Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has a rich and diverse political landscape. Since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria has experimented with various forms of governance, including parliamentary system and presidential system.
From the 1922 Clifford Constitution; the 1946 Arthur Richard Constitution; the 1951 McPherson Constitution; the Federal Constitution (otherwise known as the Lyttleton Constitution) of 1954 and the 1963 Republican Constitutions, Nigeria still yearns for nationhood. One of the most debated aspects of Nigerian governance however is the duration of political tenures, particularly for Governors and Presidents.
In this writeup, I advocate for a constitutional single-term or tenure of six years for the President and Governors, as well as their respective Deputies. I will delve into the rationale behind this proposal, the potential benefits it could bring to Nigeria; and also address common criticisms and concerns.
MEANING OF SINGLE-TERM
A single term is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) prescribes two terms of four years each for the President, the Governors, and their Deputies. See Sections 137 (1)(b) 182(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. The reasons are obvious and well-documented and have engaged (and continue to engage) the attention of the academic world, public affairs commentators, and public office holders alike at all levels. These include those likely to be directly affected by any changes to the status quo, i.e., Presidents and Governors. I will, in this write-up, present a broader and I believe, more convincing reasons why Nigeria should change the present status quo.
DEMERITS OF A SINGLE TERM TENURE
Advocates of maintaining the present tenure system are as vociferous (if not more) than its opponents. Their arguments are worth considering, even if not compelling or convincing. Among them, are the fact that, in their view, a single term is a constraint to continuity and predictability as well as a minus to presidential accountability.
They also argue that in virtually all the countries (at least in Africa) that practice single-term limits for their elected Presidents, it has become a tool of manipulation by incumbents to elongate their tenure.
This has achieved nothing but the dubious distinction of the difference between six and half a dozen. In other words, a difference in nothing but name: a subterfuge. Accordingly, they argue, that what Nigeria needs is good governance not, what they characterize as a sterile debate about terms of office – no matter how brilliantly some of the suggested options or models may have performed in different climes.
In their view, our problem is not how long or short the tenure of our elected President might be, but rather, who we elect; how we elect them; and the structure of the relevant institutions. In other words, the caliber of our elected representatives (leaders), the credibility or legitimacy of the process of their selection or emergence, and the quality of the institutions which are responsible for producing or filtering them, respectively, are what should count.
While the proposal for a single-term tenure of six years for Presidents, Governors, and their Deputies offers numerous potential benefits, it is not without the above criticisms and serious concerns by its antagonists. Here are some of the common objections often raised as demerits and disadvantages of a single-term tenure:
- Lack of Accountability: Critics argue that without the prospect of re-election, politicians may become less accountable to the people. To address this concern, strong accountability mechanisms, such as robust oversight institutions and independent auditing, would need to be in place, which they argue, are not there.
- Unfulfilled Promises: Skeptics suggest that politicians could make grandiose promises during their single term, knowing that they will not be held accountable for delivering on those promises. However, public awareness and media scrutiny can help mitigate this issue.
- The Risk of Lame Duck Leaders: Concerns exist that leaders in their final year of a single term may become “lame ducks,” with diminished motivation and incentive to govern effectively. It is argued that the law of Diminishing Returns is set. Strong leadership and public engagement can mitigate this risk.
- Constitutional Amendments: Implementing single-term tenure would require significant constitutional changes, which could be challenging to achieve given the complexities of Nigerian politics and legal processes, especially the labyrinthine provisions of section 9 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
THE RATIONALE AND MERITS OF A SINGLE TERM OF SIX YEARS
There are many reasons why a single term of office lasting six years is preferable. And this is my humble submission.
ABUSE OF INCUMBENCY
The notion of a non-re-electable Executive (whether President or State Governor) is often expressed as the strongest incentive for self-perpetuation, irrespective of actual performance during the first tenure of such an incumbent President or Governor. This is not peculiar to Nigeria or even contemporary times, because in both France and the United States, the misuse has also been part of their political culture. In the former, French philosopher Alex de Tocqueville is reported to have lamented that “The desire to be re-elected is the chief aim of the President; that the whole policy of his administration, and even his most indifferent measures, to this object.”
