Yinmu*: The Cynics Guide to Tenure Elongation and Single Term Limits

Comrades,

I regret to announce, with much sadness, that we have lost Dr Reuben Abati. He has gone native. We knew it would happen but it doesn’t make it any less painful to see for those of us who have always respected the man for his writings in The Guardian Newspapers.

A man can at least do a very thankless and impossible job with some sincerity. But what Dr Abati has done with his press release on tenure elongation is to deliberately attempt to deceive the Nigerian public. We know that Dr Abati can reason very clearly but the arguments he puts forward in this press release are aimed squarely at those who will not scrutinise the matter beyond gear 1.

Let us parse…

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is to send a Constitution amendment Bill to the National Assembly that will provide a single tenure for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Governors of the 36 states of the Federation.  In the envisaged Bill, the tenure of members of the National and State Assemblies will also be a little more than four years, although lawmakers will still be eligible for re-election as their constituencies may determine.

The attempt to deceive begins from the very first paragraph above. Notice the highlighted word ‘also’. The statement doesn’t say the President’s tenure will be elongated in the first sentence, but by the second sentence, it assumes you know this already. A little more than 4 years? What on earth does this mean? My suspicion is that this is the President’s banana to the National Assembly i.e. they will be allowed to decide their own tenure in exchange for pushing through this bill. As long as it’s only ‘a little’ over 4 years. Given that not a few lawmakers have been complaining about the ROI from running for the senate and the possibility of making a loss on said ‘investment’, one can only imagine they will be delighted at this opportunity to dodge the electorate for a couple of more years.

President Jonathan’s commitment to a single term for the President and Governors is borne out of a patriotic zeal, after a painstaking study and belief that the constitutionally guaranteed two terms for Presidents and Governors is not helping the focus of Governance and institutionalization of democracy at this stage of our development. A longer term for lawmakers would also help to stabilize the polity.

In this one paragraph, Dr Abati tells us from the left side of his mouth that a single term will help to focus governance and institutionalise democracy. He then tells us from the right side of his mouth that a longer term for lawmakers (he’s really toasting the lawmakers here), who will NOT be restricted to a single term (see paragraph 1) will stabilize the polity.

Not only will our lawmakers have longer terms, they will also be able to run more than once. Why not just book them into a spa and hire Geishas to look after their needs seeing as they are so vital to Nigeria’s progress?

The most dangerous phrase in this whole press release for me is however ‘constitutionally guaranteed’. This is a complete lie and it signals how Dr Abati and co are going to frame this argument in the days ahead. What he’s effectively saying is that our elected officials are ‘guaranteed’ 2 terms in office i.e. he has manufactured a problem out of thin air so he can solve it. Voila! Remove this guarantee by restricting them to a single term (excluding the lawmakers of course).

How come this guarantee did not apply to Governors Adebayo Alao-Akala and Ikedi Ohakim in the April elections? Is Dr Abati now telling us that elections are a formality where incumbents are concerned seeing as they are ‘guaranteed’ a second term? This is ridiculous. I don’t have stats to hand but I am willing to guess that more incumbents lost elections in 2011 than in 2007 including some decent lawmakers in the South West who were kicked out of office because of their party. Even if it’s at snail speed, there is evidence that we are making some progress in exacting revenge on our leaders for bad performance at the polls.

Painstaking study and belief? I am willing to accept the belief part but painstaking study? Please.

President Jonathan is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election, every four years, generates both at the Federal and State levels.  The nation is still smarting from the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that has attended each general election, the fall-out of all this is the unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations.  

Ah I see. The problem is because elections are held every 4 years which we can solve by increasing the tenure by a couple of years. This of course doesn’t give the people planning the ‘acrimony’ even more time to perfect their desperation. Oh no it doesn’t. Our democracy is now like a vigorously shaken bottle of coke; just leave it on the table for a few minutes before opening to prevent the contents erupting all over the place when it meets oxygen.

In this paragraph, the argument seems to have changed from single term to the length of the term. 4 years is too short….this is why we are having problems and people are fighting all the time.

By the way, ‘polity’ is my new favourite word.

In addition, the cost of conducting party primaries and the general elections have become too high for the economy to accommodate every four years. The proposed amendment Bill is necessary to consolidate our democracy and allow elected Executives to concentrate on governance and service delivery for their full term, instead of running governments with re-election as their primary focus.

I am lost here. I know of the N87bn that was allocated to INEC to conduct the 2011 elections. And even at that, we can all agree that the costs were high due to the fire brigade approach and the adoption of bio-metric technology in building a new voters register. So strictly speaking, any cost outside of this is NOT Nigeria’s business or problem.

Again Dr Abati has created a problem for the WHOLE of Nigeria which politicians should be taking sole responsibility for. In February it was announced that all Nigerian billionaires worth the name were coming together to raise funds for the President’s re-election campaign. We were never told how much was raised but your guess is as good as mine. How is Dr Abati then able to turn around with a straight face and allude to the cost of conducting elections? If the President gets all our billionaires to fund his campaign, what does he expect to happen afterwards? For the billionaires to go and sit quietly in the corner and watch him for 4 years?

