Single term proposal– In form, the fear that amending the 1999 constitution to allow for a single term of six years for the president and governors will fuel speculations over tenure elongation for President Muhammadu Buhari appears genuine but it is both escapist and defeatist in essence.
The law makers who came up with that point during the recent debate on the matter in the House of Representatives inadvertently gave the impression that Nigerians have been so subdued and indeed so terrified that they are no longer able to discern between ideas that can move the nation forward and those that would do otherwise.
Some earlier commentators have described the rejection of a bill to that effect – sponsored by Hon. John Dyegh – as the proverbial throwaway of the baby with the bath water but that analogy is, in my thinking, grossly inadequate to situate the implications of the hasty rejection of the bill by the entire House. Apart from that the law makers showed lack of rigour, the debate lacked tact and sophistication.
Yes, there have been speculations that the idea of tenure elongation for President Buhari is being nurtured in some quarters.
But even as it has been denied, what the law makers did was to suggest that we cannot as nation confront and deal with the matter appropriately, in keeping with the wishes and aspirations of the generality of the people.
As far as I am concerned, the Buhari third term fear factor shows that the national legislators, at least in the green chambers, may not have the guts to reject the idea if peradventure it comes up after an amendment to allow a single tenure system has been effected in the constitution.
Hence, the thinking that perhaps the best thing to do is to, ab initio, avoid a situation that would give room for such as debate.
One is, however, of the view that the idea of a single term of six years for the president and governors will benefit the nation regardless of the paranoia over a possible romance with the idea of tenure elongation for the incumbent president.
We have dealt with the issue of tenure elongation before, indeed at a time the current democratic dispensation was at its infancy; to say nothing of now when Nigerians have become radicalized in spite of the occasional covert use of state apparatus to cow them into acquiescence.
Differently put, the fear of Buhari taking advantage of the introduction of a single term arrangement is not enough reason to drop the idea as contemptuously as the Honourable members tended to.
Another reason given by some of the law makers for voting against Hon. Dyegh’s bill is that “there is nothing wrong with the system Nigeria currently operates”.
Yet, in the same breathe, they agree that “the focus should be on improving Nigeria’s electoral process…” These two rather contradictory claims reinforce the charge of lack of rigour.
For, if there is “NOTHING WRONG” with the current system, then there should be no need to “IMPROVE” on it. In any case, the electoral process, itself, is the main victim of the current two-term arrangement; for the simple reason that it is in the bid to get re-elected for a second term – which usually goes with so much desperation – that incumbents (the president, governors and legislators) – employ all illegitimate means to win, and taking liberty of their access to public funds and other apparatchik of office to subvert the electoral process.
So long as the two-term arrangement remains, with incumbent office holders at liberty to deploy state resources to their advantage, so long will the electoral (and election) process remain vulnerable.
The most glaring evidence of the violation of both the electoral and election process (the latter is a subset of the former) is, of course, the brazen deployment of the military by ruling parties and the administrations they superintend over to rig elections in favour of their candidates.
The matter is not entirely new but it got to its sordid crescendo during the last general elections; quickly followed by the perfidy witnessed during the two recently held governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
As things stand, it is most unlikely that the situation will change for the better in 2023 even with President Buhari’s promise to “work very hard on free and fair elections”.
In any case, to pledge to “work very hard” connotes admittance that something in wrong with the current situation. But even so, the president’s further promise that he “…will make sure, using the law enforcement agencies, to ensure that elections are free and fair…” heightens my fears over the eventual and complete militarization of elections in our dear country.
Although the Nigeria Police is the agency that has the statutory duty to provide security for people and materials during elections, what we have witnessed is an increasing takeover of that role by the military, the 2019 general elections and the recent ones in Kogi and Bayelsa being painful realities of how bad things have become in our democracy.
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Worse, President Buhari does not have the flair for the rightful deployment of security agencies – even if it were to be just the police – for elections. How did we know? On the eve of the February 23, 2019 presidential election, President Buhari ordered security agents to “deal ruthlessly” with election offenders with a rider that all such potential culprits should regard their actions as their “last”.
This was promptly interpreted by Nigerians as a shoot-at-sight order with its grave constitutional and human rights implications.
The point, therefore, is that electoral (election) processes will continue to be in grave jeopardy so long as their remains this reliance on security forces to ensure free and fair elections; for the simple reason that their use will always be abused by politicians, quite apart from the fact that the agents, themselves, see it as a great opportunity for making money.
Needless to say, the current two-term arrangement lends itself to this pliability, exacerbated by the culture of desperation that now characterizes our national politics.
Agreed, no system is error-proof but there can be no doubt that a single term arraignment will considerably reduce the vulnerability of our electoral process to the caprices and idiosyncrasies of incumbent political office holders and their parties.
This is not the first time the one-term of six years system is being proposed and jettisoned; but while those who do not subscribe to the idea are entitled to their position, Nigerians should be given adequate opportunity to discuss it in full; not the summary dismissal that was witnessed recently on the floor of green chambers