Single Term: Weighing Ekweremadu’s Prescription

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By Law Mefor

Love him or hate him, Senator Ike Ekweremadu has a knack for hitting at issues where they dwell and daring where angels would not. His desire for a stable and equitable Nigeria has always been obvious in his decisive political interventions, even though some of his masterstrokes get attenuated by divergent and parochial interests of co-actors in the polity.

In one of such audacious moves, this time in far away New York, USA, where he delivered the 10th anniversary lecture of the Centre for Media and Peace Initiative, USA, entitled, “Constitutionalism and the Challenges of Leadership in Africa: An Evaluation of Tested Models”, Senator Ekweremadu has again called for a single term of five or six years for the President and Governors. Ekweremadu first pushed for a single term in Nigeria during the constitution amendment exercise of 2014.

Ekwerenadu, in prescribing a single term of five or six years for Nigeria and Africa, noted that despite years of democracy, Africa continues to witness the resurgence of conditions, circumstances, habits and attitudes that in the past led to disaster. He shares the view of many Africans who identify the constitution as the origin of the problems that undermine national unity, development, and social equilibrium. To Ekweremadu, clinging on to the status quo is unwarranted and unwise and, for remedy, calls for new constitutions that address Africa’s unique challenges by accommodating some provisions such as single and rotational presidency, hybrid of presidential and republicanism in a truly restructured polity.

Ekweremadu believes that redesigning of term limits for political chief executives will reduce the acrimonious conflict, divisiveness, and instability arising from partisan or factional competition for executive offices in the federation. Truly, it would reduce the distractions, manipulations and divisiveness of re-election campaigns, while facilitating a more rapid circulation or rotation of power among the various groups. He pointed to the examples of the Latin American democracies that adopted the single term presidency until such a time their respective democracies matured and stabilized. For the avoidance of doubt, Mexico still practices a single term of six years known as sexinio.

Because the government is the major player in the economy across Africa and access to power or otherwise affects peoples attitude to government, Ekweremadu added that rotation of the single term even for a defined period, will prove reassuring to ethnic groups and promote loyalty to the nation because every constituent part will be reassured that power will come their way at a given interval.

Come to think of it, does Nigeria need a single term? The answer is yes. Apart from many countries that had similar experiences like Nigeria, such as Mexico adopting it, going by what elections have done to the Nigerian economy and the polity, the nation actually needs it even if no other country is practicing it. Elections in Nigeria have become a major drain on financial and emotional health of the nation. Elections, especially national elections, have been so rancorous and mostly fan the embers of disunity.

What is more, Nigeria’s presidential and governorship elections hold every four years with the following result: after election, it takes the new government months to settle down after making new appointments that could take also. Before actual governance commences, the new government is well into the second year and would take at least another year to implement its policies to deliver on campaign promises. Before it even fully rolls into the third year, it is another election season and the mode shifts again to election and the struggle is do or die, as a former President Olusegun Obasanjo once declared.

Even as I write, attention has, once more, shifted from governance to politicking to pick party tickets. You can then ask: for how long has the new All Progressives Congress (APC) government governed to be able to deliver democracy dividend and change they promised, which ought to form the basis for their assessment by the voters in deciding whether to renew or withdraw their mandate?

What is more, the billions of naira sunk into electioneering campaigns every four years have contributed to the underdevelopment of the country through diversion of resources. The nation’s economy is suffering much recession due to elections. The Nigerian constitution prescribes two terms and this means eight years in office and two elections that come with humongous sums. A single term of six years comes with only a single election, a win-win situation in our circumstance.

The argument that a good President and a good Governor will be missed if he or she is not allowed a second is already accommodated in the length of tenure – six years. Six years is long enough for any serious minded leader to make his tenure and governance sublime enough so that before departure, he or she must have left footprints on the sands of time.

Many also say that working for second term always makes the incumbent to work harder. What this argument equally admits by default (assuming it is the case) is that the Governor or President will not do much in his second term. It makes it even worse to dwell on such premise and makes a single term of six years more desirable if not inevitable. I am also not aware of any governor or President that has done anything meaningful in his second term. They see it as jara, rake in whatever they can, and even amend pension laws to guarantee life of eternal opulence.

In a single term, though the Governor or President is aware that he/she is not returning, none would want his or her party out of power. They will therefore work – or their parties would insist they leave enough legacies – to make the return of the party possible and desirable.

Like Ekweremadu said, although the attempt to institute a single term failed in 2014 on the alters of ethno-regional and political considerations, the National Assembly should take a serious look at it again because a single, rotational term, holds the greater promises for welding the nation into the hoped indivisible and indissoluble entity. It will only take political will, forward thinking and patriotism to achieve.

 – Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic and Social Psychologist