Single six-year term is another joke
By Dr. SKC Ogbonnia
The plan to introduce a single six-year term for the offices of the President and Governors is another joke being conceived to further confuse the masses. Such plan is anti-democratic, regressive, defeatist, and will worsen corruption.
The current hoopla on term of office revolves around a claim by a new wave of influential pundits that the concept of re-election is the bane of our problems. To these pundits, the quest for re-election usually overheats the polity and, in most cases, marries the politicians to the reigning culture of embezzling public funds or making wild promises, so as to get re-elected. Thus, it is believed that a single term would free the governors or the president from the temptations commonly associated with re-elections, thereby allowing these executives to focus on the jobs they swore to do. This argument sounds very good in theory but guarantees to disappoint big time in practice.
In the first place, a single six-year term is archaic and polar opposite to modern democratic principles. Its lame duck nature is similar to autocratic monarchies, where kings assume power and sit idly by, since only act of death can dethrone them. Unlike in the monarchies, the concept of re-election promotes competition and opposition activities, which are central to democracy. It also breeds checks and balances by serving as a referendum on the activities of the office holders. The proponents of the single term will definitely argue otherwise, suggesting that the legislatures can facilitate the essential checks and balances. But they need a serious rethink. Today, with possible exceptions of Anambra, Delta, Oyo, and Zamfara states; the National Assembly and all the other State Assemblies are dominated by one party. This situation has resulted to weak opposition across the entire country, therefore making it virtually impossible to impeach the President or Governors, who may indulge in corrupt practices while in office.
The hope for re-election is a powerful incentive for efficient and responsive governance. It enhances performances and further promotes pursuit for excellence and, by extension, greater purpose and possibilities. Recall how, during his re-election campaign, President Goodluck Jonathan breezed into Enugu one December afternoon to proclaim Akanu Ibiam Airport to an international status. Recall how many of such promises were showered on all the other political zones. Or, do we forget the sensational power roadmap? Perhaps these are worthy projects, well studied, supported with superb personnel, and remain very attainable today. Instead of embarking on yet another phantom legislation, our honorable legislators should be breaking into committees and holding the president and governors accountable to their promises; and, where necessary, identifying omissions and concrete plans for immediate implementation.
Another compelling reason is that, if the single term is to be adopted, the politicians will simply deploy their infamous strategies from re-election to sustaining themselves in power for the entire duration of the term. And given that politicians typically prefer to enthrone others who can shield their evil deeds upon leaving office, the vogue will then shift from re-election to dynasty, imperialism, or god-fatherism. According to the single term model, governors and presidents would quietly do their jobs and retire away. But if history is any foreteller of the future, Nigerians should know better. After all, Olusegun Obasanjo and many governors just completed two terms in office not long ago and were supposed go away quietly. It was quite the opposite. Not only did Obasanjo commandeer our resources in installing his successor but also strangled his home state of Ogun to ordain the daughter as a senator. And, as if that was not enough, any intended or unintended opposition to Obasanjo's preferred candidates in the transitional 2007 elections——whether from the ruling party or outside it——was met with untold hardship. That was the same pattern for many state governors, who ruled and abused the states from 1999 to 2007. Most of those governors, for example, Chimaroke Nnamani or James Ibori of Enugu and Delta States, respectively, conveniently bulldozed public resources to elevate their cronies as successors.
There is always the tendency for corruption or mismanagement of resources anytime two or more people are gathered together for common goal, whether it is small organization, government, election or re-election, first-term, second-term, or any term, for that matter. But what really matters is how to ensure that there are policies in place to curb human excesses and, importantly, being able to implement such policies. Stated differently, the problem is not how to control terms of service but how best to implement existing policies that are designed to compel the Nigerian servants towards sound moral purpose.
Besides religion, a popular way to promote and sustain a moral society is through law and order as may be advanced by the government. People are more likely to behave properly, if they fear what will happen incase they break the law. There are numerous laws in place to combat corruption and electoral malpractices. Instead of punishing the law breakers, Nigerian governments are known to aid individuals and groups to indulge in more corrupt practices. As a result, laws are commonly and flagrantly violated with little or no remorse, since there are no consequences for bad behavior.
To make matters worse, the political leaders of the 4th Republic have capitalized on an imprudent clause in 1999 Constitution that provides immunity for governors and the president while they are in office. This standing order——suggestive of no consequences for bad behavior——for the Executive branch; thence encourages members of the Legislature as well as the Judiciary to abuse their offices too. The immunity clause notwithstanding, there is scant interest in probing the activities of the politicians even when they are out of office.
While politicians can perpetrate evils deeds in course of re-election or while they are in power, the worst and most inexplicable culprits are the successive governments that never probe their predecessors. Today, ex-government officials who were either indicted or convicted for embezzling public funds or involved in electoral malpractices are not only being allowed to feast on their loot but are steadily extolled and appointed to the highest levels within the different ruling parties. Even if and when they eventually face the wrath of the law, their crimes are never meted with fitting penalties——all in name of American styled plea bargain. Perhaps Nigeria's adoption of the American styled presidential system of government is widely acclaimed but Nigeria must realize fast that America's system has its good——and its bad. And plea bargain is simply bad for Nigeria.
More disheartening aspect of the problem is that the very few crooks who end up being convicted are treated like royals in prison, with some of them spending the time in palatable hospital suites——and with direct access to every luxury and pleasure, including their lovers. This brazen impunity, of course, does nothing but once again concretize the despicable act of corruption as appealing political order. It adds lethal salt to the open injury in the face of helpless majority and lends credence to the long-standing suspicion that the rhetoric about punishing corrupt leaders (particularly with prison terms) is fallacy, in fact.
Any attempt to relate President Obasanjo's era to effective leadership is like viewing history from a rear-view mirror. But I am tempted to do so here, in comparison to the regimes after him; at least, in terms of the war against corruption. For instance, institutionalized corruption which was illuminated under the Obasanjo administration is being rashly shaded by successive governments. To that end, despite unabated looting in all levels of government, besides the lone case of Olabode George or the James Ibori drama; there is no single conviction of any major corrupt politicians during the 4-year reign of Yar'Adua/Jonathan regimes from 2007 to 2011——whether from the central government, the states controlled by PDP, or the few states under the opposition parties. The only time the presence of anti-corruption agency has been felt lately is when the central government uses it to intimidate political opponents. And there are no concrete plans to prosecute clear cases of electoral offenses.
If Nigeria has historically failed to implement extant anti-corruption and election laws, what are the chances that new laws which can compliment the single six-year term policy towards effective leadership will be implemented then? Or, how will the situation be any different from the current pattern where politicians can abuse offices, empty the treasury, and walk away scot-free? Will the long six years in office not be more conducive for these political merchants, as compared to the current shorter four-year term?
The proposal for a single six-year term is very annoying. It is a weird admission that Nigeria is a failed state. That is to say that the country can no longer control its citizens and therefore not interested in prosecuting politicians who mismanage public resources in course of elections or those who employ other underhand practices to attain or sustain power. If truth be told, adopting the single term——instead of holding office holders accountable——is a tired agenda, defeatist, counter productive, and should be resisted. The National Assembly should not muddle current efforts towards constitutional amendment with another unwarranted issue bordering on terms of office. The body should concentrate on other aspects of the amendment, such as state creation, revenue formula, and other laws that can strengthen the EFCC and other organs of government so as to engender equity and accountability from the local to the federal governments. Again, Nigeria's problem is not the nature of terms of office but how to implement existing policies that can enable successful terms.
*Dr. Ogbonnia is the chairman of First Texas Energy Corporation and adjunct professor of leadership at Davenport University