A first-term president who performs in office should be entitled to a second term, contends Chekwube Nzomiwu
I took with a pinch of salt the calls made by the two major runners-up in the 2023 Nigerian presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) for the country to adopt a single term presidency. While Alhaji Abubakar, the Waziri Adamawa, canvassed for a constitutional amendment to provide for six-year single term for the president, to end the desperation to win at all costs, Obi differed a little, advocating a single term of five years for each of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, with a 30-year rotation plan.
The two political heavyweights made their opinion known at different media parleys in Abuja while reacting to the judgment of the Supreme Court, which upheld the return of Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) by the Independent National Electoral Commission as the winner of the 2023 presidential election.
Before stating my opinion on this matter, let me make it clear that I was not surprised by the latest crusade by Atiku and Obi. In any case, it is in the character of an average Nigerian politician to gain political advantage with everything, including a misfortune.
More so, Nigerian politicians believe that their countrymen forget things quickly and hence, whatever they said or did yesterday, does not matter today. If not, why would Alhaji Abubakar and Peter Obi who enjoyed two terms as Vice President and Governor of Anambra State, respectively, parade themselves today as promoters of a single term?
Assuming the last presidential election and the plethora of litigations that emanated from it favoured any of them, would the person be canvassing for a single term today? I leave the question for my readers to answer.
The Nigerian politician assumes that everything they tell us, we will swallow it hook, line, and sinker, without asking questions. As of the time of writing this piece, I still could not understand how single term for president will reduce the desperation to win at all costs. Will the reduction of the term limit change instantly the “do-or-die” attitude of Nigerian politicians? We have seen instances where people were killed in ordinary council elections to elect chairmen and councilors who will serve only two years. Even if the tenure of the president is one month, Nigerian politicians will try to win at all costs. This will continue to happen until we change our political culture.
In my opinion, the demand by Atiku and Obi for a single term (whether five or six years) must have been driven by hypocrisy or at best, self-interest. Unfortunately, it has exposed their ignorance of the origin of the two-term limit for the president in Nigeria. Taking a trip down memory lane, the 1963 Republican Constitution of independent Nigeria established the federal parliamentary system of government, with the president as ceremonial Head of State and the Prime Minister as the Head of Government. The events that trailed the military coup of January 15, 1966, caused the collapse of the First Republic.
After nearly a decade and half of military rule, the 1979 Constitution shifted Nigeria to a presidential system of government, borrowing from the model of the United States of America. Hence the presidency, which was ceremonial in the First Republic, became an executive post in the Second Republic. Personally, I am one of those who think that it was a “big mistake” for us to abandon the parliamentary system for the presidential system. However, I reserve that discussion for another day.
The American model, which Nigeria adopted in the Second Republic, limited the tenure of the President to two terms of four years each. The Second Republic later collapsed and was trailed by long years of military rule, in the course of which a few attempts to return to democratic rule were aborted.
The military administration of Gen. Abdulasami Abubakar eventually midwifed the 1999 Constitution, which ushered in the current Fourth Republic, borrowing again from the American model. Although the 1999 Constitution has undergone amendments, it still limits the tenure of the President and State Governors to two terms of four years each.
I have gone this whole hog to let the advocates of single term president to know that the current two terms limit in Nigeria did not fall from the moon. If it worked in US, a multiracial country, it cannot be “the trouble with Nigeria,” a country populated by only black people.
In case Atiku and Obi do not know, the two-term limit was a product of the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, approved by the Congress in 1947. Before the amendment, presidents enjoyed unlimited terms. It is on record that war time president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), served a third and fourth term. He was the only President that achieved that feat in the history of US. Before him, successful presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson voluntarily decided not to seek third term.
Back home in Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo almost changed the Constitution to give himself a third term in office but for the doggedness of his vice, Atiku Abubakar and others. So, the trouble with Nigeria is the politicians themselves and not the term limit for the president. In my candid opinion, precluding a sitting first term president from seeking re-election contradicts democracy in the real sense of it. One of the most popular definitions of democracy is “Government of the people by the people and for the people.” If an incumbent is doing well, the people should not be denied the right to ask him to continue.
The United States where we copied our constitution has a history of incumbent presidents who lost re-election bid, including John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), George Bush Snr. (1989-1993) and the controversial Donald Trump (2017-2021). It is on record that Trump was the eleventh incumbent American President to lose re-election bid. Today, he is gearing up to run again. That is if he escapes conviction from the series of criminal charges slammed against him in different American courts. In Nigeria, an incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of PDP was defeated in 2015 by a coalition of forces of Atiku and five PDP governors, Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), who merged to form the APC. The rest is history. So, what’s the fuss about single term?
Two-term limit is not peculiar to America and Nigeria. In the current French Fifth Republic, the President of France did not have term limit until the amendment of the Constitution of France in 2008, limiting French presidency to two-terms
A single tenure will disincentivise performance. A sitting first term president who knows that he has nothing to lose or gain by performing in office, will not be eager to deliver. The person will just stay in Aso Rock and while away five or six years, playing Chess, Ludo or Draft, at the detriment of Nigerians who have been pummeled by insecurity and economic hardship caused by rotational (turn by turn) presidency.
I think that time has come for Nigeria to consider meritocracy, irrespective of where one comes from in choosing who leads the country. On this ground, I vehemently disagree with Obi’s single term of five years for each of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, with a 30-year rotation. We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result. It is not possible. Finally, my rejection of single term does not mean that I am one of those people who believe that four years is not enough for a president to perform. I recall that sometime in 2019, former President Goodluck Jonathan described four years as quite a short period for somebody intending to change the country to do much. I don’t agree. Performance is not a product of longer stay in office. Anybody who wants to do something can do so even in one year. How long did it take Jonathan’s former principal, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to stop the militancy in the Niger Delta using the now corrupted Amnesty Programme?
In fact, very recent experience in Nigeria has shown how things could degenerate with longer stay in office. It will benefit the country more when longer stay in office is based on performance. Thus, a first term president who performs in office should be entitled to a second term. That is the spirit of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which we copied from the United States.
Nzomiwu, a development communicator and political scientist, writes from Awka, Anambra State