Revisiting Jonathan’s single term proposal

Former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The destination of the presidency will continue to be an issue in Nigerian politics, prompting here another look at the single-term proposal.

Erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal of a single, six-year tenure for president and governor is not seminal but significant nevertheless.

The idea of a single-term enjoys informed opinion and was in fact forcefully presented to the Political Bureau established by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. 

General Olusegun Obasanjo, one honest critic of the politics of the Second Republic (1979-1983) specifically suggested a single-term of six years to the bureau.

The Political Bureau identified with the informed views of many Nigerians regarding the desirability of a single-term presidency in the context of the history and ethnological realities of our nation but the military leadership rejected their recommendations of a single-term of five years in favour of the existing two-terms of four years each. 

It is not as if the recommendation of the Political Bureau would have mattered; the transition engineered by the then military regime was dishonest and led to nothing! 

Be that as it may, the idea of a single-term executive – once or twice approved by the legislative arm of government – continues to be trumpeted by individuals and groups. 

A group of well-informed and well-meaning Nigerians, The Patriots, amplified the idea as did also members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) – in the early years of the current Republic. 

The proposal by President Goodluck Jonathan calls for thorough debate, and its relevance and desirability are being echoed in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

Constitutional limit to the length of time a political leader spends in office is important.

We in Africa know what the pernicious consequences unlimited tenure could be, as elected leaders are transformed into monarchs of some sort. 

Presidential tenure has not been the most contentious issue in the United States of America whose constitutional arrangements inform ours. 

Until Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected president in 1932, it was always assumed that the American president was conventionally limited to two terms in office.

However, Roosevelt was the only American President to have spent more than two terms in office; he died in 1945 during his fourth term. 

His successor, Harry S. Truman, established the Hoover Commission in 1947 to look into the prospect of presidential term limits. 

The outcome was the 22nd Amendment of 1951 which limited the American President to two terms, or a maximum of 10 years where a President had started off by completing the tenure of another. The idea of a one term presidency was however seriously considered in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The two term presidency is rationalised in political or academic argument. It is argued that a second term ensures that a hardworking President has enough time to complete his or her programmes. 

It also serves the purpose of rewarding hard work, as the less successful President is replaced after a term in office. 

These arguments resonate in Nigeria, even when native wisdom should inform us that the nature of one’s political environment is the most important consideration in all of this. 

The political arrangement of Switzerland, the second oldest written constitution after the USA , comes to mind here. 

The fact that one has been limited to a single term in office would not mean that he or she would embrace non-performance as a policy.

It does not mean the president or governor would bring their bed to office and snore away. 

Every individual wants to be remembered for something. In any case, there is always a mechanism – impeachment, for instance,- by which a pathetic President can be removed from office. 

There is also the political party machinery which will not go to sleep while its candidate messes up its prospects in a future election. The single-term presidency is therefore not without its checks and balances!
   
This writer has himself been one advocate of a single-term executive; here are the extracts from the arguments he once advanced in support of this idea “… firstly, when the Executive is not in a position to seek re-election, there will be little or no inducement to use the instrument of state to facilitate electoral fraud. 

This is to say that the President would be wary of any scandal that could tarnish the reputation of his administration … secondly, the President would be induced to devote more of his attention to office, rather than dissipate energy over the question of re-election. 

It is common knowledge that a reasonable part of the first term is devoted to seeking re-election …Thirdly, the President would be more of a father figure advancing the national interest to secure a place for himself in history. 

He may have been elected on the platform of a particular party, he can nevertheless afford to be non-partisan in certain circumstances … finally, a one-term provision could not but be reasonable in Nigerian society where the ethno-regional origin of the national leader would for a very long time be a major issue. 

It would be hypocritical not to acknowledge this (see Anthony Akinola, Rotational Presidency (1996), pp 56-57).”

The proposal that has now been identified with former President Goodluck Jonathan has recently been echoed and embellished by Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

In supporting a position this writer, among many others, has advocated for many decades, he is of the view that the six-year proposal should be blended with the principle of leadership rotation along defined constituencies.

The wisdom in this proposal could unfold in the 2019 elections as the voting decision in some blocs may be informed mainly by what is anticipated in 2023.

Political leaders in the South-east have been urging their people to support the Peoples Democratic Party in 2019, not least because one of their own, Mr. Peter Obi, is Vice-Presidential candidate of that major party and could deliver the presidency to their bloc in 2023.

In a similar vein, a serving minister in the current administration, Mr. Babatunde Fashola recently admonished potential voters in the South-west to support the second term bid of Muhammadu Buhari in order for the region to also produce the president in 2023 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress.

With this type of sentiment expressed in major regions of the federation, it can hardly be doubted that the destination of the presidency will continue to be a disturbing issue in complex Nigeria for a very long time to come.

Akinola wrote from UK.

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