HEAVY KNOCKS FOR JONATHAN
President Goodluck Jonathan
A groundswell of criticisms, on Wednesday, greeted President Goodluck Jonathan's plan to seek an amendment to the tenure of the President and state governors. Opposition political parties, constitutional lawyers and rights organisations as well as contributors on the country's vocal social networking websites slammed the president's plan, describing it as 'selfish', 'a distraction' and 'tenure elongation by subterfuge.'
Sources, however, told THE PUNCH that the President might ignore the opposition to the plan and present his single-term agenda to the National Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party for ratification on Thursday (today).
A member of the PDP NEC, who confided in one of our correspondents on the condition of anonymity, said the President was expected to explain to the NEC members his motives for the plan.
The PDP chieftain said, 'You know that tomorrow (today) is our NEC, and we expect the President to use the opportunity to brief us on the proposed single-tenure of six years.
'After that, the party will take a decision on the matter. We will discuss how to go about it and rally the members of the party who are members of the National Assembly on whether to support or reject the proposed amendment.'
After days of speculations, the plan was announced officially on Tuesday via a statement by the President's Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati. The statement said the President planned to send a bill to the National Assembly, seeking the replacement of the current constitutional two-term tenure with a single term.
Although the statement was silent on the details of the proposed bill, particularly the duration of the proposed single term, there are speculations that the proposed legislation would provide for a six-year term. The statement added that Jonathan would not be a beneficiary of the amendment.
However, this assurance did little to douse rising speculations on Wednesday that the President had a hidden agenda. The Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress for Progressive Change, in separate statements, said the proposed amendment was worse than the third term agenda proposed by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The ACN also urged Nigerians to reject the plan.
Meanwhile, two human rights groups, Transition Monitoring Group and the Human Rights Writers Association, have faulted the proposed amendment. The All Nigerian Peoples Party advised Nigerians to be vigilant, adding that the President and the National Assembly should put the interest of the nation above every other consideration. However, an Igbo group, the World Ndigbo Youth Council, supported Jonathan's proposal, saying that the South-East would produce Nigeria's next president.
The pan-Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, also said it was in support of the elongation plan.
But the Northern apex organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, slammed the plan which it described as 'not a solution to Nigeria's problems.'
While dismissing the President's profession of selflessness in pushing the agenda, the ACN's National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described the proposed amendment as 'patently fraudulent, deceptively self serving and a terrible misadventure.'
Mohammed said, ''This is nothing but tenure elongation by subterfuge, and it is worse than the third term misadventure of his godfather. All it takes for the proviso (inserted to hoodwink gullible people) to be knocked off is for anyone to seek a declarative court ruling that he (President Jonathan) is indeed qualified to seek another term. After all, he did not go that far to disown his party's zoning principle, which he signed on to.''
The ACN warned that the proposed amendment could threaten what it described as the country's fragile unity.
'How is this issue more important than taking measures to grow our moribund economy; or to ensure that millions of our jobless youths are gainfully employed?'
'How does this check the widespread insecurity of lives and property in the land, especially in areas under the stranglehold of Boko Haram? 'How are the so-called merits of the plan, which its promoters said include checking the acrimony that accompanies re-election campaign, more important than making kerosene, diesel and Jet-A1 abundantly available to slash the rising costs? How does this project turn around the appalling state of our infrastructure?' he queried.
'He (Jonathan) should therefore jettison this ill-advised pursuit of tenure elongation through the back door, apologise to Nigerians and face squarely the daunting task of serious governance. If he fails to do so, which is very likely, the National Assembly should not waste time in throwing it away,'' ACN said.
The CPC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, in Abuja, said the bill was the beginning of a plot to deceive Nigerians.
The party said rather than face the urgent task of providing good governance to the people, Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party were seeking to perpetuate themselves in office.
It described the proposal as 'preposterous, immoral and ludicrous.'
'Was this part of the agenda that was concealed before the April elections? For a government that is failing in all parameters of good governance to be contemplating a subtle tenure elongation, within three months of inauguration, is an affront to the people's sovereignty,' the CPC added.
According to the CPC, 'Nothing can be more mendacious and delusory. Chapter 2 of the subsisting Constitution deals with the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy with section 14 accentuating the fact of Sovereignty belonging to the people and from whom government derives its powers.
The ANPP, which said it was studying the development, urged 'Mr. President and the National Assembly to put the interest of the nation above every other consideration in the process.'
'The experience of the recent past in similar efforts in this regard should remind all true patriots that Nigerians will resist any attempt to manipulate the constitutional amendment process to further any hidden agenda,' the party added.
A veteran journalist and author, Mr. Richard Akinnola, in his posting on the President's favourite social website, Facebook, described the planned amendment as a distraction.
Akinnola writes, 'The six-year single term tenure constitution proposal by Jonathan is just a distraction to take our minds from his ineptitude and go-slow government. Another thrird-term subterfuge. Shame.' The posting attracted instant comments by those who agreed with the author. On Nigeria's most popular online social network, Nairaland.com, contributors were also unsparing of the President. A poster, Walata44, wrote, 'Talk about misplaced priority, Jonny is without a rival. For all the enormous problems facing the nation, the most important bill that this clueless man will send or has already being sent is tenure elongation. Nigeria I hail thee.' Another poster lamented that he had checked the President's campaign promises again and there was no promise of term elongation among them.
The TMG's Chairman, Mr. Mashood Erubami, described the plan as 'unsolicited and unacceptable.' He said the move was tantamount to a 'hidden transmutation agenda,' hence self-conceited.
Erubami, in a statement made available to our correspondent in Abuja on Wednesday, said that nobody was convinced by the President's assurance that he would not benefit from the proposal.
He added that the urgency attached to the bill when the President should be preoccupied with other priorities of state was an indication that he would be pressured to benefit by the same people that mooted the idea. He therefore asked both state and federal lawmakers to reject the billas another third term agenda.
A constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itsay Sagay, however, described the proposed amendment as reasonable 'but not pressing,' saying it could serve as a temporary solution to political problems facing the country.
'It is not a bad idea that the president said he was pushing for the amendment for national interest and not for personal interest. But it is not the most pressing issue. The most pressing issue is the issue of federalism. The Federal Government needs to devolve some of its powers. The country as it is under a unitary government. The Federal Government is controlling a lot of powers and resources it cannot efficiently dispense,' Sagay told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Wednesday.