The past few weeks has gotten Nigerians chattering and buzzing about the latest bill sent to the National Assembly, or NASS for short, by President Goodluck Jonathan, or GEJ for short, which proposes scrapping the two 4-year term limits for governors and the president, in favour of a single 6-year term limit. The bill however, is vague in specifying the term limits for legislators, as can be seen in its language, “that the legislators are to serve a little above 6 years per term”. What is a little above 6 years is best left to their own interpretation. It might be 4 years above the initial 6 years; it might as well be just 6 months.
It is highly disappointing that the first bill that GEJ would send to NASS, since his election would be one asking for a change in the term limits. Even more disappointing are the weak arguments in support of it. These arguments are: that the cost of conducting elections are high, and that the presence of 2 terms makes political office holders focus more on winning re-elections than on delivering the dividends of democracy. Let me get to work shattering the logic of their arguments:
To start with, the argument that the 4-year elections cycle is too expensive for us to maintain is highly short-sighted. Even though this year’s General Elections cost us N407bn, in direct costs and in losses to the economy due to public holidays declared on election days, excluding the costs of campaigns by the candidates and parties, and which amounted to 1.97% of our GDP, there is a very good explanation for such: it is based on the fact that we embarked on the fastest-ever national biometric exercise in the entire world. The task of compiling a National Biometric Database is usually spread out over 2 years; however, Nigeria was able to do hers in a matter of 6 months. I am sure if INEC had more time to properly scrutinize bids for the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines (which is actually just a fancy name for a collection of simple tools: a netbook, a detached web cam and a fingerprint scanner), the cost of the exercise would have fallen by as much as half. Definitely, we don’t expect that in 2015 that INEC restarts another biometric exercise. As a matter of fact, plans are already afoot to make voter registration a continuous exercise.
Also, there is absolutely no merit in the argument that a single 6-year term would make governors and the president to be more about fulfilling promises and leaving behind a better society rather than focus on re-election campaigns. The best way to win re-election is by making things work better and keeping promises made to the electorate. We can see this practically in the re-election of Lagos State super-governor, Babatunde Fashola. Governor Fashola was so popular because of the excellent job he has been doing that at one point, people believed he was running unopposed. The opposition lacked credibility as much as they lacked ideas on how to make people believe that they would be than him. In the end, Governor Fashola won his re-election by 83%. If Governor Fashola had focused more on his re-election campaign than on doing the job he was elected to do, your guess is as good as mine that he would not have enjoyed the groundswell of popular support upon which he rode to victory.
Four years are enough to make such an impact on the lives of the electorate as to see the people coming out to support and even personally campaign for the re-election of the office holder, as we saw in Lagos when market women did a protest march imploring the governor to run for re-election. There is no other better formula for winning re-election than this: do what the people expect of you. The Nigerian electorate are not ungrateful as to deny you another four years should you deserve it.
Additionally, a single 6-year term would reward bad leaders and punish good leaders. If this single term was in place now, the peoples of Oyo and Imo would have had no other option but to endure the shenanigans and misgovernance of Adebayo Alao-Akala and Ikedi Ohakim. It would also have denied stellar performers like Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers and Babatunde Fashola an extra 2 years to continuing improving lives.
Lastly, once term limits are tinkered with once, they can always be tinkered with again. There is no assurance that President Jonathan would not run in 2015, especially as the constitution does not prohibit him. How then can we be assured that as 2021 approaches, he would not ask for another amendment that will allow him run for another term, which he would get by once again bribing members of the NASS, dangling carrots before their eyes as he is doing presently. This is how sit-tight dictators are made: the Paul Biyas, Yoweri Musevenis and Robert Mugabes.
There are way more pressing issues in the country today than amending the constitution so that the president and governors have only a single term of 6 years. We have a raging Boko Haram insurgency that is threatening to swallow the whole of Borno State, a perennial power crisis and the almost never-ending struggle for economic upliftment by the Nigerian people. If there is any clause in the constitution that needs amendment, it is the clause that demands a minister be appointed from each state, which makes us up end up with a bulky, inefficient government and feeds our retrogressive scarcity mind-set, and which GEJ has fulfilled even in the extreme by appointing 6 extra ministers.
We definitely do not need this distraction. However, my assurance is in the fact that this bill shall suffer a death, and shall not extract an iota of sympathy from us. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo can testify to how his third term agenda died, and cost him an immense amount of goodwill. GEJ should take care not to squander the political capital he has now on needless political adventures that can only end up in mishaps.
Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.