By Fosoye Odofin
In the build-up to the 2019 elections in Nigeria, power brokers, political aspirants and the voters have already commenced the process of building strategic short and long-term alliances. In Lagos State, one of the core areas in focus is the senatorial elections across the three senatorial districts: Lagos East, Lagos West and Lagos Central. It is the intention of this author to, via this piece, examine a number of issues surrounding the Lagos East senatorial district elections, the incumbent (Senator ‘Gbenga Ashafa), his contenders and other matters on multiple terms and the case for and against it.
The issue of multiple terms is not new in Nigeria’s politics. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo took it to new heights when he was alleged to infamously “coerce” both willing and unwilling senators in his failed bid to secure a third presidential term. However, the issue of term limits does not apply to Nigerian legislators as long as they emerge successful every election cycle. Proponents of term limit believe that it helps to improve dynamism in governance and administration as there is no shortage of capable people willing to serve in government. More specifically, they believe that term limits will allow lawmakers tread unpopular policy paths for the benefit of the people without any fear of “repercussions” or “consequences” from voters at the next election.
Now contrast this with my assertion that allowing lawmakers (some of them, though) to spend more time on the job creates a fortified knowledge base for them to learn and navigate the maze of rules, precedents and procedures unique to policy making in the senate. Senator ‘Gbenga Ashafa may well be on the last lap of his second term of four years but when you match his time in the senate with the number of welfare-oriented constituency projects domiciled in Lagos East and the multi-billion-dollar infrastructural projects attracted to Lagos East by him, it becomes necessary to realize that those calling for him to stand down don’t mean well for the collective.
The author maintains that a third term of four years is important to the people of Lagos East senatorial district. The forfeiture of eight years hard-earned experience, network and goodwill will only ensure that the newbie spends his/her time undergoing training, acquiring legislative acumen and building contacts afresh – a process that almost always takes the better part of the first four years. Even when such a person has excellent aides that lead the charge in pushing policy direction, it is often the senator-to-senator interactions that coagulate a bill’s final details, smoothens rough edges, build coalitions for the collective good, and ultimately get such legislation passed.
Take, for example, the recent passage of the National Transport Commission Bill by the Nigerian Senate. The bill had languished in the senate since 2008 until the current version of the bill sponsored by Senator Andy Uba was referred to the Joint Senate Committee of Land Transport, Marine Transport and Aviation Transport, chaired by Senator Gbenga Ashafa. Such a far-reaching partnership is largely due in no small part to the long service history of the senators involved. Term limits would have severely hindered the opportunity for these essential relationships to develop. A “first term” senator’s understandable paranoia does not afford him the flexibility to readily trust and rely on his colleagues, particularly from other parties.
Perhaps the strongest argument constantly put forward by citizens as it concerns tenure limits for senators and members of the House of Representatives is the potential of such a change to continuously “weed” out corrupt tendencies in those who may have served past their prime, become complacent and lethargic. Whilst it is not the intention of this author to insinuate that there aren’t many good and bright people with the capacity for public service in Lagos East senatorial district, it is important to remember that the enactment and implementation of successful legislations by even the most experienced lawmakers’ is so challenging and fraught with executive and legislative bottlenecks.
If there is any contender (against Senator Gbenga Ashafa) who wishes to throw his hat in the ring either at the APC primaries or in the general elections next year, such a person must do so from a perspective of strength. Asking an incumbent senator to stand down after serving two terms of four years for reasons such as “It is our turn” or “Let another person enter” is a sheer display of weakness in thought and personality. We the people should not also succumb to the gimmick of power-desperate politicians who sit in their homes and mandate effective and seasoned lawmakers to stand down. Instead, as voters and constituents, we should rely on the most effective mechanism available to ensure that those doing the job are retained: the power of the ballot.
*Odofin, a public affairs commentator writes from Surulere