Once again, the political spectrum is about being heated with yet another issue that bothers on the tenure of the Executive. You will recall that one of the issues that generated lots of heat during Obasanjo/Atiku administration was the proposed Constitutional Amendment, which is best remembered as Third Term Agenda. Whereas the Amendment was all encompassing, as it touched on several important areas that when amended would further the development of several sector of our nation. However, the whole enterprise was comatosed and ruined because of the inclusion of a clause that sought to give the President at the time an opportunity to seek a Third Term in office.
Constitution amendment to give room to the incumbent to contest a fresh term is not new in the global village, in Africa particularly, several leaders have amended the constitution over and over to create room for themselves to continue the “good work” they are doing for the people, for which nobody else assumably can do better. As a young man growing up, I was one of those who believed completely hook, line and sinker that Abacha, the Late General Sani Abacha was the only person that could hold this country together; you could imagine the shock that came over me when I learnt of his death. There are those who believe also completely that only Obasanjo had the key for the transformation of Nigeria and so supported third term with a passion. Daniel Arab Moi of Kenya was literally dragged out of office through Constitution amendment by his countrymen having stayed in office for over twenty years or thereabout. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has thus far remained in office, he has occupied since the independence of the country, the constitution been amended every now and then to allow him continue with his “good work to the country”. Umar Bango of Gabon, Idris Debi of Chad, Yuweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroun, etc are African leaders who have thus far sustained their seats for over twenty years or thereabout due to continuous Constitutional Amendment to continue their “good work”.
Americans may not have invented democracy, no, historical records does not recognize them as the originators or the inventors of democracy and democratic structures. However, our modern history of democracy will not be complete without the records of the efforts of the American nation contributions and campaigns for democracy. We may not all agree on the philosophy and hidden intentions of the American leaders in their various campaigns, but what the masses can see is the fact, they are campaigning for democracy.
Though American Constitution never had term limit initially from inception, the first President George Washington, who could have enjoyed election and re-election till death, opted for just two terms and thereafter left office for another elected President. That precedent he set became a way of life for successive American Presidents who enjoyed re-election, until my mentor FDR came in. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, byname FDR 32nd president of the United States (1933–45). The only president elected to the office four times, Roosevelt led the United States through two of the greatest crises of the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II. In so doing, he greatly expanded the powers of the federal government through a series of programs and reforms known as the New Deal, and he served as the principal architect of the successful effort to rid the world of German National Socialism1. Thereafter the Americans amended their Constitution to have two term of four years apiece maximum for the Executives, not because FDR failed, but because there may be a ruthless President in the future.
The German Constitution currently has no term limit, Helmut Kohl of CDU (Christian Democratic Union) enjoyed a four term of four years apiece, before his defeat in the late 1990s. Britain unwritten Constitution equally has no term limit for the Prime Minister.
The philosophy behind the Constitution amendment being pursued by the President is built on two fronts in my observation.
- Insufficient time to deliver: The President who was voted overwhelmingly by Nigerians, though not everybody will agree with that. Am sure Pastor Tunde Bakare may not key into that. But neither Buhari or any of his cronies will in good faith, deny that Jonathan won simple majority in the last polls, perhaps they would insist that he never won out rightly as, there would probably had been a second ballot. Jonathan upon assumption of duty as elected President started by saying four year is grossly inadequate to make any meaningful development, which brought in the speculations that he was angling for a second term in office, contrary to his pre-election promise of seeking only for a single term mandate.
- Perpetuation through incumbency factor: Being the President of a country confers on such an individual so much power to perpetuate oneself in office where the Constitution allows. All the security apparatus of the State, the Police, the Military and the Para-Military are under the direct control of the President, the resources of the country as well are under the President, so, it becomes very easy to manipulate the masses. By limiting the term of the office holder to a single term, that will be eliminated.
- The Desire to leave behind a Legacy: Considering the several issues bothering on electoral fraud that has bedeviled us as a nation; perhaps the President imagines that a single term will eliminate. While hoping that posterity will note him as the proponent or the originator of that reform in the body polity. Since they will have us believe at this point that the President will not necessarily be a beneficiary.
Looking at the philosophy, you may agree with some of us that it’s very plausible. The erstwhile gadfly and incumbent Presidential Spokesman Reuben Abati, re-echoed it that the President has made it clear “that should the Constitutional amendment, proposed constitutional amendment scale through the National Assembly; he will not be a beneficiary”.
The President’s proposed amendment though still in the offing is intended to take care of the two issues earlier on enunciated. It is worthy of note here, to see that the President, only wanted to taste the waters, to hear the opinion of Nigerians on the issue, so as to make up his mind if he will send it to National Assembly eventually or not, this is a novelty in the art of governance in Nigeria, it is usually the style in civilized democracies, like the US to release such information, sometimes through a third party, to taste the waters. Thereafter the Government may go ahead or discard it altogether. Dr. Abati perhaps hinted such stance when he said, “instead of engaging the President at the level ideas,” the opposition argument is thriving on a different path.
