We have been told that the Presidency is losing sleep over the proposal from the Senate for a single six-year tenure for the president and governors. We are told that the Presidency is concerned about how this proposal will affect the bid by President Goodluck Jonathan for another term of four years.
Indeed, the received feeling within the Presidency is that Jonathan is the target of the constitutional amendment. They are therefore fretting. They are taking steps to ensure that the constitutional amendment does not achieve its supposed objective.
But I do not think that the Presidency needs to fret or lose sleep over the proposal. This is because the move will not go far. It will, like others before it, dissipate into thin air. It is just a flight of fancy; an idea meant to give the impression that the Committee on the Amendment of the 1999 Constitution is up- and- doing.
Anybody who has been following the predilection and preferences of the National Assembly on constitutional amendment cannot but disregard the noise being made over tenure. Let us recall that the constitution amendment committees of both chambers of the National Assembly, last year, did so much in the area of constitution amendment. It was this that led to what the House of Representatives called People’s Public Sessions. The exercise gave the people of Nigeria, including those at the grassroots, the opportunity to say what their preferences are.
Even though some people have faulted the process and have even insinuated that its outcome was manipulated by the committee, the fact remains that public sessions took place and people submitted memoranda. Some others came forward to say what they wanted. Obviously, a single tenure of six years for the president and the governors was not one of the things Nigerians said they wanted. If the outcome of the sessions as released by the House should be taken seriously, then we should not have a situation where something that runs counter to it should be emanating from either arm of the National Assembly.
Besides, it is a well known fact that the National Assembly is yet to act on the result of the public sessions. Since this is the case, why do we need another round of proposals that will only add to the long list that we already have? If this does not suggest lack of seriousness by those proposing the single six-year tenure, I wonder what else it is.
Even though I feel that the approach adopted by the House last year made the business of constitutional review somewhat people-oriented, I also emphasized the fact that we need not be inundated with innumerable items for amendment. I have always argued that what the National Assembly owes Nigerians is not to itemize inconsequential constitutional provisions for amendment. Rather, it should isolate one or two big issues that have not worked well for the country and tinker with them.
For instance, why is it that the National Assembly cannot take the bull by the horns and enthrone a Federal structure that will work? Nigerians who know what federalism actually means have never ceased to emphasize the fact that ours is not truly a federal arrangement. The counterfeit of a federation that we have has remained a major source of instability and mutual suspicion among the constituent groups. If we are practising a true federal system, there will be no need for something called “Federal Character”. We even have a commission to back such an aberration up. In our own federation, the government at the centre has all the powers to ride roughshod over the smaller constituents. The definition of roles is such that the federal government can afford to circumvent the constitution and act ultra vires. True federal systems do not admit of such aberrations.
In a true federal arrangement, revenue allocation and derivation principle are settled issues. States do not give up their resources to a national government to share. We know how contentious these issues have been. Yet those who should tinker with our constitution to correct the anomalies behave as if the problems are not there. Instead, they toe the line of least resistance. But side-tracking contentious national issues do not solve anything. Rather, it compounds them. The National Assembly can therefore save the people of Nigeria from trivial indulgences and deal with issues that matter.
We should then ask: does the tenure of the president and the governors matter? What really is the problem with the existing renewable four-year tenure? So far, Nigerians of whatever persuasion have never had cause to worry about the four-year tenure. Our ugly experience as a country does not include the tenure of our presidents or governors. What is the case instead is that there is some attraction in a president or governor knowing that he can aspire to come back for a second time if he does the right thing or plays the right politics. Such a possibility keeps elected executives on their toes. It reminds them that there is still politics to play or service to render after the first tenure.
It is also a well known fact that a few public office holders who did well in office did so during their first terms. They did so largely in anticipation of reward. That reward is the reelection they got. The possibility of a second term is therefore an incentive to work hard. It is a reminder that politics or service does not begin and end with the first shot.
In politics, a period of eight years is certainly not too long to have a government in place. This is especially so if such a government is doing well. When the reverse is the case, such governments stand the risk of being voted out. We know that given the imperfections that abound in the system we operate, a good many do manage to get a second term either by hook or crook. But there are also cases of governments who lost their bid for reelection on account of their poor outing during their first tenures. Thus, returning for a second term is usually a herculean task whether such governments are doing will or not. In other words, such return tickets are not easy to come by. The beauty and toughness of politics can be found in this complex mix.
So, what purpose is a non-renewable single tenure supposed to serve? The arguments put forward are too unsustainable to merit any space here. They rankle with illogicalities. Those who are advocating it must be reminded that the arrangement makes election, any election, the be all and end all. It makes elections a one-off engagement. Once you grab a chance, you can operate a closed shop. You can proceed with a mindset that will certainly remind you that there is no tomorrow. Your toady will necessarily be your tomorrow. You will not look beyond the immediate. Future projections are useless because a single tenure does not admit of that. To this extent, the single tenure proposal is not attractive.
Then, if the target is to make a 2015 reelection difficult for Jonathan as the Presidency is saying, there is no need for such an indulgence. It certainly will not make sense to amend the constitution for the sake of one man. I do not want to believe that the senate committee is pursuing this narrow objective.
I worry about this because we are too used to raking up muck in this country. We hate to allow the sleeping dog to lie. There is no point trying to erect barriers for Jonathan. Since the president is determined to throw his hat into the political arena, those who are opposed to the idea should step out to slug it out with him. Petty tricks and road blocks should be avoided. If the senate committee means business, it should not be seen to be pursuing an agenda that looks punitive. Let us have an amendment that will target the system, not the present order.