Double jeopardy for Single Term

Ike Ekweremadu

Ike Ekweremadu

The hitherto settled debate on two terms for the president and governors has lately been revived by Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s single-term proposal  which he says will calm all the agitations that accompany the quest for re-election. Whatever gains inherent in it, his proposal has been met with suspicions of mischief. Is it?

It was one of the most contentious issues that stirred the polity at the onset of the Jonathan administration.
The president, apparently peeved by the contentions that normally shadow the quest for reelection, had in July 2011 proposed a single term tenure for executive office holders at the federal and state levels.

The proposal for a single term for executive office holders according to the president was to put a halt to the tension that normally accompany the quest for re-election by incumbent governors and presidents.

“President Jonathan’s commitment to a single term for the President and Governors 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 stabilise the polity,” his spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati had said.

Besides the acrimony, he also cited the cost of conducting elections as another incentive for adopting a single term for the president and governors.

However, no sooner had the president’s proposal been made, critics from all sections of the country flayed it, describing it as a subtle attempt by Dr. Jonathan to elongate his tenure as it was perceived that he could become the first beneficiary of the single term; meaning his stay in office could last till 2020 or thereabout.

The criticism against the proposal was despite assurances from the presidency that Dr. Jonathan would not be a beneficiary.

“The President makes it clear that his push for a single tenure for the office of the President and that of the Governors is not borne out of any personal interest. The proposed amendment will not have anything to do with him as a person; what he owes Nigerians is good governance, and he is singularly committed to this. Besides, it is trite in law that the envisaged amendment cannot have a retroactive effect. This means that whatever single-term tenure that is enacted into law by the National Assembly will take effect from 2015.”

His proposal nonetheless, the president still failed to push a bill through to the National Assembly Committees on the review of the constitution.

Sources close to the seat of power disclosed that the president apparently changed his mind.

However, that did not stop the Senate Committee on Constitution Review in pushing the plan for a single term for the president and governors.

At the end of its deliberations at a retreat in Lagos last April, the Senate Committee on Constitution Review adopted the proposal for a six year single term for the president and governors across the country.

The committee’s report also stipulated that the incumbent president and governors would not benefit from the proposal.

Given that supporters of President Jonathan had at that time already set their eyes on a second term for the incumbent president, it came as a shock to the presidency. Sources disclosed that the presidency was taken aback by the boldness of the Senator Ike Ekweremadu led committee in proposing a single term in which President Jonathan would not be a beneficiary.

The Senate Committee’s prescription for a single term remarkably drew the president and his enemies from the north together. While the incumbent apparently saw Ekwereamdu’s recommendations as a way of cutting off four years from his tenure, pro-north political stakeholders also opposed it believing that it was a way to stop the north from having its own two terms.

Besides, the Ekweremadu committee was also criticized in some quarters of working surreptitiously to stop Jonathan and promote the alleged presidential aspirations of the president of the Senate, Senator David Mark.

It was no surprise that when the Senate voted on the recommendations, that the single term prescription was voted out in favour of the two term tenure.

Many believed at that time that the matter was settled. But not so for Ekweremadu and those who believed that the prescription was the best for Nigeria.

Ekweremadu brought back the issue for consideration last September at an international experience sharing conference on media and elections in Abuja organized by the National Union of Journalists in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

At that conference where Ekweremadu was present he again brought to question the decision of the Senate to throw away the single term proposal taking into consideration what he said was the increasing tension arising from the heated campaigns for re-election.

“Governance  has taken the backstage. We have turned Nigeria into an election nation in perpetuity.

After election, mandate delivery should follow and those already elected deserve some breathing space to do their work, while the media and the public should hold them accountable to their promises.

On the other hand, those elected into offices should also concern themselves less about the next election, knowing that only one good term deserves another.”

“This unnecessary overheating of the polity over 2015 ambitions and contestations also brings us to the question of the appropriate tenure of office for our elected executives. Did we throw away the single term as recommended by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review in a hurry? I leave further probing of this poser to you.”

Pressed on the issue again during a session with newsmen in Lagos penultimate Saturday, the Deputy President of the Senate reiterated his call for a single term for the president and governors. He, nevertheless, admitted that he probably took for granted the opposition from the incumbents such as the president and the governors who want a second term.

As a way of mollifying the opposition, he thus suggested a transition period for the institution of the single term between 2015 and 2017 in which those presently in office as president and governors would have their tenure extended by two years up to 2017.

Ekweremadu had said:“If you look at what is going on in Nigeria, both the new PDP, APC are based on the issue of succession. We believe strongly that that matter (single term) is something that could be revisited.

But I think some of the mistakes we made in our recommendation was when we said incumbents would not benefit from it and I think there was then some kind of coalition of forces to defeat it.”

So apparently as a way of mollifying the opposition from the incumbents, he said:
“I believe that the one way it could work is… now people have been elected for four years, now let everybody complete the four year tenure for which they have been elected and we can through the doctrine of necessity do some kind of transition of two years in which case, those who are now present occupants like the president and the governors who are finishing their term, could now do another two years that will end in 2017.”

“You see, some of those who are fighting the president, I hear that their complaint is that if the president gets a second term when they are gone that they may start chasing them.”

“Now if we agree that that could be a way to solve the problem, after two years both the president and those other governors will now exit and the fear will not be there and I believe it will bring down the temperature of politics.”

Once his proposal came out it was met with swift condemnation from nearly all quarters.

It was not surprising as many saw it as a plan by the presidency to get another term in office by the back door.

Presidency officials including presidential adviser on political matters, Ahmed Gulak have refused to speak on Ekweremadu’s new proposal. Gulak had before now led the attack against Ekweremadu’s proposal for a single term that would stop Jonathan from attempting a second term.

Many Nigerians are also suspicious of the fact that Jonathan could benefit from the extension of his tenure to 2017 as his critics claim that they can not endure him for another two years after 2015.

However, given the direction of the polity, those critics some say, may be living in a fool’s paradise given the political configuration and the powers of incumbency upon which the president could muster to force himself into a second term which would last till 2019.

Another advantage of Ekweremadu’s proposal which the criticism has largely overshadowed is the fact that the adoption of a single term in 2017 would enable the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to have a break in conducting elections as it would put the elections for president and governors at different cycles with that of legislative houses at the federal and state levels.

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