle of an eight-year two-term tenure then this might be the simplest and most acceptable reform to promote.

Dr. Jonathan has made it clear that he would prefer if this process was to be available only to a new group of contestants and not to any incumbent including himself. In espousing this principle he has alienated a number of those who are still hoping to use their present incumbency as a springboard to continued political prominence once their constitutional tenures end. They are likely to regard the idea of a longer term for their successors and a reduction of the need for political horse-trading in the future as being calculated to undermine their relevance and influence in the political arena in their states.

The Presidency itself has so far been projected as a regional rather than a national office because of the issue of zoning as one of the major qualifications for eligibility. Dr. Jonathan's emergence as a result of a decision to emphasise the superiority of constitutional criteria over regional convenience could be a step forward in transforming Nigeria's democratic order into a truly nationalistic political system. However it can only serve this purpose if other key aspects of the political system are effectively transformed as an element of constitutional reform rather than as an expedient and accidental response to unforeseen circumstances.

This seems to us to be the most important foundation of the Jonathan initiative in seeking to promote and eventually to legitimise the single term tenure for certain executive political offices under the existing system of governance. The challenge it seems to us is not to convince the average member of the electorate that this suggestion makes good sense but rather to prevent the politicians from continuing to regard it as an obstacle to their continued ascendancy and privilege. Most Nigerians if they consider the issue properly are likely to agree that it would be better to have these leaders serve a single long term.

Many of those in office now are in the midst of two terms in which most of their time was consumed by their efforts to get re-elected and then to cover their tracks and install their acolytes as their successors. Since Goodluck has made it plain he intends to leave office at the end of his four year tenure he hopes to create a better and more rational system by promoting a single longer term. However in doing so he might very well be accused of 'having bitten the hands that fed him', because like it or not Dr. Jonathan was selected for elevation by the man who is most closely associated with the idea of tenure elongation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The irony is that while his proposal is being excoriated by many of those who fought against the idea of a third term for Obasanjo they have refused to recognise the protection that it would afford against any such attempt in future. As we indicated before there could be room for modifications that would include the extension of the single term to cover the entire eight years of the two terms presently allowed.

This is because the motive behind Dr. Jonathan's suggestion appears to be quite clearly an effort to install a purpose driven tenure in which elected executives can focus on their job rather than on their efforts to cling to power.

Given a single term and no option of re-election they should perform their duties with commitment rather than on the basis of extraneous political pressures. It is unfortunate that some opponents to this suggestion have so little faith in the moral probity of Nigerian politicians that they have claimed that finding themselves in office with no chance of return they will loot the treasury blind.

We doubt that this would be the case in general although a few of them might actually see this as an opportunity to steal. A good idea should not be discarded without being tested and this is certainly a good idea.