By Afe Babalola
With the gradual approach of the 2019 elections, I have discussed several issues connected to the enthronement of a true democratic culture such as the need to ensure credibility of candidates of political parties, constant defection of politicians and the absence of identifiable ideologies of political parties. However, some developments with such defections and the skewed process of nomination of candidates have remained constant. In several cases, most of the problems have been linked to the desire of political office holders to seek re-election. A few days ago, a notable politician was reported to have cautioned governors against imposing themselves on the party in the states for the purpose of seeking election to the Senate. What therefore is clear, is that the average politician in Nigeria hardly contemplates life outside public office and therefore will do virtually anything to either remain in office or seek election into another office thereby continually heating up the political atmosphere. It is for similar reasons that some Nigerians have over the years called for a limit to the terms which the President and Governors may serve in office. As I will discuss, those who hold this view may not be entirely wrong in identifying the desire of occupants of both offices to remain in office as one that should bring about an amendment to the constitution.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) limits the period which any individual can serve as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to two terms of 4years each. This provision is similar to those that exist in the laws of numerous countries such as the United States of America, Ghana, Iraq, Taiwan etc. Some other countries like Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Madagascar etc. have two term limits of 5 years whilst others such as Algeria, Cambodia, Singapore and Sri Lanka have unlimited term limits. In Nigeria there has been a clamour for a change in the term limits provided by the Constitution. During his first media chat, former President Goodluck Jonathan GCFR proposed a single term of 6 years on the grounds that re-election activities cause a lot of unnecessary distraction. In his words;
“Every four years you conduct elections, you create so much tension in the political environment. As we are talking, some people are busy holding meetings for the 2015 elections. It creates series of confusion in the political environment. I am not saying that single tenure, alone, will bring one hundred per cent stability. There is no political system that is one hundred per cent stable, you must have some tension. That was why I came up with that.”
Whilst the comments of the former President attracted a lot of debate with some attributing it to a desire for tenure elongation events continue to show that there is a need for an urgent re-appraisal of the current four year term limit for President and Governors of the States.
The coming elections at the State and Federal levels have generated immense interest and palpable tension in the Country. That this is so can hardly be disputed when it is considered that many Governors have right from the date of their swearing-in begun planning for their re-election. At the presidential level itself, the question of whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari would contest the election pervaded the political atmosphere for several months. As the period for selection of candidates by political parties as stipulated by the Electoral Act draw near, activities in several states will come to a halt as many state functionaries including commissioners and ministers at the Federal level will become engrossed with issues pertaining to the coming elections.
Political office holders and their functionaries
As the dates of the elections continued to draw near so will political office holders and their functionaries pay less attention to their official duties and will rather concentrate their energy on seeking re-election. In the run-up to the 2015 elections, members of the National Assembly were at a point all busy in their respective constituencies scheming to retain the tickets of their parties forgetting their Constitutional duties of law making. I do not see how it will be different this time round. The result is that important matters which require attention will be left unattended to. Thus ministers who should daily supervise the implementation of important government policies will be busy running campaigns. One can only wonder at the effects such will have on the country in the short and long term.
I therefore believe, that particularly in the case of Nigeria that the term limits provided in the Constitution need urgent reappraisal. According to French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville: “The desire to be re-elected is the chief aim of the President; that the whole policy of his administration, and even his most indifferent measures, tend to this object.” Because of re-election, the President must always consider the political implications of a decision in addition to the decision’s actual intrinsic value. As a result, much of what the President says and does in his or her first term can be dismissed by critics as motivated by the desire to retain the presidency—and reasonably so. According to former President Jimmy Carter of the United States of America, an advocate for a single six-year term, a president with no prospect of re-election has greater credibility and moral authority.
VIEWS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
Interestingly, the debate as to the efficiency of the two term limits is not particular to Nigeria alone. In an article titled ‘Make the US Presidency a Single 6-year Term’ Jasper Nathaniel stated as follows:
“Less than two years into President Barack Obama’s first term, talk of the 2012 presidential election is already upon us. In addition to his presidential duties, Obama must now begin preparing a massive re-election campaign, potentially taking his attention away from the country’s business. This is why some have suggested that we eliminate re-elections by creating a single, six-year presidential term—a solution first proposed and rejected at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
As head of state, chief diplomat and legislator, and Commander-in-Chief, the President’s plate is always overfilled. Factor in frequent unanticipated problems and the demands of the job can become insufferably large. “To run for re-election in the midst of this can best be described as an unreasonable addition,” says University of Texas presidential politics scholar Bruce Buchanan. The actual issues that the President was elected to deal with miss out on a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources and “the re-election period ultimately becomes a diverting experience for the President.”
I believe that the points made above are very much applicable to the situation in Nigeria today. Next week I will consider some views which have been advocated against the introduction of the single six or seven year tenure.
To be continued.