Every President’s public life reveals. It provides an unusual opportunity for understanding the interplay between personality, institutions and what he does with the Constitution which is the ground rule of the country. Three years in office, I don’t think anybody needs to tell somebody about President Muhammadu Buhari’s character, his preferred methods of acquiring power and of using that power, his personal strengths and weaknesses. All of these can be viewed in different contexts. Altogether, they provide an invaluable look at both the dynamics of power and the changing structure of our political system, at least in the last 19 years,if not more.
For some time now, President Buhari has fallen prey to a besetting fault of his administration. His fiercest critics never stop to accuse him of nepotism and for over-reaching himself in the use of power against perceived enemies. And in recent months, some retired Generals from his old military constituency have not spared him of scathing criticism. One of them, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo last week alleged that the President plans to frame him up,and possibly throw him into jail. How time and circumstance change. But the President’s handlers see these attacks on him as distraction.
Distraction or no distraction, one thing is clear: The presidency is not a prize to be won; it’s a duty to perform. Last week, the President made far-reaching decisions that may go down as some of his great accomplishments. These landmark decisions come as the Constitution Fourth Alteration Bill, which by the President’s signature have become an Act or law, immediately. The first of these is Bill 16. The intent is to ensure that where a vice president succeeds an incumbent president, or a Deputy governor succeeds the governor, he cannot contest for the office more than one term.
By implication, if the law was in place before Umaru Yar’Adua took office as President in 2007, Dr.Goodluck Jonathan wouldn’t have had the opportunity to contest the 2015 presidential election after completing Yar’Adua’s tenure and contesting in 2011 which he won. As we all know,the tenure of a president or governor, can be aborted by misfortune of death, resignation or removal from office under Section 143 of the Constitution, whichever one applies.
The law as it affects the Vice president and Deputy governor is lifted almost verbatim from the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. It sets term limits for elected president. It was passed by the American Congress on March 21,1947 and was later ratified by the requisite number of States on February 27,1951.
Presidential aide to the National Assembly Matters(Senate),Sen.Ita Enang, also explained other amendments to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended) which the President signed last Friday. This includes autonomy to State Houses of Assembly and the Judiciary. This means that henceforth, funds appropriated for these two arms of government will go directly to them. The ‘old order’ whereby the state legislatures and the judiciary are financially starved by state governors has stopped forthwith. I see a wave of euphoria sweeping the states. That financial Independence means the State Houses of Assembly and the judiciary can no longer be the apron strings of state governors. They can now carry out their constitutional duties without fear of been a clay in the porter’s hand. That has been their experience in the hands of overbearing governors.
The President also signed Bills 9 and 21(now Act). Bill 9 has increased the time that the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) requires to conduct by-election in case of vacancy, from the present seven days, to 21 days. In similar vein, Constitution Amendment 21will reduce the duration for determining pre-election matters in courts. The intent is to ensure that such cases do not linger unnecessarily as have been the case since the present democratic dispensation.
Altogether, these amendments are necessary for our democracy. The timing is right. It’s a brilliant display of leadership and political skill. And, I asked:Why has the President been ‘sleeping’ all this while? With the Not-too-young- to run Bill(now an Act), and the declaration of June 12 as the new “Democracy Day”, Buhari’s finest hour may be on the horizon after a dismal record of three years. Of all the new laws, lawyers say it’s only “June 12” as Democracy Day that he needs the approval of the National Assembly. If it were not so, you can bet this National Assembly will never see them materialise.
And today, we will witness a new impetus to June 12. Some people who were regarded the face of June 12, including prominent members of the Social Democratic Party(SDP), on which the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential poll,Chief MKO Abiola contested the annulled election, are already in Abuja on the invitation of the presidency for photo opportunity as special awards to commemorate the Day.
But at some point in the weeks and months ahead as we approach the 2019 elections, criticism or otherwise, of the president’s action,the real reasons behind all of President’s action, will likely grow louder.
Whatever anyone may say concerning this president, that he lacks management skills that a president needs to make things happen for the country, the decisions of the past week could put him in a vantage position going into 2019, provided there’s no hinged,unforeseen events that could scupper his re-election bid.
The truth is that the anger and bitterness in many parts of the country, including the division within his own party,may present Buhari with a task of leadership more difficult than he had ever faced before. I think he knows this and will be living in denial to believe as some of his aides are often bragging that it will be an easy road for him to repeat the feat of 2015.
Nonetheless, if he must win again (I think he can pull it off in a pyrrhic way), he must recognise the threat of public disaffection and the dissidents within his own party. It’s high time the president and his aides knew this, that while the Constitution Alterations may give him some political mileage, a President’s authority comes from a public belief in his right and ability to govern,and to be fair and just to all, irrespective of political persuasions or other considerations. Time is fast running out. And the depth of public discontent is growing louder every day.