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Experts Weekly: One-Term Presidents in Nigeria?

Goodluck Jonathan has proposed single-term presidents for Nigeria. Think Africa Press asks six experts for their reactions.
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President Goodluck Jonathan being sworn in earlier this year.

Goodluck Jonathan has proposed limiting the Nigerian presidency to one, probably six-year, term in office to avoid pre- and post-poll violence. Think Africa Press asks six experts how they interpret this proposal.

 

 

Oge Onubogu, Program Officer, West Africa, National Endowment for Democracy:

A proposal to limit political office to a single term may seem plausible in countries where institutions that check government excesses function effectively; however, this is not the case in Nigeria where state-accountability institutions are mostly weak and a culture of impunity still exists.

The argument for this single-term proposal is that it will guarantee that once elected, individuals will stay focused on getting the job done, rather than working for political appeasement, in anticipation of the next election year. However, I must ask, what is the motivation for any politician in Nigeria today to perform within a single term when they will not have to convince voters about how well they have performed while in office? It is already common for most “elected” (and I use this term sparingly) politicians to come into office with no action plan or clear understanding of the job. How will the single term proposal mitigate this? A few examples exist in Nigeria of state governors who came prepared for the challenges of political office and got a lot done in four years justifying that the length of time spent in office is not the only and certainly not a very important factor in determining performance on the job. The current four year consecutive term creates a self-perpetuating incentive of reward which in turn benefits the entire society, while a single six year term gives fewer incentives to successive politicians to record achievements quickly because they will not be contesting for a second term. In the absence of citizen appraisal of their work, politicians will be even less responsive to the electorate since they will not have to worry about re-election. Corruption on the other hand, is also likely to increase because some politicians might use their time in office (as we have already seen on several occasions) to accumulate wealth without fear of immediate repercussions from the electorate.

The idea that this single-term will curb pre- and post-poll violence and mitigate the “do or die” nature of Nigeria’s succession politics greatly downplays the deep-rooted causes for the re-occurring trends of election-related violence in the country which is further exacerbated by a widely acknowledged frustration with the government. Quite frankly this proposal is typical of what we have seen over the years where politicians suggest strategies to “fix” Nigeria’s problems without first addressing the root causes. While President Goodluck Jonathan might mean well with this proposal, good intentions alone are not enough to begin to consolidate the country’s democratic gains. The perceived credible conduct of the April 2011 elections conferred a popular legitimacy on his administration that his predecessors did not enjoy. This is an opportunity that must not be wasted but instead used to begin to implement the much needed social and economic reforms in the country. Since it's common knowledge that a politician elected in a fair and free election is more likely to be responsive to the electorate, this administration must strengthen the existing electoral laws and ensure that institutions charged with implementing and protecting them are capable of doing so. Furthermore, the capacity of existing anti-corruption bodies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should to be reinvigorated to ensure that they can hold corrupt officials accountable. Stronger institutions will go a long way to addressing Nigeria’s many challenges.

In the absence of strong state accountability institutions, I worry that beneficiaries of this single-term proposal may act with impunity and become gods unto themselves since they will not have to present their scorecards to the public for re-election. Nigerians have always had a high level of political awareness and they are determined today, more than ever to overcome the negative political trends that have plagued the country for so long. Thus if at all this single term proposal is of utmost importance to the administration (and in my opinion it shouldn’t) then it must be carefully debated in the public arena and all Nigerians, not only the National Assembly, should be given the opportunity to vote yes or no for a single term limit.

 


Tolu Ogunlesi, Features Editor, 234 Next:

The president appears to be arguing that by replacing the current ‘single-four-year-term, renewable-by-re-election’ constitutional provision with a ‘single, un-renewable, five-or-six year term’, we can make democracy cheaper and less contentious. Elections will not be as frequent as before, and the ‘do-or-die’ battles that accompany re-election bids will no longer take place. But where’s the evidence supporting these postulations? If we’re serious about making our democracy cheaper, shouldn’t we start with reducing the cost of maintaining our presidents and governors, and their countless aides, and with curbing public sector corruption? Also, the fact that a governor will not be seeking a second term does not preclude him from being interested, to an unhealthy degree, in who succeeds him.

Nigerians have, since May last year, been expecting President Jonathan to demonstrate a sense of urgency. And then that urgency shows up, but has nothing whatsoever to do with fiscal policy, or infrastructure, or security, or the anti-corruption campaign. Instead it is to do with whether a governor or president should have one term, or two. Did we miss something? Shouldn’t the big issue be to do with convincing Nigerians – in concrete terms – that his government can make the country a better place to live and earn and fall ill and go to school in?

