Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has stirred the hornet's with a proposal for a two-year tenure extension for the president and governors as a way of managing 2015 election crisis, write Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo Maduekwe
He didn’t seem to mean any harm when he decided to dine with political reporters to exchange ideas with them on the state of the nation. And the dinner which held at the Italian restaurant of the Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos, was tailored as an opportunity for him to rub minds with them on national issues, especially on the progress made by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of the National Assembly that Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu chairs.
Ironically, Ekweremadu did not even kick-start the now controversial tenure elongation suggestion. He was merely responding to a question raised by one of the reporters at the event, who had sought to know if it was possible to resuscitate the proposed single term tenure that was shot down at the Senate committee level. His answer was both spontaneous (so it seemed) and punchy as though he was expecting such an issue to be raised at the forum.
“If you look at what is going on now,” he said as he began to marshal his points, “All the core problems we are having in all the parties are about the issue of succession. So, we believe strongly that the matter can still be revisited. But I think some of the mistakes we made in our recommendation when we said the incumbent would not benefit from it were responsible for shooting it down. Then there was a kind of coalition of forces to defeat it.
“So, I believe that if the players in the polity or stakeholders are able to come together, one way to deal with the situation, it could be a win-win situation for everybody. I believe that the way it could work now is that people, having been elected for four years, let everybody complete the four-year tenure for which they were elected. And then, through the doctrine of necessity and some sort of jurisprudential approach, do some kind of transition of two years in which case those present occupiers like the president and state governors who are finishing their tenure, will do another two years that would end in 2017.
“You can see that those fighting the president have hinged their complaints on the fact that if the president gets his second term by the time they are gone, he would start to chase them. So, if we all agree, that is a way to solve the problem, after two years, both the president and other governors will exit. I believe that the fear would not be there and there would not be much pressure on the polity.”
Ekweremadu also played a smart one. He was quick to eliminate any indication of a self-serving motive when he excluded the legislature from benefiting from the tenure elongation.
His words: “Of course, we don’t have much a problem with the legislative positions. We can go ahead and hold legislative election in 2015. The advantage there is when we do the legislative election in 2015, then we do executive election in 2017, we have a two-year gap for the INEC to have a breathing space to prepare well. You can see what is happening in Anambra now. So, INEC needs sufficient time to prepare for one election before the other.
“I think it is something we have to reflect on and see if it is something that can help resolve some of the challenges that we are having and I do hope that if we are able to do that and we all agree to it, it would solve even the executive situation because it is believed that most of the challenges we have are as a result of the charged atmosphere arising from jammed elections.
“Somehow, everybody will benefit. All we need to do is to exercise patience and give them two more years. After that, we move to one-term tenure that can be five years, six years or seven years depending on what we all agree upon. The cost of all these elections and all the problems that come with it would all have been resolved. So, it would help to reduce cost of election and also reduce the crisis that may come up due to ambition to run for another term in office.”
However, for this feat to be realised, he said it would have to come in form of a motion because “we are serving the people. We will be more than willing to do that if that is what the people of Nigeria desire. We will be willing to discuss it provided that is exactly what Nigerians want. But for now, the matter was defeated in the Senate. If we are going to bring it about again, there must be another motion to resuscitate it.
“If there is debate on it in conversation and Nigerians believe that the way we are going, we need to think along that line and be able to use it to resolve the existing political tension in this country, just as we did during the ill-health of our late president, we would be more than willing as a national service to have a look into it and be able to reach a level of understanding at the National Assembly,” he added.
Truly, the doctrine of necessity once saved the nation from a major political crisis that could have resulted in an untoward development if it was not considered at the time. Through it, the National Assembly was able to pull Nigeria from the brink it was pushed to by power mongers who tried to circumvent the constitution when the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was battling for his life in a Saudi hospital.
