Nigeria’s challenge with the presidential system is not with numbers or terms, but seriously with governance

The debate on the number of years and terms a Nigerian President should spend in office was recently reopened by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, when he had in audience Garcia Moreno Elizondo, the ambassador of Mexico to Nigeria. Mexico, like our country, practices a presidential system of government, but with a single-term presidency of six years. However, in as much as we can borrow ideas from anywhere in the world in the bid to enhance democratic culture and good governance in Nigeria, we hasten to express our strong reservations about opening another round of debate on tenure of office at this period.

Nigeria, according to Ekweremadu, was looking at “a possibility of constitutional reform that can guarantee a single term 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”. But the idea for a single term of six years has been around for some years now. Former President Goodluck Jonathan canvassed it early in his presidency in 2011 on the basis that it would stem political acrimony during change of government and cut down drastically on costs of electioneering campaigns.

Besides, the Senate Committee on the review of the constitution, chaired incidentally by the same Ekweremadu, had also in the past recommended a single 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. But that also failed to attract any traction which may explain why Ekweremadu is inventing a new excuse: “When we are talking about devolution of power, strengthening our federalism, Mexico is a place where we can look at.”

We understand that those enamoured by a single term for the president may be worried about the trajectory of our democracy, particularly re-election pressures on the system. For one, the costs of electioneering campaigns are prohibitive. The 2015 presidential campaigns and elections, for instance, cost the nation a staggering amount of money that could have been put to better use in creating employment for the jobless and building infrastructure across the nation. That is aside the violence associated with elections that have become the political equivalent of war.

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” constituting of only one term of six years. A single term, according to most analysts, is not only a constraint to continuity and predictability, but a “blow to presidential accountability.” Aside the foregoing, in all the African countries where term limits have been tampered with, it has become an instrument of manipulation by the sitting incumbents who would, to elongate their tenure, suggest going back to the previous arrangement in what has become a vicious cycle in democratic deception.
Therefore, what Nigeria sorely lacks and needs, especially at this period, is good governance, not another sterile debate about terms of office. It is not enough to transpose the Mexican system which reportedly is working “brilliantly” to Nigeria and expect that it would fit into our democratic structure weighed down by many anomalies.

The challenge of our present system is not in the number of years or terms, but rather in 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.

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 constituting of only one term of six years