#BREAKING NEWS: Goodluck Jonathan rouses sleeping giant again - WELCOME TO FACTS ZONE NEWSPAPERS

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#BREAKING NEWS: Goodluck Jonathan rouses sleeping giant again

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Goodluck Jonathan

Former president Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for a single tenure of six years for the president and governors is less likely to draw flak today as it did some eight years ago when he advocated a constitutional amendment to solve the disruptions and unbearable cost enveloping re-election politics in Nigeria. Speaking in Niamey, Niger Republic at an October 2, 2019 summit on constitutional terms limit, the former president reiterated his belief that re-election politics has been both excessively costly and disruptive, costs African countries cannot afford. Unlike in July 2011 when he half-heartedly owned the suggestion, pretending to be still engaged in consultations over the idea, this time, in Niamey, he embraced the suggestion wholeheartedly, arguing that rather than risk the danger of extended or even unlimited tenure, some as bad as more than two decades, it was better to legislate one term of six years duration.

Dr Jonathan’s argument this time, strangely, does not sound as offensive as it did eight years ago. The simple reason is that in 2011, the timing was wrong, having just won reelection at a time the fear that he could still pursue a second four-year term in 2015 on top of his completion of the Umaru Yar’Adua first term had not yet been dispelled. His arguments about a single term tenure have still not changed substantially. Here is how he put it early this week: “When Professor Wade (Senegal) was in his last tenure, he changed the constitution and extended the term limits from five to seven years. He thought he would win the election. But Macky Sall reduced it to five years. We must commend dynamic leaders like that. There is no need for one person to sit for 14 years, doing what? The country is not your personal estate. Countries are free to amend their laws. Just like the President of Niger Republic said, different nations have different ways of doing things, so it is better they have their own way of doing things…”

Continuing, Dr Jonathan argued: “Four years is quite a short period for a country that is developing for a person who wants to change the country to do much. In Nigeria, we just finished the (2019) election and some people are already talking about 2023 election. It is distracting. That is why some people come up with the idea of a single tenure; so a president can sit down and plan all his programmes for the good of the country.”

From his presentation in Niamey, the former president obviously anchors his argument for a single term on two planks: one is the costliness and disruptiveness of reelection politics; and two is the shortness of one term of four years for any elected executive — president or governor — to make appreciable impact. Dr Jonathan is right about the costliness of Nigerian elections, whether it involves the campaigns by politicians or the logistics required to organise elections. Poorly regulated, the campaigns have become increasingly more expensive and labyrinthine, with candidates desperate to subvert the system, cheat their way into office, and dare a timid, burdened and poorly remunerated judiciary to adjudicate. And unable to extricate themselves from the shadowy influence and intimidation of the presidency on electoral commission workers, the electoral umpires have been hard put to measure up administratively in organising elections as well as sometimes, if not often, reading the lips of the executive in order to determine how to stack the cards against the opposition. The former president is, therefore, right that organising an election every four years in these parts can be acutely disruptive and financially debilitating.

But the other aspect of his Niamey thesis, where he argues that a single term was inadequate for a leader to make any significant impact, is deeply controversial. His conclusion is tenuous and not borne out by experience or history. It is partly true that a new president’s task may be complicated by an incompetent predecessor, but if he has a plan to remake the country and does not lack the skills or the will to implement it, he is unlikely to fail to make an impact in four years. He may of course not complete his plan, and there is nowhere in the world where a leader executes all he sets out to do thereby rendering his successor idle, but he will have made such a significant impact that the electorate might be willing to reward him with a second term. If a leader cannot make a huge impression on his country in four years, it would be pointless rewarding him with another term. He might of course stubbornly desire the reward, which partly corroborates the electoral disruptiveness Dr Jonathan warns against, but it would be clear that he had been a failure in his first term.

In 2011, when Dr Jonathan first mooted the idea of a single six-year term, the condemnation was furious and near unanimous. It was suggested that he was scheming for a third term, so soon after winning a full first term of his own and completing the one year left in the presidency of his predecessor, Mallam Yar’Adua who died in office. Some critics were in fact sickened by the fact that Dr Jonathan had mooted the single term idea barely two months after his presidency was inaugurated in 2011. Indeed, some even declared him a budding tyrant with a poor judgement, and a repudiator of agreements reached by his party on zoning. His critics were scathing, prompting him to declare that though he mentioned the idea to a few people he had taken no administrative or constitutional step to bring it to effect. He was still consulting, he snorted.

Among those who excoriated him at the time were chiefly the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), an informal coalition of political parties in Nigeria, former chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh, and former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida who spoke through his spokesman, Kassim Afegbua. Said Mr Afegbua in mid-August, of course reporting Gen Babangida’s opinion: ”Former President IBB is of the considered view that President Goodluck Jonathan, should concentrate energy and attention on providing meaningful solutions to the socio-economic and political problems confronting us as a nation; namely; insecurity, poor economic development, declining GDP, depleting foreign reserve, the gargantuan domestic debts that have crippled investment, and adding to unemployment, and the growing restiveness in the land…The proposal therefore is wicked, outlandish, self-serving, deliberate distraction, and an outright contempt for the people.”

Mr Umeh was a little more conciliatory. He had said: “The President may have good intention for proposing this Bill but a critical analysis of the implications of passing this Bill into law is that people will now be elected for six year single tenure. So it is very dangerous that from the blast of the whistle, they will decide to abandon the electorate that elected them and there is nothing that you can do to them. With Section 308 Immunity Clause of our constitution; it means that it will be very difficult to remove them when they are going wrong. Six years will be a long time to allow a governor or a president who from the blast of the whistle decides to short-change the people.”

Mr Umeh’s argument is as valid today as it was explicit and irresistible eight years ago. In none of Dr Jonathan’s public admonitions on the single term subject has he attempted to answer the conundrum: what do you do with a hopelessly incompetent or cruel president or governor who has six years to go in office? The allure of the existing two-term renewable system is that if the elected leader is good, he gets rewarded, regardless of the cost of electing and re-electing him; and if he is bad, as indeed many of them are clearly irredeemably bad, the point is that the electorate could console themselves with the chance to kick him out early. With a six-year tenure, the pain to be endured by the electorate suffocating under a bad leader would be excruciating.

The case Nigerians should make, instead of unnecessarily debating the tenure system, is that the country should be restructured in such a way as to significantly reduce the cost of democracy and governance in order to eliminate duplication, aggravation and financial shenanigans in the electoral system. Or to jettison the presidential system entirely. As long as no answers can be found to solve the dilemma of what to do in six years with a bad and probably irredeemable leader, it may make little sense to push the proposed tenure system Dr Jonathan has seemed to fawn over.

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