In the US, according to Jasper Nathaniel (in an article titled ‘Make the U.S. Presidency a single 6-year term’, referenced by legendary Aare Afe Babalola, SAN), the distraction occasioned by the campaign for former President Obama’s re-election in 2012 – less than 2 years into his first term – massively distracted him from focusing on “the country’s business”. Recalling that the proposal for a single Presidential term limit of 6 years was first mooted and rejected almost two and half centuries ago (in 1787), the icon argues that, as “Head of State, Chief Diplomat, and Legislator as well as Commander-In-Chief, the (U.S.) The president’s plate is always over-filled. Factor in frequent unanticipated problems and demands of the job can become insufferably large”; adding that, (as a result), the actual issues that the President was elected to deal with missing out on a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources. These sentiments are shared by University of Texas Political Scholar, Bruce Buchanan, who opined that “To run for re-election in the midst (of the competing challenge for the President’s time and attention) can best be described as an unreasonable addition … and the re-election period ultimately becomes a distracting period for the President”. Kevin Costner was dead on track when he opined that “people who go into politics want to do the right thing. And then they hit a big wall of re-election and the pettiness of politics. In the end, politics gets in the way of the business of the people”. How sad!
Back home in Nigeria, no less a person than a distinguished President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, (the “my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian exponent”), added his weighty voice to the debate when he noted – while still in office – that “Every four years you conduct elections, you create so much tension in the political environment. It creates series of confusion in the political environment”. To avoid being misunderstood, he quickly added that his proposal of a single presidential term of 6 years, alone – ipso facto, without more – “will not bring one hundred percent stability. There is no political system that is one hundred percent stable”.I believe that a single six-year presidential term has the advantage of mitigating (if not outrightly eliminating) what many regard as the damaging effect of the incumbency factor in our elections. Click To Tweet
The foregoing challenge dovetails into the serious issue of the incumbency factor in Nigeria’s peculiar milieu. I believe that a single six-year presidential term has the advantage of mitigating (if not outrightly eliminating) what many regard as the damaging effect of the incumbency factor in our elections. This is because it would, in the words of Naiwu Osahon, improve access of all our ethnic groups and religions to the highest elected executive positions and foster a greater sense of belonging. This would also potentially cater to the argument in favor of zoning – another perennial big and menacing elephant in the room in our political culture.
A corollary to the foregoing is that a single term has the potential of creating a level playing field. This is because it will eliminate the unfair advantage enjoyed by an incumbent in terms of access to the levers of power – particularly economic power (which is more often than not, derived from the public till or State resources). But that is not all. It includes control (either directly or otherwise), of the notionally independent electoral umpire, INEC. Experience has shown that, under an overbearing President who seeks re-election, INEC is only independent in name. the last presidential election of 25th February 2023, shows that INEC is anything but independent from the ruling party.
AVOIDANCE OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE
In addition to the benefits of a single 6-year tenure identified above, I firmly believe that such a policy will ensure that aspirants for both the Presidency and State Governorship will know, well before hand, that they have only one chance to get it right. It is either a hit-or-miss. It will, therefore, concentrate their minds and enable them to focus on achieving the goals for which they were elected: on fulfilling their election promises. They will thus have no excuses, and no one to blame if they fail. They will not be distracted by concerns about an imminent campaign for re-election. This means that they will not consider touching the public fund (or padding budgets or contracts) to defray the ever-rising and humongous cost of electioneering in Nigeria. There will be less political tension and bickering. Lives and broken limbs will be spared which might otherwise be lost to political violence. And we will all be the better for it.
In 2014, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, proposed the six-year single term for President and Governors. He argued that it would ensure good governance, stem political acrimony during change of government and cut down drastically on costs of electioneering campaigns. Professor Charles Soludo was in 2018, also in support of a 6-year single term for Nigerian Presidents. These proposals, have at some point, been laid before the National Assembly in the form of a bill. However, the said bill was always rejected by the lawmakers. They did so in 2019. A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who supported the bill expressed displeasure over its rejection by the lawmakers. According to Atiku, “Second term obsession rewards incompetence by allowing failed incumbents to be re-elected regardless of their performance record. It also denies political parties the opportunity to replace failed incumbents with better candidates within the parties in the name of right of first refusal”.
Many have also argued – credibly – that a single term of six (6) years is sufficient to make an impact for a serious-minded, focused, patriotic and people-oriented leader – either a President or Governor.
