By Ochereome Nnanna
A FEW days ago, I got a call from a lady, a “veteran mother” as she described herself. She spoke in melancholic – even tearful – tones. Her point of bother: President Goodluck Jonathan’s (then) rumoured tenure elongation bid.
She was seriously concerned that a man whom the electorate (including herself) demonstrated so much fondness for just three months ago at the polls was already sliding into infamy by opening this “odious” bid even before his government takes shape.
She pleaded that “those of you” who have the platform should call the President to order and refocus him to his primary assignment of “transforming Nigeria”, especially an economy bedevilled by mass joblessness of the youth.
Already, a number of commentators were firing from the hip at the President. It was more of a reflex action conditioned by our long and successful history of nipping tenure elongation or “self-succession” bids in the bud no matter the ploys adopted. But our elders have a saying that you must allow the newly acquired chicken to bring forward its foot before you attach a tether to it. How can you assume it wants to escape when it has not even made any move?
Last week Tuesday, the new presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, went public with a confirmation that GEJ intends to send a Constitution Amendment Bill to the National Assembly. It will, among others, provide for a six-year single tenure of office for the President and governors. According to him, the state and federal lawmakers will also have their tenures slightly elongated but will have the opportunity to run for as many terms of office as their local electorate are willing to permit them.
Most importantly, he disclosed that the President and the present crop of elected governors would not benefit from this package. The idea obviously, was to set the minds of people like my caller at rest and prevent the heat and distraction that most of us fear.
This is a tenure elongation bid of a kind different from what we have seen in the past. When moves were made in this direction before now, the sitting president would keep quiet and let tongues wag. When pressed to the wall they would say it never crossed their minds. Meanwhile busybodies were already all over the place, spending billions of naira, the source of which was never disclosed. Those who were bribe-able were bribed. Those who could not be bribed were often killed. But in the end, the will of the people always prevailed. This time around, we are told that the idea is to cut down the cost of governance and reduce political tension. With the assurance that it is not an attempt to increase the tenure of elected executive officials through the back door we can now settle down to examine the merits and demerits of a six-year single term as opposed to two four-year terms.
A six-year single term leaves enough time for anyone to contribute and move on without having to prepare for the next election with attendant consequences. For parties that are practising power rotation it will enable the various geopolitical zones a quicker time to make the round and probably float these top executive positions for the best candidates after a transitional period.
Our experiment in the past 12 years shows that our politicians are not qualified to run the four-year, two-term format of the presidential system we borrowed from America. The moment a president or governor assumes office he is already looking forward to a second term. Even if he is not looking, there are many idle politicians looking on his behalf. As early as one year into former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term of office, his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, was already preparing to take over from him in 2003.
That was when the then Minister for Works, Tony Anenih, who had become Obasanjo’s political handyman, announced there was no vacancy in Aso Villa in 2003. From that moment, the fight was on. Also six months after he was elected Governor of Kaduna State, posters of Namadi Sambo appeared all over the state announcing: Daram dam dam 2011, which we were told meant something like: “There is no vacancy in the Government House in 2011”. How was Sambo to know he would not be needing the Government House in Kaduna in 2011?
I did overhear the President during the campaigns promising to bring up constitutional reform within six months of assuming office. I am hoping this Bill will contain more sweeping changes that would reduce drastically the cost of governance and enhance service delivery in all three tiers of governmental function. It seems too early for us to start talking about constitutional reform, though, when we have not seen what the Federal Government intends to do about the economy, especially power, infrastructure and the unemployment situations.
There should be a national agenda for constitutional review. What do we want to use the amendment of the Constitution to achieve? Apart from reducing distractions and the cost of governance, we must employ constitutional amendment to reinforce our democracy by removing residues of military aberration. One of these is our centralised federalism, whereby so much power is concentrated at the centre and yet the centre has proved unable to tackle most of our basic needs. It has encouraged laziness, idleness and parasitism.
Governments no longer no longer govern; they merely share federal allocation and award contracts. This was a military legacy. We must go back to the economic practices of the pre-independence and First Republic periods when the Regions were the hub of economic activities, which generated so much competition and made Nigeria a country with so much promising future.
We are waiting to see the rest of the constitutional amendment document GEJ will send to the National Assembly to know how serious he is about “transformation”.
JB should give back a little
FOR a very long time, I have meant to complain about the nation’s foremost construction company, Julius Berger PLC, but for the fact that they are next door neighbour to Vanguard I painfully held back. But with the situation of things along the Oshodi–Apapa Expressway, every governmental and non-governmental factor connected with the criminal neglect is now under focus.
Since August 1965 when it made a lasting impression on the Nigerian government with the construction of the Eko Bridge, Julius Berger’s growth has been in leaps and bounds. It followed up with the construction of most of the highly impressive flyovers in the Lagos metropolis. Perhaps the most astonishing piece of construction engineering that JB has ever put down in Nigeria is the 11.8 kilometre Third Mainland (or some say Ibrahim Babangida) Bridge, Lagos.
I also remember how former President Babangida sent the company to Niger State, especially Minna in 1987, to reconstruct roads and bridges in his hometown in preparation for his eventual homecoming. Julius Berger, which is hardly a serious brand in its native Germany, has made its fortune in Nigeria in 46 years of lucrative business because no challenge seems too big for it to overcome.
For many Nigerians, JB’s signpost on a contract site is often a sign that the government actually means to do a quality job.
But in recent times, I have seen the JB signpost on jobs that soon fell apart. You will also remember the Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport runway contract scandal in which the company quoted an outrageous N72 billion, but eventually got it for N63.8 billion. Following a whistle-blowing, a presidential committee brought the bill down to N49.6 billion.
Meanwhile, a rival company had bid to do the job for N30 billion. The job was eventually aborted. I have just been reliably told that the whole Asaba International Airport was constructed by the Delta State Government with the sum of N17 billion! The new Minister of Aviation, Stella Odua Ogiemwonyi, recently described it as “a masterpiece”. And it was done by an indigenous company!
For all its successes, Julius Berger is rarely named in corporate social responsibility, CSR, endeavours. It has long disbanded its football team. The level of this company’s insensitivity is being demonstrated over its neglect of the collapsed sections of the roads and bridges in its immediate vicinity here in Apapa.
Minor holes are allowed to develop into craters and JB’s heavy trucks and tankers languish on these portions of the road along with others. A little remedial filling of the holes to help society could alleviate everybody’s suffering until (and if) the Federal Government wakes up to its responsibility of fixing the roads and bridges in Lagos. JB has not given back just a little to Nigeria for all this nation has done for it!
THE Saudi U-20 team to the World Youth Championship in predominantly Catholic Colombia has demanded with impunity the demolition of a cute old church because it is directly in front of the Las Camelias Hotel Campestre! They did not even ask to be relocated to another hotel or to a section away from the church.
Can you imagine going to a Muslim country and demanding for the demolition of a mosque for any reason!
Unfortunately, it is this type of irrational mindset that our own countrymen copy. In the mid 1985s Muslims demanded for the removal of a cross because it was situated near a site where a mosque was to be built at the University of Ibadan.
The cross and its chapel had been there for over 50 years. When you see some evils happening in our country, especially when it concerns religion, it was copied from somewhere out there.