The quest for a review of the tenure of office for the president and governors from the present four years to six-year-single term has generated more than a passing interest among stakeholders.
The 1999 constitution guarantees a four year term of office for the President and the governors, renewable after a term of four years. But the National Assembly, especially the Senate has begun a process of amending the constitution to make the term of office a single term of six years for both the president and the governors.
But this has attracted a groundswell of opposition because according to those opposed to the idea, the plan to amend the constitution is another regime of tenure elongation by subterfuge, in apparent reference to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s failed third term bid.
President Goodluck Jonathan first mooted the idea of a six-year-single term in 2011 at a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where he noted that a bill would subsequently be sent to the National Assembly with respect to that.
Justifying the idea, Jonathan said, “The issue is that in Africa, elections create social unrest and we need to manage this. In a situation where you elect a governor and that governor has not sat down, another election is around the corner. Every four years you conduct elections, you create so much tension in the political environment.
“As we are talking, some people are busy holding meetings for the 2015 elections. It creates series of confusion in the political environment. I am not saying that single tenure, alone, will bring one hundred per cent stability. There is no political system that is one hundred per cent stable, you must have some tension. That was why I came up with that.”
It was against this backdrop that the president, on November 17, 2011 empanelled the Justice Alfa Belgore-led committee, officially designated as Committee to Review Outstanding Issues from Recent Constitutional Conferences, to identify the gaps in the current constitution and propose amendments as adopted by previous constitutional conferences.
Though, he was silent on whether as a sitting President, he would benefit from the proposed bill as well as whether governors who would be serving out their eight years in office are eligible to contest. The reason, he proffered for this was to guarantee stability of office of the President and avoid the distraction of seeking a second term in office by incumbent President and governors, as the case may be.
He soon made good his position and eventually sent a bill to the National Assembly, proposing a six-year-single term. The bill, however, went through the Senate Committee on Constitution amendment headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, which eventually recommended the amendment of the constitution to provide for six years of office for the President and the governors.
But the Senate recommendation disqualified Jonathan as a sitting president as well as the incumbent governors from benefitting from the new arrangement if it scales through. While the Senate committee eventually passed the proposal, it was not as easy at the House where it generated heated debate.
A senator who volunteered information on the work of the Senate on the controversial bill said, “If the recommendation scales through, none of the current office holders from the President down will benefit from it.
“It is couched in such a way that if someone is elected as Vice-President for instance and he becomes President for the reason of the removal from office of the President, either through ill health, impeachment or death, he can only serve out the term of the President even if it is just one month. He or she, as the case may be, will be ineligible to present himself for election as President in subsequent elections; the same applies to the office of the governor and deputy governor.”
The Senator further gave reason why the upper house came to the decision of six year tenure for the affected officers. “We thought hard before arriving at this decision. We considered the current heating up of the polity by those interested in running for office in 2015. We also looked at what normally happens each time we are about to enter into an election year.”
But since bill secured senate approval, opposition has continued to kick against it. From the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Arewa Conservative Forum (ACF), they all seem to have a different view.
CPC felt that the planned amendment to the constitution was “nothing but tenure elongation by subterfuge, and it is worse than the third term misadventure of the godfather. All it takes for the proviso (inserted to hoodwink gullible people) to be knocked off is for anyone to seek a declarative court ruling that he (President Jonathan) is indeed qualified to seek another term. After all, he did not go that far to disown his party's zoning principle, which he signed on to.”
As for ACF, “if eventually passed, it would be counter-productive.” While the ACN and the CPC said the opposition parties would not support such a move, the ACF contended that the system would encourage looting of public treasury by its beneficiaries.
ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, said no system of management devoid of incentives, motivation and reward could be managed for performance and therefore condemned the six-year-single term.
“In the single tenure, the only available incentive and motivation is pillage of public funds that goes with unbridled access by the leaders in our clime, which is counter-productive. It is counter-productive because it cannot further the cause of good governance that comes with purposeful leadership, especially when regard is paid to the fact that it lacks the basic elements of motivation and incentives needed in any management of human affairs.
“In the single tenure system, there are no incentives, motivation and reward for excellent performance. And this is because the good, the not-so-good and the reckless are grouped together without any distinction. Such practice cannot deliver on good management.”
The Pan North Socio-Political body said most countries of the world that practise multiple tenure systems, do so because it enables leaders to aspire for excellence in the hope of reward by way of their re-election.
The ACF cited the example of the United States of America that put limitation to their multiple tenure system and explained that it was done deliberately to allow fresh hands into leadership and governance.
However, the All Progressives Congress (APC) thought the problem of Nigeria’s political system was not the issue of tenure as there was nothing wrong with the current tenure of two terms of four years.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of CAN, said that the position of his party is four years of two terms each while the CPC through its publicist, Rotimi Fashakin, noted that “the Senate has not been able to advance a reasonable argument to support this proposal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the tenure system that we have- a maximum of two terms of four years each. But it is unfortunate that in Nigeria, when we seem to be having issues with our own method of democracy, we now start to blame the system.
“The major problem within Nigeria is corruption. It is corruption that breeds other forms of corruption that eventually affect our practice of democracy. Corruption breeds electoral corruption. If the Senate wants to help us, they should help us in ensuring that electronic voting is entrenched in our constitution, it is then that we will have real stability in our polity. With electronic voting, we are able to remove the entire multi-layer structure of our electoral system.”
On his part, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) said if the bill was eventually passed into law, it would not have a retrospective effect on the current public office holders, because their mandate with Nigerians, which is four years, cannot be extended to six years, adding that the maximum term of office is eight years.
“Under the current political dispensation, nobody who would have spent four years after 2015 can have another bite at the cherry. It has very serious implication that has to be fully brought out to those who are serving now. But it can never be a substitute for tenure elongation. It cannot have a retrospective effect,” he said.
Although, the process of amendment is still ongoing, there is no doubting the fact that the bill is still very unpopular and could stir further controversy if imposed on the people.