It’s also amazing to see Dr Abati attempt to separate governance and re-election as if they were mutually exclusive. Why did Governor Fashola of Lagos get 83% of the vote in the gubernatorial elections in April? Was it because he spent 4 years campaigning instead of actually running the state? Are we being told that the electorate are incapable of rewarding good governance and punishing bad leadership?

The issue of the cost of running our elephant sized government has also been conveniently ignored. 75% of our budget being allocated to recurrent expenditure is the same thing whether it is over 4 years or over 7. Need I remind the good Doctor that our budgets are prepared on a yearly basis? Why not get to work in trimming this thing around the neck of our country?

This clarification has become necessary in the light of certain reports in a section of the media that the proposed Bill is meant to elongate President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.

Nothing can be more untrue. The energy that has been devoted to speculations on the content of the likely bill is akin to an attempt to force the abortion of a non-existent pregnancy.  The details of the Bill will be clear in terms of its provisions when it is forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration. The President makes it clear that his push for a single tenure for the office of the President and that of the Governors is not borne out of any personal interest. The proposed amendment will not have anything to do with him as a person; what he owes Nigerians is good governance, and he is singularly committed to this. Besides, it is trite law that the envisaged amendment cannot have a retroactive effect. This means that whatever single-term tenure that is enacted into law by the National Assembly will take effect from 2015.

Before nko? Of course he can’t make it retroactive. The issue here, again conveniently ignored, is not about the current term Mr President is serving. That is a moot point. What many people have sought to know is that if this amendment becomes law by 2015, will Mr President put himself up for re-election again to ‘taste’ the fruit of his ‘labour’? This will of course mean that Mr President would have served 1 year of Mr Yar’Adua’s term, 4 years of his own term and x number of years of the new single tenure.

Dr Abati goes on to say that Mr President assures that he will not be a beneficiary of the proposed amendment. Dear readers, if I type such an assurance on an A4 paper for you with the President’s signature attached to it, how much will you be willing to pay for it?

Democracy is difficult and problematic. There are hardly any silver bullet solutions to be found anywhere. All that is available are tradeoffs. There are plenty of problems with an elongated single term assuming we wanted to even consider it as a viable alternative to the status quo.

Has Dr Abati thought about the puppetry that will ensue? Will this not make Governors and everyone else restricted to a single term even more determined to install their puppets to succeed them? 2 terms of 4 years present the people with an opportunity to achieve real change at the ballot. A bad governor who is gunning for a second term will not be able to prop up a puppet or ‘acolyte’ to take his place simply because he cannot chase two rats at the same time. Ergo, if he loses the election, the people get real change.

Will Governors and the President also be barred from re-contesting for their offices after they have been out of office for one term? Here the Argentine example is instructive; Nestor Kirchner was President of the country from 2003 – 2007. He then ceded the Presidency to his wife, Cristina Fernandez in 2007 (even though he was allowed to run for another term) and was widely expected to run for office again this year before he suffered a heart attack and died in October 2010.

What Mr Kirchner did was to further entrench Kirchnerismo seeing as he was restricted to being president for 12 years in total i.e. 2 consecutive terms of 4 years and then a further term after being out of office for one term. By handing over to his wife (at the peak of his popularity in 2007), the Kirchners could simply rotate the presidency between themselves indefinitely every 4 years without activating the part of the constitution about 2 consecutive terms.

It is also hard to understand why the President thinks this is such a wonderful idea. A list of political term limits across the world shows that if Nigeria were to adopt this single term limit/tenure elongation, not only will we be the only country in Africa to adopt such a model, we will find similar models in such great democratic countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines and Israel.

What exactly is going on here? Why put this out there at the risk of derailing everything else including power reforms and other pressing national matters?

I see the hand of the President’s wily Senior Adviser on Strategy in all of this (a friend of mine never fails to remind me not to underestimate him). Whatever the case may be, the first shots have been fired. There will be more.

FF

*Yinmu is slang for a cynical turning up of the nose when someone says something you don’t believe a word of.

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4 thoughts on “Yinmu*: The Cynics Guide to Tenure Elongation and Single Term Limits

  1. It is a pity that our revered Dr Abati has turned to pipet! He who plays the pipet dictate the tune. It is really a pity! I think by now and by virtue of the position Reuben holds in The Guardian Newspaper he should not be a poor man, why is he despirate to answer his pay master.
    Infact, this is low water-mark of Dr Abati career as a journalist.

  2. Will any of U do better. Reuben Abati has always been who He is right now he just needed time to explode………….

  3. My main concern is not about tenure elongation as the same corrupt politicians would always be in position of power except serious anti-corrupt crusade is enforced. Another is the reason why a very respected Dr Reuben Abati would ignore his celebrated role for a job that is most difficult and immoral to do – defending and speaking for government- an African Government , a Nigerian version for that matter!!! I sorry for Dr Abati cos even if he’s nursing Gubernatorial ambition, with a non performing government he is serving, people may never consider him for any leadership role. To me he seems not to be serious and honest about his previous views. Thanks

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