There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the two-term presidency. What’s lacking is good governance
To address concerns about regional imbalances and promote national unity, the presidential candidates of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his Labour Party (LP) counterpart, Mr Peter Obi have suggested tinkering with the constitution on presidential term limits. They both spoke, following the Supreme Court affirmation of the election of President Bola Tinubu which they challenged. According to Atiku, a single term of six years for the president should be rotated among the six geopolitical zones to “prevent the ganging up of two or more geo-political zones to alternate the presidency among themselves to the exclusion of other zones.” While endorsing the idea of a single term, Obi said his preference would be for “a five-year tenure which would go for 30 years rotational.”
We understand that those enamoured by a single-term for the president may be worried about the trajectory of our democracy, particularly the recurrent election pressures on the system and the ethno-religious divides that continue to dog the country. But it is also very telling that proponents do not anchor their argument on delivering public good despite the challenge of governance in Nigeria today. It is all about political control. We are disappointed that at a time the country is confronted with a barrage of challenges that border on the security and welfare of the citizens, opposition politicians who should be putting the incumbent on his toes are setting agenda for another distraction.
Meanwhile, the idea for a single presidential term has been around for some years now. In 2011, for instance, President Goodluck Jonathan canvassed it early in his administration on the basis that it would stem political acrimony during change of government and cut down drastically on costs of electioneering. The Senate Committee on the review of the constitution, chaired by then Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, also recommended a one-term of six years based on similar grounds that it would be healthier for the nation. The argument at the time was that six years is long enough for any chief executive to execute policies that would impact on the people and that it was necessary to give every part of the country a sense of belonging. Ekweremadu in fact believed that the six-year single- term presidency as practiced in Mexico was what Nigeria needed “so that the money we spend in running elections and the problem of chief executives concentrating to come back, using resources and instruments of state can be overcome”.
We endorse the idea of fair representation in the country and politicians must work for such inclusion. However, even with all its limitations and imperfections, a two-term presidency of four years each, as presently practiced, is a better alternative to an ‘imperial presidency’ of only one term of five or six years. A single-term, according to most analysts, is not only a constraint to continuity and predictability, but a ‘blow to presidential accountability.’ Besides, in all the African countries where term limits have been tampered with, it has become an instrument for tenure elongation by incumbents who, after only a few years, would suggest going back to the previous arrangement in what has become a vicious cycle in democratic manipulation. Whatever may therefore be the imperfections of the election and its outcome, what should dominate discussions afterwards are serious issues of governance and how to address the challenges of the people. Not on political permutations.
We are particularly concerned that this issue always crops up after every presidential election. Yet, what Nigeria sorely lacks and needs, especially at this period, is good governance, not another sterile debate about terms of office. The challenge of our present system is not in the number of years or terms, but rather the lack of good governance across board. The problem is not how long or short the tenure is, but who we elect, how we elect them and the structure of the institutions. At a most difficult period for most of our citizens, what Nigerians demand, and deserve, is not the subterfuge of tinkering with the tenure of office holders but rather serious governance anchored on meeting the aspirations of the people, at practically all levels.