Let’s not also forget that it was only four years ago that former President Obasanjo hustled hard to get a tenure extension for himself, while publicly keeping a safe distance from the ignoble project. When Mr. Jonathan says that he will not be a beneficiary of the tenure extension, what does he mean? If the Constitution is altered to provide for a six-year term and Jonathan decides to run for a second term in 2015, will he not – were he to win – benefit from the new six-year stipulation, under the ‘new’ constitution?

Another argument by the Presidency has been this: ‘Stop murmuring, wait until you see the (legislative) Bill.’ Disingenuous argument, if you ask me, considering that Nigeria’s recent democratic history has thrown up a number of interesting tales of doctored, forged and fake bills. What’s there to stop the single-tenure bill from being altered after it is shown to Nigerians or sent to the National Assembly?

Finally, I do not believe tenure structure has any significant correlation with the dynamics of governance. Nigeria’s history amply demonstrates that its politicians’ mediocrity and propensity for corruption are perfectly capable of transcending the restrictions of time and opportunity.

 


Reno Omokri, VP - Africa, Trippi and Associates, and Founder, Build Up Nigeria:

President Shehu Shagari (a perfect gentleman) strategically placed Umaru Dikko to gather funds for re-election. The serious business of government suffered. It was because of re-election that the NPN overdid things and engineered the first "moon slide" in human history. In fact the pressure brought to bear on the polity was such that critics began to openly call on the military to intervene, the rest is history. In the 4th republic under President Obasanjo, Nigerians witnessed re-election fever that caused such instability in the nation to the extent that an incumbent vice-president gave an interview to the BBC threatening to either run by himself or support his boss's opponent or support his boss. It was re-election fever that caused the rupture in the relationship between President Obasanjo and then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and which eventually culminated in an election that played out like war games rather than a game of numbers which politics ought to be.

Let us be prudent enough to remember that every military coup that truncated our democratic march since 1966 was not targeted at a first term administration but a re-elected government. Let us think deeply and ask ourselves why. If the nation had no problem when they were elected why did we develop the problem with them upon their re-election? Didn't the philosopher Santayana say that a people who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it? This is the reason why I asked the question-what is leadership? A leader is one who keeps his head when others are losing theirs and focuses on the big picture while others are fixated on the little picture. President Jonathan has shown leadership and foresight, let us take a deep breath and look at the proposal again but this time with our history in mind. The fact is that re-election campaigns are too acrimonious. If we do not check this trend we will keep tugging at the seams of the ties that bind Nigeria as one united nation and that is not good for anyone, not the incumbent, not the opposition and certainly not for the system.

Nigerians should understand that most criticism of this proposal is not objective or altruistic. There are three categories of people criticizing this proposal. The first are people who due to recent political and personal setbacks have made it their objective to go against anything this administration desires. This category of critics are so predictable that I can tell you what they are going to say about anything the president does. They will take the opposite path. I daresay that if the president said that they are patriotic Nigerians they will automatically say "we are not patriotic" before realizing what they are saying. In short they are contrarians. The next category is those who are famous for being famous. They stand on nothing. They hear about a policy and decide what reaction will attract the most attention to them and they take that reaction. These are people who want to remain relevant by commenting on current affairs. Note that they comment but do not analyze. I saw first-hand their fickleness during the last elections. When at first it appeared that the CPC was winning the elections they were all over social networking sites with chants of 'yes, we have done it. The PDP is dead". Then when more results started coming in and it became obvious that the CPC had lost out they changed their tune to "at last Nigeria has outgrown ethnic politics. This is a victory for all Nigerians". This is something I witnessed first-hand so I am not so moved by overly excited critics who can move here or there depending on what they think will generate the most comment on their facebook status updates.

Then there are public analysts like Professor Pat Utomi, Ayo Adebanjo, Olisa Agbakogba, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, Yusuf Ali and Bamidele Aturu who analyze before they opine and their opinions reflect a thorough understanding of the subject matter they are talking about. I am particularly impressed that Dr. Utomi came out to say that the issue here is a Single Tenure and not an Elongated Tenure and that since the president could not possibly benefit from it Nigerians should leave off chasing the shadow and stick to the substance of the proposal which we do not yet have as the bill has not been released. It is just a proposal at this stage.

Already, they have begun to use subliminal messaging to confuse the subject of the conversation - they skilfully avoid using the term 'Single Tenure' and draw comparisons between this proposal and the third term gambit all the while forgetting that in 1995 Nigerians elected into the Constitutional Conference recommended that for the unity and stability of the Nigerian nation it would be best if the nation had a president who served for a single tenure. Many of the critics of this proposal were members of the Constitutional Conference and many voted for the idea in 1995. Please do not take my word for it. Take a roll call of the opponents of the Single Tenure Proposal then go through a list of the elected members of the Constitutional Conference of 1995 and make comparisons. The idea even found its way into the Constitution that came about from that conference but which never saw the light of day. So, if notable critics who are now up in arms against a Single Tenure supported it in 1995, the question to be asked is what has changed between 1995 and now? I will answer that question - the problem of incumbency has only grown worse! The remedy is even more needed now than it was back then.

