A high point of President Muhammadu Buhari’s New Year 2020 message was his pledge to “stand down” when his second term expires in 2023. This has sparked off a controversy.
The question is: how relevant is this undertaking within the context of the nation’s political experience?
The Constitution grants presidents and governors two maximum terms of four years each, after which they will no longer be eligible to contest for those offices. To those who do not understand Nigeria’s history, the pledge by Buhari to quit at the end of eight years is unnecessary.
Curiously, the promise, which is being made for the third time since Buhari was declared the winner of the 2019 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is not even enough to lay the speculation of a third term agenda to rest.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003, he reassured his party chiefs that he would not contest elections again. That did not stop him and his supporters from attempting to amend the 1999 Constitution to accommodate tenure extension for presidents and governors.
That attempt was aborted at the Senate following the massive rejection of it by the people. Till date, Obasanjo continues to deny making any such attempt.
Political observers are worried that the weakening of vital pillars of democracy, the legislature and the judiciary, and the constriction of democratic space in the last four years are preparations for an easier passage to a tenure elongation.
Worthy of particular mention were the manner of removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, and his replacement by Tanko Mohammed; and also the enthronement of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.
They have already pledged to grant “any request” from him.
Some support groups have been mobilising, especially in the North, where a campaign has been launched to ensure that the presidency remains in the region after 2023. A member of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, APC, from Ebonyi has also filed a court case seeking the amendment of the Constitution to remove tenure limits for presidents and governors.
In spite of Buhari’s serial pledges, Nigerians have every justification to be worried, vigilant and ready to keep him and his supporters to two terms only.
The President may have neutralised the institutions of checks and balances in our democracy. But he cannot neutralise Nigerians if they demonstrate iron-clad determination, as they did several times in the past, to enforce the 1999 Constitution as it is.