By Afe Babalola
Last week I began an examination of the long standing debate on the desirability of abandoning the current four year tenure in favour of a single seven or six year tenure. I stated the fact that the current four year tenure and the need for re-election brings about too much distraction to the incumbent. I referred to the ongoing preparations for the elections and the resultant effect it has had on the day to day running of some states in which the Governors have for several months devoted their entire attention to issues of re-election.
Criticism of the idea of the single six-year tenure
However the idea of a single six year tenure has attracted a lot of criticism here in Nigeria and beyond. For example following the comments of President Jonathan which I reproduced last week, many questioned not really the feasibility of the idea but the sincerity of the proponents of the idea including Governors who stood to benefit directly from the adoption of the single six year tenure. On the other hand, there are those who have opposed the idea of a single six-year tenure based on available data and empirical evidence. In this category is one Dr Emmaneul Ojameruaye who conducted a survey of 165 countries based on the term limit of the Presidents. In his “Political Instability Index” Zimbabwe which operates a five-year term was listed as number one with a score of 8.8 points while Nigeria occupied the 44th position. Reference was also made to countries such as Philippine and Mexico which also operate single six-year term Presidencies. It was argued that the instability experienced by these countries is indicative of the fact that a single six-year term is not a guarantee of stability in the polity. In an article titled ‘Against a One-Term 6-Year President’ Arthur Schlesinger Jr stated as follows:
The one-term limitation, as Gouverneur Morris, final draftsman of the Constitution, persuaded the convention, would ‘’destroy the great motive to good behavior,’’ which is the hope of re-election. A President, said Oliver Ellsworth, another Founding Father, ‘’should be re-elected if his conduct prove worthy of it. And he will be more likely to render himself worthy of it if he be rewardable with it.’’
Few things have a more tonic effect on a President’s sensitivity to public needs and hopes than the desire for re-election. ‘’A President immunized from political considerations,’’ Clark Clifford told the Senate Judiciary Committee when it was considering the proposal some years ago, ‘’is a President who need not listen to the people, respond to majority sentiment or pay attention to views that may be diverse, intense and perhaps at variance with his own. . . . Concern for one’s own political future can be a powerful stimulus to responsible and responsive performance in office.’’
Situation in Nigeria is unique
I am aware of the view of those who argue that a single term limit will be undemocratic as it will deny the electorate the opportunity of rejecting or rewarding the president who has performed well at the end of his first term of 4-year. This may well be so in other countries where the political system is sufficiently sophisticated as to allow the holding of the notion that performance or non-performance will indeed play a role in the political fortunes of the incumbent. However, what we have in Nigeria is a situation in which factors such as religion, ethnicity, corruption and poverty play large roles in enthroning leaders.
Godfatherism is one of such factors which I have discussed in the past. Godfatherism ensures that the politician who has enjoyed the support of another person to attain public office will spend an appreciable part of this tenure trying to ‘repay’ the kindness of his godfather. In some cases, a politician will even owe his electoral victory to not just one but indeed several godfathers and political supporters whose support he must reward in one form or another.
Gale of negotiations and appointments
Therefore, most governors upon assumption of office spend the first year of their four year tenure deciding who to appoint as commissioners and members of parastatals and boards out of many recommended by their political benefactors. After this gale of negotiations and appointments, the Governors spend just a year attending fully to their duties and at the start of their third year in office begin preparation for their re-elections.
Furthermore facts abound showing that the need for re-election actually motivates some Political holders from postponing unpopular decisions to their second term in office by which time they will no longer need the Electorate. In the months preceding the November 2012 Elections in which President Obama sought and won re-election, America was involved in delicate talks with Russia over US plans for anti-missile shield. Owing to the history of the relationship between the two countries, it was evident that any error on the issue would have consequences on the chances of President Obama’s re-election.
Request for space and time
Bearing this in mind, President Obama stated the following to the then outgoing President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev at a public function: “this is my last election…… after my election I have more flexibility.”The then Russian President responded that he understood Obama’s request for space and time till after the elections and that he would relay his message to the then incoming Russian President, Vladmir Putin. Whilst Obama felt he was speaking these words in private, unknown to him, his microphone had not been switched off and it was heard by a White House pool of television journalist and Russian. Here was the President of the United States admitting openly that he would prefer to defer certain steps or decisions till after the election irrespective of whether or not an immediate resolution of the talks would be in the overall interest of the Country. The opposition in the US understandably made this error a campaign issue but luckily for Obama, it did not affect his chances in the subsequent elections.
I have referred to the above incident to show that those who argue that a President who has a single tenure will not be accountable to the public for the simple reason that he would not need re-election are wrong. The way out of the problems continually caused by the ambition of our political office holders for re-election is an adoption of a single six-year tenure.