Could six-year single term be solution to Nigeria’s electoral logjam?
Last week, Nigeria’s House of Representatives rejected an amendment to the 1999 Constitution seeking a six-year single term for the nation’s president and governors.
Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, who presided over the plenary, had put to voice vote the passage of the bill for a second reading, but the lawmakers, however, overwhelmingly voted against it.
The speaker immediately ruled that the bill be stepped down. The sponsor of the bill, John Dyegh (APC-Gboko/Tarka Federal constituency of Benue State), attributed the rejection of the bill by his colleagues to their lack of understanding of its intent.
The six-year single tenure proposal is not new to Nigeria. In 2014, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, proposed the six-year single term for president and governors, saying it would ensure good governance.
Jonathan’s proposal was then taken with a pinch-of-salt by political leaders across the country. But five years later, it appears that the logjam which has characterised the nation’s electoral system has brought the proposal to the fore and made it appealing.
A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who supported the bill expressed displeasure over its rejection by the lawmakers.
Atiku said by rejecting the bill, the lawmakers missed an opportunity to positively affect a change in our democratic order, while regretting that eight-year term of office rewards incompetence because even incumbents that have failed would use their access to public funds to return to power by fair or foul means.
He argued that the desperation for second term is not necessarily driven by patriotism or the passion for service, but by the obsession with the greed for power for its own sake.
According to him, “In view of the challenges facing our current democratic order, especially the culture of rigging that subverts the will of the people, the six-year single term would have ended such untoward practices in our electoral process.”
“The desperation for the second term by the incumbents is the main reason why they go for broke and set the rule book on fire, thereby making free and fair elections impossible by legitimising rigging at the expense of their challengers that have no access to public funds.
“A situation where the incumbents deploy more public resources to their second term projects than using the funds for people’s welfare encourages massive rigging that undermines electoral integrity.
“Six-year single term would remove such desperation and enable the incumbents to concentrate on the job for which they were elected in the first place.”
According to Atiku, “Second term obsession rewards incompetence by allowing failed incumbents to be re-elected regardless of their performance record. It also denies political parties the opportunity to replace failed incumbents with better candidates within the parties in the name of right of first refusal”.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, governors and presidents have enjoyed the constitutional two terms of eight years.
It is commonly agreed that rather than concentrate effort on fulfilling their campaign promises to the electorates and providing purposeful leadership, most of the state governors and even presidents often divert public funds and concentrate their efforts on seeking re-election for a second term after the first two years in office.
Political observers are of the opinion that the two terms of four years have been a curse rather than a blessing to Nigeria since 1999, and needs an urgent review in view of prevailing events that have characterised elections in Nigeria.
Recent events in Kogi and Bayelsa States elections have perhaps, fueled these agitations for electoral reforms, especially as regard the introduction of electronic voting and transmission of results.
Pundits are of the opinion that perhaps, the introduction of six-year single term may, however, help in checking ballot-box snatching, voter inducement, violence, and manipulations that have plagued recent elections and the 2019 general election in Nigeria.
“I support the bill and therefore, appeal to all categories of politicians in the country particularly the present lawmakers to examine critically the gains of the proposal for it is an opportunity to reduce the expenditure on elections.
“We should remember that similar proposals that were made and which people kicked against are today of immense value and benefits to the populace; the case of privatisation of the communication, aviation and the hospitality sectors readily comes to mind.
“Since the 1999 Constitution makes provision for two terms, it could equally be amended to accommodate the new development,” Kayode Amusana former member of the House of Representatives from Ogun State, said.
Kayode noted that a single term of six years is enough for any visionary and focused president and state executive to prove his worth, while appealing to Nigerians, particularly the political class to accept the proposal as way out to salvage the nation’s democracy.
However, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Moshood Salvador, expressed reservations about the proposal, saying that it may not be the solution to the nation’s electoral woes.
The APC chieftain noted that Nigeria’s political environment was rather peculiar and difficult to predict.
Salvador, who was a former chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State and a former member of the House of Representatives, noted that the proposal needs a careful study, while stating that a single term of six-years may give the executives too much power, encourage bad governance and mediocrity.
“I don’t know why we cannot think; it is not everything we should accept. If you are given one year, two years you can finish the state if you like. We should not be myopic to most of these things. What is happening now is that, some of the governors are performing during their first tenure because they want to be re-elected for second term.
“But if you are saying a single term of six-years, these governors can just behave anyhow; because they know they would not be coming back, they can rule anyhow and inflict pain on the people.
“What happens now in Nigeria is that the executives are so powerful; there is no law that checks them. So, we have to be careful with such proposal,” Salavdor said.
But a former Minister of Transportation, Ebenezer Babatope said that the proposal needs a careful study and consultation among stakeholders, stressing that the problem with the nation’s electoral system appears deeper.
“Well, it is not bad, but we have to be careful that it is not part of an agenda. Nothing ever works here in Nigeria. Would that stop INEC from rigging elections?
“I think the promoters of the bill should do more consultations and education among stakeholders to clear the doubt. But we have to know the foundation of such proposal,” Babatope said.
Pundits are of the opinion, that the rejection of the bill may be a temporary set-back, but may not mean its death. Perhaps, it gives opportunity for the sponsors of the bill to carry-out more consultations, engage stakeholders, Nigerians and political leaders across the country on the advantages of the bill to allay fears before it is represented in the National Assembly.