By BULUS GAMBO
THOUGH the battle for the legislation of the single tenure presidential system in the country has once again been rejected by the House of Representatives in Nigeria, there are strong indications that it may not be the end of such debate in the near future. This is because of the resilient conviction of a cross section of the citizens of this country and federal legislators that sticking to the implementation of this policy would cut tremendously the excruciating burden of cost of governance in the nation.
Time past, this country had been thrown into the fundamental issue of taking urgent steps to curb the perceived trauma of uncomfortable cost of governance in Nigeria. Since the citizenry are not given a glimpse and or are they given a forum for input in the budgetary allocations to political office holders and or institutions, the elite have refused to allow this sensitive territory to be scrutinized in public domain.
Buttressing the need and implications of restructuring this particular sector in the interest of the entire citizenry, a member of the House of Representatives, John Dyegh from Benue State had sought for an unlimited tenure of six years for members of the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly.
During the debate, a few lawmakers including Sergius Ogun from Edo State argued that it would save the country the funds used to conduct elections every four years.
He said, “This bill intends to also save money being spent on elections for second term. It will save this country and our democracy.”
Henry Archibong from Akwa Ibom State said the focus should be on improving Nigeria’s electoral process and not on the number of years an elected officer stays in office.
He said, “How can we make electoral processes and elections credible and less expensive?
“This is the issue we ought to address and not the number of terms.” For others however, they felt that nine years would be appropriate for any political office holder in Nigeria to make an impact without burning so much money intermittently for conduct of elections after every four years.
During the debate on the bill, most lawmakers kicked against it, arguing that there was nothing wrong with the system Nigeria currently operates.
Haruna Bello from Kano State kicked against the bill as well, saying it will fuel the speculation of tenure extension for President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said, “There is a speculation for tenure extension for the President. Bringing this motion now will make our adversaries think this is an attempt to achieve that. “By the time you allow room for six years, you will shut down the door for appraisal of someone’s term after four years. We should maintain our four years.”
The bill was subsequently voted against when Idris Wase, Deputy Speaker, who presided over the session, put it up for vote for second reading. It was subsequently thrown out.
This was not the first time that such debate came up for discussing in the higher chambers of the nation’s legislation. During President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure; an attempt was made by him to seek for the application of the single tenure policy in the country. However, it was met with stiff resistance then.
In President Jonathan’s submission to the National Assembly then, he advocated that the tenure of members of the national and state assemblies would also be increased from the current four years. Apart from that, lawmakers would still be eligible for re-election as their constituencies may determine. But rather than speak on the matter, the President and his advisers kept mute, leaving the members of the opposition parties to roast on the proposed plan.
However, when the criticism became rife, Jonathan’s then Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, confirmed his master’s plan. In a statement, Abati claimed that Jonathan’s commitment to a single term for the President and governors was borne out of a patriotic zeal. He said the President was convinced after a painstaking study and belief that the constitutionally guaranteed two terms for presidents and governors was not helping the focus of governance and institutionalisation of democracy at this stage of Nigeria’s development. He also added that the President was of the notion that a longer term for lawmakers would also help to stabilize the polity.
The statement said, ‘President Jonathan is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election every four years generates both at the federal and state levels. The nation is still smarting from the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that has attended each general election, the fall-out of all these is the unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations.’
While defending the proposed plan, Abati added that Jonathan was convinced that the costs of conducting party primaries and the general elections have become too high for the economy to accommodate every four years. The proposed amendment bill, he added, was necessary to consolidate the nation’s democracy and allow elected executives to concentrate on governance and service delivery for their full term, instead of running governments with re-election as their primary focus. The clarification, he further said, became necessary in the light of certain reports in a section of the media that the proposed bill was meant to elongate Jonathan’s tenure.
Hardly had the clarification been made than the opposition, led by the Action Congress of Nigeria, went to town and described the President’s plan as ‘selfish’, ‘a distraction’ and ‘tenure elongation by subterfuge.’
The ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change, in separate interviews, 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. 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.’
The CPC, which expressed its condemnation through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, also 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 PDP 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.
Besides, two human rights groups, Transition Monitoring Group and the Human Rights Writers Association, have faulted the proposed amendment. Chairman of TMG, 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 said in a statement in Abuja 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, who mooted the idea. He, therefore, asked both state and federal lawmakers to reject the bill as another third term agenda. Expectedly, the Northern apex organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, also slammed the plan which it described as ‘not a solution to Nigeria’s problems.’
It was, however, not all knocks for Jonathan over the proposed bill as an Igbo group, the World Ndigbo Youth Council, supported the idea, 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. 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.
He said, ‘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 is under a unitary government. The Federal Government is controlling a lot of powers and resources it cannot efficiently dispense.’
The furore generated by this idea made the President to open up to members of his party, the PDP at its National Executive Committee meeting. He said the idea of a single-term for the president and governors was not entirely his own, as all major political parties, except the ACN, knew about it and endorsed it. He said this was why Yar’Adua set up the then Justice Mohammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Panel. The President said he chaired the panel that collated the views of other political parties then, except the ACN. Adding that this was where the idea was agreed on.
Also, the National Chairman of the LP, Chief Dan Nwanyanwu, denied that the President consulted the party on the single tenure proposal. Nwanyanwu stated, ‘I don’t know if he was sure of what he was saying. We were never part of it either during the tenure of Yar’Adua or during his own tenure as acting president or even as President. We never discussed the issue of single term. I do not know why he decided to remove the ACN. The Labour Party was not part of the six or seven-year single tenure. The LP leadership was not part of any discussion with the President as
President or acting President. Maybe people have started misleading him. He should be careful of such people. He should stop romancing people who do not wish the country well.’
Today, even as the proposal fails to scale through the National Assembly, most Nigerians are still concerned about the increasing cost of governance in the country. As it is; not many Nigerians are convincingly aware of the exact budgetary provisions and expenditure of the top political office holders in the country. But again, the traumatic and devastating results of inflations necessitated by administrative ingenuity are facing everyone in the eye.
As it is today, while the elite are seated comfortably in their zones, the issue of high degree of insecurity, unemployment, abject poverty as inherent in the Human Development Index of the country is becoming something else. Many Nigerians cannot afford three square meals a day while many others are still struggling to have shelter over their heads and or pay their children’s school fees.
The market women, bricklayers and including our teeming youth in slums are not happy with how the nation has turned out to be. Nigeria, many say is not what it used to be.
Most importantly however, what concerns Nigerians at the moment is the humongous amount of monies spent on electoral processes in the country without anything convincing to show for it. Between 1999 and 2015 general elections, the kind of monies spent by the electoral bodies is far enough to change the fortunes of this country.
The nation is yet to meet global set standard of transparent elections as complaints are still vibrating in the aftermath of political elections in the country. This is also discrediting any genuine efforts aimed at presenting the country as a democratic nation in the world.
For the political class however, life is always on the bright side since this environment provides them with a sound political control over the entire citizenry. At least, a hungry nation according to many scholars is a fruitful ground for systematic gimmicking and subjugation for acts of personal aggrandizement.
These pragmatic failures have necessitated the rise in acts of criminality and high sense of insecurity. Many more innocent Nigerians are being kidnapped on daily basis. The proliferating ugly situation has generated much concern in recent past in the country.
This development has forced our stakeholders to have a rethink particularly as regards the presidential system of government operational in this country.