So let the conversation continue and next time the critics attack the proposal, please take time to consider their motives because motives will change and critics will come and go but Nigeria our motherland is not about to go anywhere and it is up to us to make her what we want her to be.

 


Olumide Abimbola, Associate, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology:

The only official document from the presidency about this matter is a post on President Jonathan’s Facebook page, written by the new presidential spokesperson, Rueben Abati. At this point it is only a proposal, but given the fact that his spokesperson has taken the time to write a fairly detailed piece on it, it is one that it seems the president is intent on acting upon. The wording of Abati’s ‘clarification’ is sufficiently vague to allow for different interpretations (see this for an attempt at parsing the piece), but I suppose that what we are doing here is commenting on the idea of the proposal itself, and of ‘tenure elongation’.

The fact that the proposal is being presented this casually (on a Facebook page), this early in the president’s tenure (only two months after he was sworn in), speaks to a serious lack of political savvy on his part. One would expect that a president who lives on good will, but of whom one has very low expectations, would try to earn some respect by actually addressing pressing issues. The Boko Haram issue is still there, waiting for a comprehensive and well-communicated response. Instead we get this distraction. If the fact of the proposal did not show a lack of political shrewdness, one would have suggested that it is some sort of calculated, Machiavellian move to draw attention away from important issues. 

 


Chris Kwaja, Lecturer, Centre Conflict Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos:

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria is set to send a bill to the National Assembly that seeks to alter the present arrangement of four-year tenure of two terms for the president and State Governors. This move will necessitate an amendment of the constitution to allow for a six-year single term, with effect from 2015. The president also drew attention to the fact that he will not be a beneficiary of the proposed amendment.

The proposed bill is coming at a point that the country and its citizens are polarized along legion of issues that bothers on the unity and future of the country, which include: the Boko Haram phenomenon in Borno state and other parts of Northern Nigeria; the unresolved question of zoning that heated the polity in the run up to the 2011 elections and its aftermath; post-election violence; the minimum wage; as well as the controversial proposal by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the introduction of Islamic banking in a religious polarised country.

For critics of the proposed bill it is nothing short of a desperate attempt by the president to plunge the country into another round of political crisis. It is akin to the Third Term Agenda misadventure of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, desperately looking for means to elongate his tenure, while paying lip service to the important governance and security-related challenges that confront the country at this point of its political life.

Supporters of the move are of the view that single-term tenure will no doubt be the basis for national unity, as the federating units will benefit from zoning, which seeks to foster and strengthen national unity, and a sense of belonging for all across ethno-religious and regional divides. The defunct Constitutional Conference of 1994 had earlier recommended a single term for elected representatives in order to ensure that every section of the country is given a sense of belonging in the polity. Thus, the present move by the president is not an entirely new idea about credible and successful democratic transitions in a religious and ethnically heterogeneous country like Nigeria.

In the final analysis, the president has a responsibility to address some of the grave security and governance challenges that are capable of plunging the country into the abyss. While appreciating the nationalistic posture of the president as it relates to engendering the credibility of the democratic process through a single term, the timing of such a move need to be reconsidered, while emphasis is also placed on instituting a constitutional amendment process that is people driven. In fact, governance in Nigeria can only make sense only if government is truly of the people, by the people and for the people.

 


Akin Akintayo, Nigerian Blogger and Social Commentator:

I have read the statement released by the Special Adviser to the president (Media and Publicity) and I am disappointed by the reasons proffered for the tenure extension. Indeed, the re-election process can distract focus on core responsibilities of governance, the statement seems to suggest acrimony, unrest, squabbles and cost as the patriotic drivers for this bill.

This idea might have been allowed some acquiescence if the president had suggested he had embarked on some long-term projects to do with issues really affecting Nigerians as power, infrastructure, transport, health, education, development, economy or jobs that he wanted to see through to some conclusion but we have no evidence of such. In the last 12 years, presidents and governors have had single or double terms of government without necessarily changing their domains noticeably for the better; on that note, there can be no confidence in the idea that a tenure extension will suddenly be the catalyst for good government - as one writer on this matter has suggested, bad government will be bad no matter the years in power with people losing the opportunity to be rid such rotten government earlier.

Chile has a much more developed democracy, economy and society, they voted to reduce their presidential terms of office to a single term of four years without the automatic option for re-election. I would rather we had presidents and governments for a single term of a maximum of 4 years and if such leaders are able, competent and visionary enough, they will have in place projects that are completed or near completion, ideas others can follow through to completion and succession plans that would ensure their legacies. In the end, this being the first major bill from the president in a Nigeria that is in need of more progressive governance is a complete let-down, it will be a distraction and diversion from our concentrating on the things that matter, the legislative process will probably be suborned with corrupt inducements to spare the president any embarrassment - it shows that despite surrounding himself with so many advisers none including the president have really caught on what the real issues affecting Nigeria and Nigerians are.