The philosophy is not the problem in most cases. The longest ever elected American President was elected and re-elected on popular votes, he died on the seat as President, paving way for his deputy to occupy the exalted position. The two term limit was amended in America to take care of possible future excesses, through its 22nd Constitutional Amendment adopted in 1951. In Niger, our neighboring country, the former President, who himself gain his mandate with assistance of the international community; turn round to spurn such efforts when he successfully amended the constitution through a referendum, so as to gain another mandate that will “enable him lead his country to great heights with the discovery of crude oil”. It took a military coup d’état to rout the man out of office not too long ago. Thus, reverting the successes gained in entrenching and deepening democratic norms in that country.
For our friends who will want to argue on basis of the seeming fact: that the philosophy of the proposed amendment, is predicated on a pure good intention. I will like to remind such friends, that even the infamous Anenih, the one-time notorious arm robber, who it was said, stole from the big and mighty and share it to the needy and less privilege in the 1980s or thereabout, had a good sound philosophy for common good.
One thing I will completely concede to the Spokesman of the President Dr. Reuben Abati, the opponents of the propose Bill are not engaging the “President at the level of ideas”. There are established gadflies against government, who will not see anything good in the action of any government. There is always something wrong with everything so long as they are not involves, more so on controversial issues like this one. When known enemies or critics raise their voices, and are not churning out or engaging issues at the level of ideas, then nothing interesting would emanate. As a matter of fact, it would only further the cause. More so, when the President will have us believe at this point, that he will not necessarily be a beneficiary.
It will however, be unreasonable to say that, the opposition have not really involves in argument against the proposal at the level of ideas. What is meant by, to “argue at the level of ideas” anyway? It is relative, but whatsoever or however, there has been good arguments tendered against the proposal. Many more are still in the offing. Bearing in mind the fact, that the definitive statements, clauses and phrases to be contained therein the so-called proposal is nonexistent or not available at this level to the general Public. Going by the presentations of the Presidential Spokesman, the proposed Bill is not yet completed by the Presidency, they deliberately leaked it out, to hear from the Nigerian public and most especially the opposition, so as to either discard it or improve upon it, before onward transmission to the National Assembly. In that light, opposition to the proposal cannot be articulated completely.
Notwithstanding, the critics, opposition and well-meaning Nigerians opposed to this proposal can do more, there is nothing new that can come out in the wordings of the Bill, if they eventually still wants to send it to the National Assembly, that will be strange to anybody. So, we should engage the President at that level.
The implication of the intended proposal by the President can be interpreted or viewed from looking at the philosophy.
- The argument of insufficient time to perform, is it true that four years is insufficient for something credible to be done in governance? This opinion of the President is not based on sound judgment, perhaps it could best be answered by asking another question which is said to be reminiscent of Nigerians. As a school boy in those days, we were told the story of a foreigner who came to Nigeria to confirm, if it is true that “Nigerians answers questions, by asking another question”. On landing at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, he saw someone standing by and he asked him “please mister is it true that Nigerians answers questions, by asking another question?” Our Nigerian friend without knowing the implication answered innocently, “who told you?” The man boarded the next flight and left. Whether the story is true or not, please don’t ask me. I will however want to ask at this point, how many years those it takes a bad leader to wreak havoc on the citizenry? Perhaps, the President should answer that question. There are several examples of world leaders, who turn around their country fortunes in four years, others destroyed also in less than four years. In our contemporary Nigerian society, without moving outside our clime, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, made a difference in Lagos in how many years? Rotimi Amaechi made difference in Rivers in how many years? Danjuma Goje registered himself as an achiever in Gombe in how many years.
That the President, from the beginning of his tenure, started by complaining of inadequacy of time to make meaningful impact in governance. Is a sad reality, a reflection of how bereft of ideas of transformational governance he possesses. Which translate to a very big blow to the supporters of the President, inclusive of yours truly, who thought he had something to deliver.
- The next issue is Perpetuation in Office through Incumbency factor Permit me to start at this point by asking yet another question. Is the President openly admitting that he won the election in 2011 polls on incumbency factor? That will be very interesting; it will be a novelty in African democracy. The simple solution in my opinion is for the President to simply resign his Office on moral grounds to pave way for Namadi Sambo to be sworn in as President, after all, the North has been complaining of been short-changed, with the death of Yar’adua, former President. However, we cannot play to the gallery, the incumbency factor.
Another question we will be asking again: Is it only when, the incumbent is a direct beneficiary that he/she attempts to control the emergence of the next leader? To answer that question, we will like to ask, When the former President Obasanjo, openly declared, that the 2007 elections was a do or die affair, was it for himself or for any of his siblings? Again the President and his men got it wrong there.
- Another issue is The Desire to Leave Behind a Legacy: Except if the President and his men have no better ideas, the desire that one of the Legacy they want to leave behind is constitutional amendment in favor of a single term of six years for the Executive is a misnomer, its only representative of the short sighted nature of some of our leaders. There are several critical sector of the economy that is decaying, the mental orientation of Nigerians need an overhaul.
To be concluded
1"Roosevelt, Franklin D." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011.
© 2011 Jacob Longpring.