Rather than allow his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to assume the leadership position in acting capacity, as required by the constitution, those close to the late president did all they could to thwart efforts to transfer power to Jonathan. It was only after the legislature invoked the doctrine that a transition was made possible. The novel approach earned the National Assembly global commendation.
Again, it is almost certain that another crisis looms for the nation in the countdown to the 2015 elections. Apart from the presidential election, which promises to create a major upset in the already delicate balance of power in the aftermath of the defection of five Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors, the battle for the soul of the states is being projected to be fierce. The two situations, in addition to the legislative elections, are enough to raise concerns, especially when they hold grave consequences for the future of the nation’s fledgling democracy.
But the question remains: is tenure extension the way out? Whilst opinions vary on the Ekweremadu proposition, not many people agreed with this position. While there are those who thought his idea might be the redeeming quality that everyone has been waiting for to avoid a needless crisis in 2015, there are those who believed he was actually flying a kite.
This school believed that the dummy is being sold by a clique in the National Assembly leadership, which is itching to benefit from the aftermath of the crisis in 2015, in the event that Jonathan did not run.
The calculation is that if Jonathan’s tenure is extended by another two years for instance, he would have spent eight years in office, in addition to the remaining years of the late Yar’Adua, who died almost at the end of his tenure and paved the way for the Jonathan presidency.
Thus, if having made sure that Jonathan through the “supplementary extension” had achieved his eight years in the presidency, the calculation of the National Assembly leadership, especially the Senate, which is largely accused of being ambivalent in many of the crises, is to step in, up the ante and navigate the process, particularly within the PDP in such a way that would avail it the “accidental window” of producing the next president of the country from amongst its ranks.
Therefore, beyond the doctrine of necessity as being the basis for the idea is an alleged scheme that many now see as not only self-serving, but a re-enactment, albeit in a different way, of the third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Indeed, there is a growing perception that the position of the Deputy Senate president was not spontaneous but a clearly thought through decision the Senate leadership was waiting to sell to the people, hoping that it would be bought into for fear of the unknown in 2015.
Unfortunately, it does appear the idea is dead on arrival with the avalanche of criticism that had since trailed it.
Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, was one of the early commentators on the issue as he dismissed the proposal outright. Speaking at a book launch in Abuja, Tinubu described the suggestion as non-issue, adding that Ekweremadu's proposal would not fly because it was “dead on arrival.”
He said though the idea of bringing back the controversial single tenure elongation had not been officially raised, it remained a fruitless exercise, which would never materialise.
He said: "I heard from the rumour mill another move for an elongation of tenure but I dare say forget it; it is dead on arrival. If the National Assembly is pursuing a constitutional amendment, then why do you need another proposal for amendment?"
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) also rejected the plan and called on the Director General of State Security Service (SSS) and other relevant security agencies to, as a matter of urgent national importance, investigate Ekweremadu over what it described as "treasonable statement."
CNPP warned that foisting the rejected seven-year single tenure on Nigerians through the back door would be a grave disservice to the nation.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, CNPP also asked Ekweremadu to explain to Nigerians why he felt the 2015 general election could end up in crisis.
On his part, APC interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the deputy senate president was flying a kite and Nigerians must not accept it.
“It is like the third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. When we told Nigerians that he (President Jonathan) is not serious about the proposed national dialogue, the people called us all sorts of names, but now, it is clearer that the president does not want an election and there must be an election," he said.
Lagos lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, said the issue was beyond the National Assembly's legislative mandate. “I do seriously sympathise with the Senate having regard to the do-or-die attitude of our political office holders and the need to allow them implement their policy plans that may not be accommodated within their four years. But that is not to say that the electorate with whom sovereignty lies can be shortchanged.
“If the electorate elected some people for four years, that is a political contractual agreement; can you, before the political contractual agreement, change the political goal post? The answer is no!
You must go back to the electorate to get your mandate. As I said, sovereignty is with the people.
