Can six-year single term check Nigeria’s bad governance?
May 6, 2013 | 9:18 am| | | Start Conversation
The game of politics in Nigeria is a serious one. Players make it a do-or-die affair. It is a winner-takes-all business. A lot of money is involved, and with all the wheeling and dealing, credible citizens are scared away. It is regarded as a dirty game only played by the rugged. In most cases, transparency is a hard commodity. Little wonder the country continues to mark time several years after Independence.
In the words of Alphonsus (ABC) Nwosu, a former Health minister: “Good people are running away from politics. They say it’s dirty and so scallywags have come into politics. The result? We now have scallywag politicians, scallywag policies, scallywag public service.”
Since the return of the country in 1999 to civil rule, much infrastructural developments have not been recorded. Citizens complain that their lives have not been positively impacted.
Despite the complaints, most governors elected on different political platforms have always done two terms of eight years (four years apiece). The country’s 1999 Constitution (as amended) allows for two terms for elected president and governors of the 36 states.
Ordinarily, any system that could check the agitation over re-election is welcome. This is the calculation behind the proposed single term of six years.
However, like most things Nigerian, such a system which works in some other climes may be misapplied here.
It was against this backdrop that the proposal for a single term of six-years beginning from 2015 by President Goodluck Jonathan shortly after the inauguration of his administration drew flak.
When President Jonathan made the proposal, members of the opposition screamed foul; they alleged that he was up to certain mischief.
Although the President said he would not be a beneficiary of the proposed system, various political groups and other civil society associations were virulent in their condemnation.
However, the recommendation last week by the Senate Constitution Review Committee for a single six-year term in office for president, vice president, governors and deputy governors, may have given strong indication that Jonathan’s suggestion may be considered after all.
Hard to let go
Although it appeared that the bill he sent to the National Assembly in 2011 on the subject matter was not being considered favourably, President Jonathan was also undaunted by the avalanche of criticism that greeted the proposal. In November 2012, during his quarterly media chat, he insisted that the four-year tenure was too short for either an elected president or governor to make any impact.
“Four years is too short a time for someone to make an impact. If you look at the African scenario, that is the shortest. In Africa, tenure varies from four to seven years. We operate four years which is the least because we copied our system from that of America”, he said.
President Jonathan believes that a single six-year term would liberate presidents and governors from the pressures and temptations of politics. Instead of worrying about re-election, they would be free to do only what was best for the country.
But pundits believe that the desire for re-election drives presidents and governors to do things they would not ordinarily do; and that it leads them to make easy promises and to postpone hard decisions.
The South Korean example
Jonathan may have studied the South Korean system and how the country has been faring very well with its single term of five years. The country climbed from the lowest rung of a badly run government and economy to the highest rung on the ladder of one of the world’s leading economies. Today, South Korea can be said to be a model for countries aspiring to get out of poor leadership bracket.
A brief history of political life of Korea show that the natives lived under a dynastic system until 1910. After liberation from Japanese colonisation in 1945, the southern half of the peninsula was occupied by the United States and the northern half by the Soviet military until 1948, when two Koreas emerged. Reports have it that since then, South Korea is said to have travelled a rocky road in its political development from autocratic governments to a more democratic state, amending its constitution nine times in the wake of tumultuous political events such as the Korean War, the April Revolution of 1960, the 1961 and 1979 military coups, the 1980 Kwangju uprising, and the 1987 democracy movement. The government has maintained a presidential system except in 1960–1961, when a parliamentary system was in place.
In South Korea, government power is shared by three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The Constitutional Court and the National Election Commission also perform governing functions. The executive branch is under the preside nt as the head of state. The president is elected by popular vote for a single five-year term.
A complex environment
Unlike South Korea, Nigeria is a complex state with diverse people that pay more allegiance to their ethnic leanings than they do to the country as an entity.
It has been argued that single term would still lead to rigging, as the incumbent would do everything possible to install a successor to protect the misdeed of his administration.
According to a critic, “Single term is not the problem of Nigeria; the problem of Nigeria is leadership. That is the problem that we have, which we need to talk about. Talking about single term is a distraction. We need to talk about pertinent things that affect the life of the people, not single or two terms. I think the four-year two-term is better, so that, if somebody does not perform, you vote that person out.”
Although President Jonathan insisted that neither he nor any current governor would benefit from the six-year single term, he was not able to convince the citizens because of the past experience of Nigerians, and the allegation that their leaders have become serial liars.
An analyst said if the reason for the proposal is to eliminate rigging, some recent experiences in Edo and Ondo States’ gubernatorial elections have shown that Nigerians have become more politically aware today than they were some years ago. According to the pundit, rigging in Nigerian elections would soon become a thing of the past.
“There is growing awareness in voting. The issue of rigging and stealing peoples’ mandate would soon fade away. For me, keeping a bad leader for six years is worse because we know that if you are not good, people will vote you out. Some people were voted out in the West. So, a time will come when a bad leader would be voted out, whether you are an incumbent or not. So, we should not bother ourselves on that issue; we should face real problems like unemployment and security. Those are the pressing problems,” the analyst said.
It has also been said that “a single tenure will encourage corruption because beneficiaries will know that it is a one-off thing and will, therefore, do what they like, knowing that they will not come back.”
Hardly had the Senate recommendation became public than a pro-North socio-political group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), picked holes in it.
According to the group, “The attention of Arewa Consultative Forum has been drawn to the reported recommendations for provision in the constitution for a single tenure of six years for president and governors by the Senate.
“Such a provision is counter-productive because it cannot further the cause of good governance that comes with purposeful leadership, especially when regard is paid to the fact that it lacks the basic elements of motivation and incentives needed in any management of human affairs.”
The views of ACF, conveyed in a statement signed by Anthony Sani, national publicity secretary, further faulted that in the “single-tenure system, there are no incentives, motivation and reward for excellent performance. And this is because the good, the not-so-good and the feckless are grouped together without any distinction. Such practice cannot deliver on good management. And that may explain why most countries in the world practice multiple tenure systems which enable leaders to aspire for excellence in the hope of reward by way of re-election.”
The organisation futher said: “Countries devise their own ways of curtailing incumbency abuses. While developed democracies have mobilised their citizens to make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure their votes count, some developing countries have sand bags placed on the path of abuse of incumbency. For example, Chile has multiple tenures which are not consecutive. That is to say, no candidate is allowed to conduct elections in which he is a candidate. And that was why the extremely popular president in the person of Madam Michel could not contest the last presidential elections in Chile.”
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