ENHANCEMENT OF POLITICAL STABILITY
One of the primary arguments in favour of a single-term tenure is the potential for enhanced political stability. In the current “win-at-all-cost” system, elected officials often spend a significant portion of their tenure and resources preparing for re-election campaigns, sometimes even while just commencing their initial mandate. This constant focus on re-election often distracts from the pressing issues of governance facing the nation. Nigeria, as I have said again and again, using my OZEKPEDIA Neologism, merely practise “ELECTIONOCRACY” and not Democracy. “ELECTIONOCRACY ” is a system of government where elections are held as a ritual, at intervals of 4 years in Nigeria, with the emergent elected or selected leaders, rather than giving the electors dividends of democracy, merely stabilise themselves in power, commence primitive acquisition of wealth and forget the electorate that elected the leaders in the first place. They then begin another round of campaigns, after pretending to work for two years. They are already looking forward to the next election when the electorate has not benefited from any democratic dividends from their first term. To avoid this fixation with elections round the year, a single-term tenure would eliminate the need for elected officials to campaign round the clock for re-election. This will allow them to focus their entire term of office on governing effectively. This would also most likely lead to more coherent and consistent policies, as politicians would not need to make short-term decisions to appease voters and donors, only for immediate successors to cancel such projects and start their own.
FOSTERING ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
Accountability and transparency are the cornerstone of good governance. However, in Nigeria’s current warped political system, accountability and transparency are more often than not compromised on the altar of politicians prioritizing personal and party interests over those of members of the public just to secure re-election. Single-term tenure, it is argued, would encourage greater accountability and transparency during the one term in office. This is because the office holder knows full well that he either sinks or swims with his only available single term.It will eliminate the unfair advantage enjoyed by an incumbent in terms of access to the levers of power – particularly economic power (which is more often than not, derived from the public till or State resources). Click To Tweet
Without the looming spectre of re-election, elected officials would have more freedom to make critical and sometimes, painful decisions that are genuinely in the best interest of their constituents. Additionally, the public would have a clearer basis to evaluate their performance since they may never have the opportunity to run for re-election again and make the usual banal and empty political promises.
Nigeria’s electoral processes are unduly capital and resource-intensive. Conducting elections, especially on a national scale, requires a huge allocation of funds and manpower. With elections happening less frequently due to single-term tenures, the country could save substantial resources and plough them toward more meaningful projects. These saved resources could be redirected towards critical areas such as healthcare, education, capacity building, youth and infrastructural development, and poverty alleviation, ultimately benefiting the citizens and improving their quality of life.
AVOIDANCE OF POLITICAL RANCOR
The divisive experience of countries like Kenya, in 2003 and other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Cameroon, the Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, and, more recently – Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali have shown that attempts by unpopular Presidents to perpetuate themselves in power, some by way of birthright, primogeniture by way of hereditary succession, in total defiance of either the law (through bogus constitutional amendments), or subversion of the popular will of the people, as expressed through the ballot, have often resulted in unsalutary, and at times, violent outcomes: civil unrests; insurrections; and even military coups. A single fixed-term (provided it is scrupulously adhered to, of course) is a viable option in forestalling such national risks of needless uprisings and internal schisms.
Nigeria has, even in the recent past, unfortunately, experienced its fair share of electoral violence and manipulation of the people’s will. One major reason behind this recurrent violence is anchored on the intense and unhealthy competition for political power, especially during the four-yearly ritual re-election campaigns. In a single-term tenure system, the motivation for such “I-must-grab-power” violence diminishes significantly since such politicians will not need to vie for re-election.
Thus, by reducing electoral violence and turbulent electioneering, single-term tenure could foster a more predictable and stable political environment. A conducive political environment will in turn encourage a peaceful polity, foreign investment, economic growth, and social development.
ENCOURAGEMENT OF MERITOCRACY
Under the current political system of bootlicking, ego massaging, sycophancy, and toadiness, political leaders often prioritize loyalty to their party and financial backers when considering appointments to key positions. This often results in prebendalism, cronyism, nepotism, favouritism, leading to the appointment of unqualified individuals. Appointment of such second, third, and fourth electoral elements usually results in ineffective governance. In a single-term tenure system, politicians may be more inclined to prioritize merit and competence over loyalty, since there would be no second bite at re-election. This shift towards competence, capacity, and meritocracy ultimately leads to better and more productive governance, as leaders would more likely appoint individuals with the requisite skills and expertise to manage various sectors of the government effectively; even where such persons are not members of their political party.
MITIGATION OF CORRUPTION