8-years Maximum Term; What Nigerian Constitution Did Not Anticipate; By Nasiru Suwaid
“Where any vacancy occurs in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (1) of this section during a period when office of Deputy Governor of the state is also vacant, the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the State shall hold the office of Governor of the State for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of a Governor of the State, ‘who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of office.”
-Section 191(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, [emphasis mine].
One of the greatest flaws in the concept of democracy is the equalization and substitution of a law giver with the politician, in terms of one being the other, when it comes to the function of constitutional enactment and legislative parliamentary work. Generally, there could not have been two different sets of characters, were a comparison to be made between the two important democratic roles and of course, the personalities who inserts themselves to perform such functions. For the politician, a typical depictive characterization of persons who play the inordinate power games, states they are usually and most often are seen as very loud, highly pretentious, deeply cunning, truly deceptive and would do almost anything, to gain the needed votes to retain an elective seat, for the law giver, it is a task that always requires sober reflection, deep introspection, monumental foresight, critical thinking and erudite grace. Unfortunately in the realm of the constitutional art and act of law making, one is the other or they are both one and the same thing.
Regrettably, you cannot find the extent of confusion this lack of clear cut demarcation could breed, until it comes to the issues of executive terms and tenure of office, where despite the clear pronouncement of the apex court, as in the Supreme Court of Nigeria declaration in cases like; PDP vs INEC (1999) and Marwa & ors vs Nyako & ors (2012), where the court averred that an elected politician cannot exceed the constitutionally decreed four year tenure of a renewable eight year term of office, specifically, the judgment put to rest the agitation of the governors to prolong their tenure of office. However, while the verdict was a watershed and declaratory relief in the annals of Nigerian judicial history, a question has remained as to whether an instance is abound, where an elected representative could spend more than the eight year tenure of office or indeed, whether the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, did envisage a special or unique situation or circumstance, which could enable an elected executive official, be they a governor or a president to exploit the loophole and legally stay in power for more than the constitutionally decreed eight year term of office.
The constitutional history of Nigeria has a distinct fixture of always avoiding vacuum in leadership positions, just like the United States Constitution (1787) from which it has originated, it is why a governor must be elected with a deputy and the president is to assume power with a vice president, to solve the possibility or eventuality of any of the executive offices being incapable or unavailable. However, what the framers of the supreme of document did not foresee is the incredible situation, where a governor and a deputy are impeached at the same time, which allows for the Speaker of the House of Assembly to serve a tenure of three months as Acting Governor, pending the holding of an election to fill the vacant offices of a Governor and Deputy Governor, whose tenure is to “….‘hold’ office for the ‘unexpired term’ of office of the last ‘holder’ of office.” as per Section 191(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. It is pertinent to note, Section 146(2) of the self same document gave the same latitude to office of the Senate President, were the Adamawa scenario to ever occur nationally.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the Nigerian Legal System is that it is premised in the lexical lore of the English language, it is why if we are to understand the subsection and its likely implication for breeding constitutional crisis, knowing its true meaning is very important and necessary. To ‘hold’ office when defined from Encarta English Dictionary as a transitive verb is to; have a particular position: to fulfill the duties of a particular title, office or position, while the constitutional section is very clear on the ‘occupying’ of a particular office, it did not highlight ownership and next wordings of the subsection, which stated; “….’unexpired term’ of office of the last ‘holder’ of office.”, clearly and firmly highlight that whoever is to be elected, would only ‘fill’ the position, for the ‘unexpired term’ of any other person than him, as in this case being that of the last ‘holder of office’, thus by this understanding, the assumption of office or ‘holding’ of the reign of power, does not signify the beginning of a Governor’s term of office.
What the subsection is implying is for an elected individual to merely ‘fill’ the position and complete the tenure of office of another elected person, which is an inappropriate misnomer, as the usual constitutional norm is for individuals that ‘fill’ other people’s terms and tenures to become elevated into such positions, having been elected as deputy governors and vice presidents, as it happened with former Deputy Governor Boni Haruna, who was elevated in the office Governor of Atiku Abubakar of Adamawa State in 1999 and former Vice President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in 2010.
Now picture this, because of this incredibly thoughtless provision, the present Acting Governor of Adamawa State or whosoever won the election, could spend more than eight years in power, were they to win the state election successively or the case the Nigerian president, who can incredulously seek to elongate his tenure beyond the mandated eight year constitutional duration, were he to seek to import the definitive provisions of a succeeding subsection unto that of the preceded one, despite the fact that clearly, Section 146(1) of 1999 Constitution, did not specifically ‘specify’ Vice President’s succession into the office of the President, as to ‘hold’ power unto the term of the last ‘holder of office’. It is noteworthy that this provision should have been for offices without a defined and definite term or tenure of office, as in legislators who could stand for election indefinitely.
And this other thing;
The Nigerian Senate after returning from a very long and windy recess, have declared that the nation is now in a state of war and ‘proclaimed’ that conducting an election in 2015 is ‘not in the table’. Well, for a legislature that did not deem it fit and proper to suspend its leisurely holiday, to confront such a serious national threat, calling for the suspension of the general election and seeking for a six month term extension to finish the conflict, surely, seems to many a citizen, as a fraudulent attempt at tenure elongation.
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