It is as Machiavellian and unconscionably a plan to divide every opposition forum within and outside the country and I dare say, this displays contrary to the statement the most unpatriotic zeal every expressed by a Nigerian leader in a long time; the protestations of the change not being to his advantage are moot; this is just not the kind of debate that Nigeria needs today.

 

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Comments

I think a single-term presidency is one of the most ludicrous suggestions I have heard. What can a President do in a year? Let alone in a country like Nigeria with several sectors, many issues to address and as Onugobu stated a 'culture of impunity'? It is hard for Presidents and Prime Ministers in the Western world to make lasting effective differences in 4 years, let alone one. Is this Jonathan's big idea to revolutionize Nigeria? He needs to come again. This proposition will be a waste of time and resources that could be better spent on the more pertinent issues. Plus imagine having a re-run of the elections every year, with everyone to the left right and center who didn't win claiming 'it was a fix', not to mention problem with ballots, violence, fundamental issues with the election process that have not been resolved as it is? Every year? This idea is total rubbish.

A one-year term does indeed sound ludicrous. Just as well that's not the proposal. I wonder what your opinion is on one six-year term?

I agree with the opinions of Ogunlesi and Kwaja. This proposal seems like a red-herring. It seem doubtful that it will achieve its supposed aims of reducing electoral violence the cost of election campaigns. But more importantly it seems to stir up the issues that have plagued Nigerian and African politics concerning those in power trying to manipulate their term lengths.
The proposal may have good intentions. There is definitely something to be said for leaders being free to act without having elections to think about. However in a country with a long history of unaccountable leaders, reducing the regularity of elections, the key check on power in a democracy, is problematic. I think ultimately it is a reform that will not have a huge impact but rather makes Goodluck seem out of touch with Nigerian priorities.

Hmmmmm. This experts weekly is very very interesting. Personally, I have full faith in the father of our nation President Jonathan and I question the validity of some individuals that you refer to as ‘experts’ . Have they ever had to handle the great mantle that comes with the presidency, are they even in the corridors of power?! .Where were they during the Shehu Shagari days of the NPN when the nation fell at the first hurdle of democracy.

4 years each term might not be the formula to propel Nigeria to the level of global giant, 6 years might do the trick in order for real development to be laid and hatched. We Nigerians love making too much noise about issues revolving around tenure elongation when our Jonathan has stated that such 6 years will not benefit him. Nigeria has to move forward, one way or the other. Let us discuss wholeheartedly about the prose and cons before jeering and calling for heads to roll.

You sound like you should be rolling your dice at Cas-ino Omokri, where Jonathan never needs Goodluck

You are making a mockery of this subject.

Mr Anonymous, you have turned this very serious issue into a personal vendetta with one of the above experts, who i know close to nothing about. My simple google searches have unearthed rumors that he is a Jonathan stooge & his words are very tapered towards a certain angle.Nigerians always want to associate themselves with a winning team, therefore i don't blame him, he has to eat. please do not joke on issues that effect Nigerians. I fought to keep Nigeria as a single entity during the civil war and only want the best for our great nation. We should remain open minded and patriotic. Ramadan Kareem

This is typical of Jonathan's lackeys. You talk up your leader but you don't question his motives. Elections may be expensive for the state, but they are even more costly for candidates. 6 year terms will be easier on the private bank balances of governors.

I would like to play the apologist
For Goodluck, that fine ideologist.
In six years, when retired,
He'll spend what he acquired
As Nigeria's best paid Zoologist.

For those that argue that a 6 or even 7 year term would focus the mind of leaders on the task ahead, I ask why not a 10 year term or a 20 year term? What can be achieved in 6 years in a country like Nigeria, when most American Presidents seek 8 years (with an election break after 4 years) to achieve? The President is right to state that elections are too expensive but he has conveniently forgotten that we have laws (that he broke when campaigning) that limit the amount that candidates should spend. He is also right to state that elections provide security challenges for the country, but again he forgets how he was happy to whip up ethnic tensions when he was campaigning (the South versus the North debacle).

Nigeria needs politicians that are concerned with finding solutions to the issues that her citizens face: electricity, employment, health, education, agriculture, pollution, corruption et al. If President Goodluck spent some time developing a plan for his Presidency during his campaign, he would have had a chance to hit the ground running - here we are, almost a 100 days into his presidency - we await plans for meeting his campaign promises on electricity, employment, health, education and a host of other things.

the President should focus on fulfilling his campaign promises - but I guess the fact that he will not be standing for re-election means that there is nothing the electorate can do - oh yes now I understand why we should have a Single Term Bill/ Act - genius!!