Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Editorial: The Single Term Imbroglio

The invitation

I was invited last week to contribute to the Experts Weekly section of the Think Africa Press online magazine on the topic - Goodluck Jonathan has proposed limiting Nigerian presidents to one, probably six year term in office to avoid pre and post poll violence. How do you interpret this proposal and what are your thoughts on it?

My contribution with that of 5 other experts was published yesterday here.

I reproduce my views here fleshing out some of the more concise opinions I proffered earlier.

Synonyms of one another

I have read the statement released by the Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity) as a Facebook Note and I am disappointed by the reasons proffered for the tenure extension.

There are two elements to this idea, one of the Single Term Tenure and the other of having that single term run for probably 6 years. In some ways, the Single Term Tenure could also be referred to as Tenure Extension depending on those who have legal opportunity to take advantage of the change if such persons are currently in their first term of office and no law bars them from seeking a second term.

Poor reasons for purpose

As we have seen in the presidential system of the Unites States, a President effectively has 2 to 3 years of effective government before their energies are directed to seeking a second term; it means the re-election process can distract focus on core responsibilities of governance.

The Facebook 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.

No confidence of the impetus

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; there has been much politicking, wrangling, discord and unrest with incessant threats of carpet-crossing and apart from the case of two or three states, gubernatorial tenures have been abject failures.

The Presidency has fared no better, for almost a year in the last term, the country was held to ransom because of the failing health of the president and the cabal that constituted his so-called kitchen cabinet were a faceless set of unaccountable puppet-masters until the situation became untenable.

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 government no matter the years spent in power with people losing the opportunity to be rid such rotten government earlier.

A short single term

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. If any President were to want another opportunity to serve, such a person would have to succeed their successor or successors.

In the Nigeria we have today, I would rather we had presidents and governors 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.

Misplaced priorities

What makes this whole idea unfortunate for all the electoral reform ideas that can be tabled and the priorities any right-thinking leader should have is that this is the first major bill from the president in a Nigeria that is in need of more progressive governance, it is ultimately a complete let-down.

There is no doubt that this 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 and 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.

Pick yourself up for this job

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 this 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.

Mr. President, I am disappointed in you and frankly, far from impressed – to whom much is bestowed a lot more is desired, it is time to rise to the responsibility of office and avoid letting your tenure of leadership which runs to 2015 be hijacked in endless jangling on unnecessary distractions pretending to altruistic purpose when there is serious work to be done.

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