Reopening the single-term issue? - Nigerian Tribune

By The Citizen

If the thinking of Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu reflects the disposition of members of the National Assembly, the  issue of a single  but elongated term for the president and state governors – which had earlier been discarded -  may again find its way to the front burner of legislative business.  In the course of his recent interaction with newsmen in Lagos, Ekweremadu, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, stated that the National Assembly might soon be revisiting the proposal. He maintained that a single term of office for political chief executives at the federal and state levels offered the most viable solution to Nigeria's  perennial crisis of succession.  He said  some countries in Latin America stabilised their democracies by opting for a single-term arrangement when they found themselves in Nigeria's  present situation.

The  proposal for a single-term  for executive office holders was subjected to an extensive debate before the National Assembly  put  the kibosh on it during the last amendment to the constitution. And the decision of the legislators was believed to have reflected popular opinion.   Ekweremadu's newfound argument that the crisis within the Peoples  Democratic Party (PDP) is a product of the two-term arrangement is totally defective. It is as clear as crystal that the PDP crisis is a direct result of a desperate struggle for political power. It should also not be difficult to recall that when the late President Umaru Yar'Adua became  too ill to govern, the cabal around him made it impossible to transfer power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan until the National Assembly came up with the 'doctrine of necessity.'

The same  cabal was vehemently opposed to Jonathan's bid for the presidency in 2011.  The present feud within the party is an extension of the same political rancour and not an opposition to the two-term arrangement.

This of course is not to say that the single term proposal has no merit. The elevation of politics above governance during the struggle for a second term, the use of state resources to further partisan political interests, persecution of political  opponents and sundry other misdeeds are common practices during the usually desperate struggle for a second term.  It is also common knowledge that incumbency in Nigeria is not seen as an opportunity to flaunt accomplishments to win political support.  Rather, it is an authority to suppress, oppress and manipulate. It is used by the incumbent office holder to violate the basic tenets of democracy in the quest for a second term.  A Nigerian incumbent office holder striving to retain their seat can, at times,  be  likened to an emperor bulldozing his way  back to his throne.

In spite of the above-listed anomalies that are peculiar to Nigeria and some African countries, the two-term arrangement remains the tested and civilised approach to the issue of political tenure.  Ekweremadu and other canvassers for an elongated single term have been proposing one stretch of five to seven years.  What is the evidence that the usual political tension and abuses associated with a second term bid will not manifest in some other ways in a single tenure arrangement? Nigeria is widely known as a country that is well endowed with human and material resources but embarrassingly deficient in quality leadership. Will the same system not produce  leaders who may choose to serve their selfish interests from the very first day in office because they do not look forward to a second term? It should also be noted that the bid for a second term has not been the only source of tension in the polity.  For instance, the 2007 general election that ushered in the late Umaru Yar'Adua as president witnessed massive frauds. The election was not for a renewal of mandate for the incumbent president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yet the tension was palpable. Even Yar'Adua admitted that there were shortcomings in the election.

The problem with Nigeria's  democracy is not the provision for two terms in office. The problem lies largely  in the general belief that a political office is not a call to service but an opportunity for personal aggrandizement and the pursuit of ethnic and sectional interests. Until political offices are made less attractive and political office holders and other highly-placed offenders are condignly punished for any form of misbehavior, there will be no change for the better.  Ekweremadu's suggestion that the tenure of the incumbent president and governors be extended till 2017 is objectionable and politically toxic. The administrations under which such changes are  made do not benefit therefrom in civilised climes.  The single-term idea is a diversion that should not be allowed to reappear on the legislative agenda.