“That type of constitutionally questionable extension is an attempt to shortchange Nigerians. It should be thrown back to Nigerians whether they would accept it or not. It is beyond the legislative mandate of the National Assembly,” Agbaje said
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Festus Keyamo, said even if the proposal sailed through, the current political office holders should not benefit from it.
“My position is that I have always supported a six-year single tenure so long as the president and the current governors do not benefit from it. Let them leave immediately and let the new president and governors enjoy it,” he added.
Former Special Adviser to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, said since the constitution provides for a term of four years for the executive and the legislature, it should be renewable for another four years.
“That is what the constitution says. As long as that constitution remains in operation, there can't be an extension. Extension is unknown to the constitution. Let us do what is right. Let us not do what is convenient. We should not raise expediency to a way of life,” he said.
But a political analyst and civil society activist, Don Ubani, said the move to extend the tenure of both the president and the governors would be a good one to address many foundational problems currently plaguing the country’s existence as an entity.
According to him, “The Nigerian state has had fundamental problems, one being the forcible amalgamation by the British colonialists of the North and South that created the Nigerian state in such a way that favoured the North and disadvantaged the South. The British made sure the South was perpetually disadvantaged through the instrument of population and the military.
“By next year, Nigeria will be 100 years and there is no better time to address these problems than now. Because of these problems, we have a real leader who is trying to address them, through the national conference,” Ubani said.
He argued that giving two extra years to adequately addressing Nigeria’s problem was a step in the right direction, adding that the president and governors should have their tenure extended to address Nigeria’s many problems finally and for the good of all.
On whether the president has a sinister motive, Ubani said: “It is not true that this is a third term agenda. President Jonathan has a genuine agenda for this country. He comes from the South. If he was not sincere, he could have engineered a dismemberment of Nigeria and we will all go our separate ways, with the South-south taking control of their resources, but he did not. Instead, he is thinking of ways to address the Nigerian question.
“The Nigerian state has had fundamental problems, one being the forcible amalgamation by the British colonialists of the North and South that created the Nigerian state in such a way that favours the North and puts the South at a disadvantage. The British made sure the South was perpetually disadvantaged through the instrument of population and the military,” he reiterated.
National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Chief Gani Adams, said additional two years for the incumbent would amount to changing the provision of the constitution illegally, adding “What the constitution allows for is two terms of four years each.”
Adams expressed preference for commencement of the single term of six years after the 2015 elections. He said a single-term tenure was preferable because second term was always second term of looting.
But a former Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Chief Greg Mbadiwe, supported Ekweremadu’s suggestion, saying it was his suggestion during the period of Obasanjo but was thrown away.
According to him, Nigerians owed him an apology for rejecting his suggestion and describing it as too patronising in favour of Obasanjo. “Now that Ekweremadu is toeing the same line, I support the idea and I deserve an apology from Nigerians.”
A lawyer, an activist and convener of the Coalition of Democrat for Electoral Reforms (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun, thought Ekweremadu’s suggestion was an expression of personal opinion that is allowed by the constitution.
Opadokun was however of the conviction that the most important thing to do was for Nigerians to sit down and decide on how they wanted to relate with one another.”
He canvassed for a constituent assembly where all the ethnic nationalities that form the country are present. “The matter is too delicate and more serious a public concern to be left on the street, but for all Nigerians to partake in.”
President of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Odumakin, viewed the issue as “two sides of a coin,” saying the only solution to the country’s woes was Sovereign National Conference.”
The woman activist said: “Change of mindset, commitment to the survival of the country, allowing our votes to count and voting the right people that will do the right things will do the magic,” adding that she was not throwing her weight behind any of the proposals because second term in office was already a waste of time.
Although the proposal by Ekweremadu could have been informed by sincere patriotism, its sweeping condemnation may have further dealt a deathblow on the single-term tenure as a conduit designed to smuggle in an irritant clause in the amendment process.
However, despite the opposition, the last may not have been heard about the proposed tenure extension.