A single six-year term has now become a necessary evil since the incumbent cannot be voted out in Nigeria any longer. All the efforts to make votes count by putting in place the requisite institutions of a genuine democracy where the people can elect their leaders without manipulations, are deliberately thwarted by successive governments since 1999. The end result: Those in power decide who wins and loses, not the people, who are too weak to raise a voice.
Most Nigerians know the foundations of a true democracy are still lacking as there is no internal party democracy for members to choose their candidates and votes don’t just count in general elections in Nigeria so the electorate cannot also freely vote in who they want. Worse still, when the elected officials take office, they refuse to go, and use state resources to ensure the masses are relegated and pauperised. All the “roforofo” fight in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, causing much distractions and massive deployments of state resources to a war of attrition, is all about second term, which could be avoided with such extraordinary single term being proposed.
What is more, Nigerian elections have since become the most expensive in the world with the bill approaching a trillion for the presidential election. Who feels it knows it; this may have pushed President Goodluck Jonathan to moot the idea of a single term immediately after his own expensive election in 2011. Those opposing him then said the President did not consider the other argument that a person who is elected for a single term may turn into a dictator or become a “Sidon look governor” or “Sidon look president” since he or she is not going to seek a re-election.
This claim is not entirely true as real party politics is likely to be instigated and enhanced since the party in power is more likely to push the president or governor to perform if such party hopes to win another election without the incumbent. However, this can happen only when the institutions guarantying free and fair elections are in place.
The opponents’ other argument is that a single term will deny the electorate the right and desire to vote out a non performing governor or president earlier than desired as it happened in Anambra State and Imo State where Clement Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Ikedi Ohakim were booted out after serving their first term respectively. While this could be so for Ohakim for he faced a most formidable opponent in Rochas Okorocha, Mbadinuju, though a non-performer, faced institutional conspiracy, which denied him his party (PDP)’s platform before the election. He even had to settle for the Alliance for Democracy, a political party without even a ward structure in the state.
The opponents also had wanted the President to see that a single term of six years will shackle the electorate from enjoying the good work of a performing elected executive as exemplified in Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, not minding the fact that Fashola is not doing much now compared to his first term, which in itself is a counter argument against a second term. So, the cardinal argument of many that the single term will not allow a president or governor who is performing to return to finish his good work is neither here nor there.
The other side of the coin is that the people will be saddled with a non-performing president or governor for too long. This is true but such a collateral damage is but for only a season and with the institutional checks also proposed, it can only be minimal. Those that will perform do not need donkey’s years to do so, and those who will not perform will never perform with even a multiple term. Examples of this abound: Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State was returned to power after a disastrous first term because, according to his father, the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, a student that failed is given a second chance to make good his result. Luckily, he got a second chance and posted a worse result than his first woeful term.
Many had also rebuked the President then, alleging that he was only plotting to elongate his stay in office even beyond a second term when a second term for him was even contentious. Yet, the Senate Committee on Constitution Review has arrived at exactly the same conclusion and recommends that executive term office for both President/Vice-President and Governors/Deputies be pegged. This, they also reasoned would free the polity from electioneering which appears unceasing, as everything is geared towards it by all incumbents, the moment they are sworn in, completely diverting attention of the office holders away from true governance, enduring policy development and managing the scarce state and national resources for the common good.
A single six-year term will no doubt ensure, among other things, that there is a drastic reduction on the financial expenses often associated with re-election. Such funds can better be utilised in taking care of development. Another benefit is that it will free the executive heads from distractions, so as to be able to concentrate on public policy issues and play less politics with national and state development.
It then also means that real party politics is likely to be a default achievement of this proposal when parties take up the responsibility of ensuring performance, to guarantee their candidate. It will also help Nigerians to focus on party manifestos and performance based on political parties instead of individuals. This is an essential element of true democracy, which is absent in the current democratic process. What is expected is that even when the incumbent desires not to perform, his party knows better than to allow him (the president or governor) to remain belligerent and ruin its chances at the polls in the next election.
A single term of whatever number of years has thus become a necessary evil since elections are no longer free and fair in Nigeria and will not be any time soon. The weakness of the electorate and unwillingness of the electoral body and law enforcement agencies to ensure free and fair election as well as root out corruption in the system will not allow votes to count for a long time to come.
It is trite to state that since the nation’s return to civil rule in 1999, no single conviction has been recorded for electoral crimes that have tainted all the elections. All the perpetrators go scot-free and emboldened to do worse in subsequent elections despite legal provisions to check mass, proven electoral frauds ranging from thuggery, forgery, ballot box stuffing and many more.
There is however a booby-trap against the one-term proposal. The danger lies with the 18 first-term governors and President Jonathan who are all justifiably eyeing a second term. Subsection c of Section 137 for amendment reads:
“A person holding the office of the President or Vice-President, Governor or Deputy Governor immediately before the coming into force of the alteration of Section 135 and 136 b of this constitution shall not be eligible to contest election for a single term of six years”.
The fact is, though the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment hopes the President and these governors will endorse it as their necessary sacrifice for the enthronement of an enduring polity, this is very unlikely and may make it impossible to muster the two/third of the National Assembly members and 24 states’ Houses of Assembly needed for the bill to become law in Nigeria.
Since it may be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Mr. President and the 18 governors to support the proposal if it is going to bar them, the way out becomes deferring the commencement date to 2019 when all the incumbents must have served out.
Extraordinary times breed extraordinary measures such as a single term of six years to counter a system that is not yielding to democracy and the dictates of the people.
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