Single Term: To be or not to be?

Nwachukwu Egbunike

The sea of the nation’s polity has never been calm. With the ripples generated by Boko Haram and Islamic banking, Nigeria’s shores have been violently assaulted. In the midst of this President Goodluck Jonathan released a press statement on his intention to send a Bill to the National Assembly to amend the constitutional tenure provisions for elected public servants. This of course has widened the ruckus in the public square, with many for and against.

A note on the president’s Facebook page runs thus:

“President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is to send a Constitution amendment Bill to the National Assembly that will that will provide a single tenure for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Governors of the 36 states of the Federation.  In the envisaged Bill, the tenure of members of the National and State Assemblies will also be a little more than four years, although lawmakers will still be eligible for re-election as their constituencies may determine.”

Goodluck’s Goodwill?

The president insists that this proposed amendment is not self-serving but

“is borne out of a patriotic zeal, after a painstaking study and belief that the constitutionally guaranteed two terms for Presidents and Governors is not helping the focus of Governance and institutionalization of democracy at this stage of our development. A longer term for lawmakers would also help to stabilize the polity.”

He went ahead to note that the bile that flows from elections spills with much distaste. The effect of political violence is staggering and the cost is becoming too much for the country to afford every four years. In what shows Goodluck’s goodwill like no other is his insistence that:

“If the proposed amendment is accepted by the National Assembly, the President assures that he will not in any way be a beneficiary.”

No sooner had this pronouncement was dispersed, the motley of opposition sounded loud and clear. The answer was a deafening no! Mr Goodluck once again was forced to clarify his stance and this time he said that it was not his idea rather a position adopted by political parties while he was still the vice president.

Free to Speak and to Oppose

Mr Jonathan is angry that the upheaval against the proposed amendment is a thrust to deny him his freedom of speech. However, our president seems to have forgotten that democracy is about ‘you talk your own, I talk my own’. No one possess a divine monopoly to wisdom, even amidst the cacophony of nonsense, sense can be drawn out.

Our president is also startled that a few consultations he had made with some people seem not to have pacified the crowd. It is trite to remind Mr Goodluck that Nigerians elected him, they voted for him on his personal merit and not because his was the mast carrier of the PDP. As such, while the opposition parties can afford to play politics with the tenure wahala, ordinary Nigerians want a better life and they are getting impatient.

Where does this stand within the ‘fresh air’ we were promised? Electricity is still an illusion; our roads are littered with treacherous craters; the life of the common Nigerian is worth less than a kobo; people are buttered like cows in the name of God. This is certainly not the deal we expected. Also is it not proper that those who voted should have a say in the length of our elected people?

The issue of tinkering with the tenure of the president and governors obviously drew the ire of Nigerians. Memories of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s ‘third term’ agenda are rather fresh. The nation was almost thrown on a war path by the perceived overt ambition of Mr Obasanjo to stay more than his due in Aso Rock. The battle ranged not only in the media but also between followers of Obasanjo and Akitu Abubakar, his vice president.  The plot was squashed in the Senate and the rest as they say is history.

As such it no surprise, the angst against Jonathans proposition. Nigerians, to put it bluntly, are cynical of their leaders. They have been betrayed a thousand times that they would not take the word of any political leader for anything. As such, no matter the public relations intervention that Mr Jonathan may adopt, the court of public opinion may never accept his proposal nor admit his good intentions.

How can they? Mr Jonathan is barely three months in office and is already flying the flag of not having enough time. With the myriad of kasala, what makes him think that any human being would be able to solve all of them even if he is granted a twenty-year-tenure? The issue at stake is not about time but the courage to do more and talk less. Besides, government is a continuum; Mr Jonathan should not expect to solve all our problems during his reign.

This tenure elongation tastes like a retirement plan. It seems to put to flesh the position of most that Mr Jonathan has no rudder. This insinuation was partly confirmed with the composition of his federal cabinet. The assembly of people there paints a portrait of a settlement team – save Mrs Okonjo Iwela and Professor Bath Nnaji – the others inspire no confidence.

Someone has to remind our dear president to fix his attention on the four year period that we have granted him. If he still wants any other confirmation that it not a matter of time but guts, he should sneak more often into Lagos. Babatunde Fashola created this transformation in only four years. There one sees, smells and tastes a real transformation agenda.

Mr Jonathan must realise that he is totally on his own on insisting that he would not benefit from the largess of a single term. I stand to be corrected, but many of his colleagues will jump at it. For one, it would be a looting jamboree. If the horrid stench of corruption has upturned this much, just imagine an interrupted single term? Heaven help us!

Nonetheless, let us wait for the National Assembly, though I do not expect much from them. Their incestuous romance with the executive is an open secret. And since they would be direct beneficiaries it would take a saintly courage for them to reject this offer. However, no matter what happens, Mr Jonathan should realise that he is stretching his good luck with Nigerians too far. The man whose house is on fire does not chase rats!

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