So how can we have a much better Nigeria, a country we can proudly call our own? The debate continues. The dominant line of discourse has been that of “restructuring Nigeria” and there are certainly different shades of the argument. I was fascinated by the communiqué of Ohanaeze Ndigbo at the end of the South-East Summit on the Restructuring of Nigeria in Awka, Anambra state, last week. The socio-cultural group put a number of proposals on the table which, going by the mood of the participants, can be considered unanimous. The proposals are not completely new, just that most are now attaining consensus among the leading lights of the restructuring campaign.
Among other things, Ohanaeze demanded a constitutional conference backed by law, a new constitution that is “truly federal” to be produced by a Constituent Assembly and adopted through a referendum by the people of Nigeria for “legitimacy and validity”, and the repeal of Decree No. 24 of 1999 by the National Assembly to void the current constitution and enable a new one. The group proposed the retention of the presidential system and bicameral legislature at the federal level. Ohanaeze wants the current geo-political zones to be the federating units with their own system of government, although it prefers uniformity for “ease of transaction” and “comparability”.
The Igbo outside the south-east zone — such as Anioma in Delta state and Ikwerre in Rivers — who desire to be united with their kith and kin should do so via a referendum; it should be voluntary, Ohanaeze said. Every region will have its constitution; if it conflicts with the federal constitution, the latter will take precedence. This is not too far from what obtains under the 1999 constitution in which there are exclusive, residual and concurrent lists. Ohanaeze proposed that if states would be federating units, then the south-east should get an additional state for the sake of equity. It proposed removal of local governments from the constitution – each region should decide the local structure it wants.
Ohanaeze proposed a single-term tenure of six years for presidents (and, by extension, governors) and five vice-presidents, one from each geo-political zone other than the president’s own, and that each VP should have supervisory powers over key ministries. In other words, there should be federal character and quota system in picking VPs. Ohanaeze further proposed rotational presidency, another aspect of federal character, and went further to recommend something similar at the state level: there should be rotation of governorship between senatorial districts — or whatever sub-structure is eventually adopted at the regional level. This, it said, is in the interest of equity, fairness and justice.
My interest today is the six-year tenure. It is not entirely new – the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme proposed it some 22 years ago. He, however, wanted six vice-presidents, not five, with a proviso that if the sitting president dies, resigns or is impeached, the VP from his or her zone will step in and complete the tenure. If we had had such a provision in the 1999 constitution, the tension caused by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s fatal illness in 2009-2010 would have been avoided. Some political analysts still believe that the death of Yar’Adua and the ascension of President Goodluck Jonathan to power in 2010 wounded the north, poisoned the body politic and we are still paying the price.
Jonathan, meanwhile, also proposed a six-year single-term tenure after winning the 2011 presidential election. His argument was that re-election bids often heat up the polity. He also said it would reduce INEC’s electoral expenses as polls would now be held at six-year intervals. His proposals were met with cynicism, especially as it was interpreted to mean he wanted to be in power for another six years rather than the four he was elected to do. When he spoke in Ethiopia that he would do only one term if elected, he was perhaps hinting at this; but he denied planning to be a beneficiary of six years. Critics said he was plotting to stay in power for seven unbroken years. The proposal died in no time.
Nevertheless, the six-year tenure proposal being promoted by Ohanaeze Ndigbo has its merits. One, a six-year tenure will guarantee that presidency goes round the geo-political zones, thus addressing issues of marginalisation. Imagine we had a six-year tenure arrangement since 1999: south-west would have had it till 2005, the north (east, west or central) would have carried on till 2011, the south-east or south-south would have had it till 2017 and it would be back to the north by now. It would be predictable. As things stand, Ndigbo are convinced there is a conspiracy to keep them out of the No. 1 position. Only a transparent arrangement of this nature can ensure that every part of Nigeria is guaranteed a shot.
Two, when presidents (or governors) have only one opportunity to perform, the rational ones will put in all efforts to write their names in gold within the six years. But when there is the possibility of a second chance, they may be busy settling political IOUs and plotting to survive power games in order to bid for a second term, thereby paying little attention to quality governance and instead accumulating funds to get re-elected. Most governors are still trying to settle in by the time it dawns on them that another election is around the corner. They then lose focus and delay or avoid critical decisions in order not to offend voters. Reform is very difficult when you are eyeing a second term in office.
Three, an incumbent president going for second term has an undue advantage. The heads of all the agencies central to the conduct of elections are appointed by the president, from INEC and police to DSS and sometimes the military. The incumbent also has incredible access to resources. It is a frightening war chest no individual or group of individuals can rival. It was not an ordinary feat that Jonathan was defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 – that is why we still consider it to be historic. In the history of Nigeria, incumbent presidents were always returned no matter how poorly they performed in office. A single-term tenure can, to some extent, reduce re-election desperation.
Now where do I stand? Pardon my intransigence, but we are only discussing this because of the perennial failure of leadership in Nigeria. There is a reason for the provision of two terms of office for governors and presidents. The carrot of a second term is supposed be an incentive for the incumbent to perform and then be rewarded by voters with another four years for a job well done. As we say in Nigeria, “one good term deserves another” (whoever coined this aphorism deserves a medal). However, we have seen people spend eight years in office with little or no impact on the community despite the hundreds of billions of naira at their disposal. Thus, the aim of two terms is defeated.
The other side of the coin, though, is: what happens if you have a competent and patriotic leader, someone who really inspires confidence and is committed to fairness, justice and equity, someone who is actually delivering the goods? Under the single-term tenure, there will be no reward for the hard work! Not just that, there is a fat chance all the good work will be disrupted and discontinued by their successors who will want to prove to the world that they have their own ideas. I think we are assuming that our leaders will always underperform in office, so we want them to get out of office as quickly as possible through single-term tenures. We may end up throwing the baby away with the bath water.
In sum, Ndigbo appear to be shut of the No. 1 position in the land, something that they think can be resolved through a system that guarantees power rotation among regions within short intervals. My view has always been that no part of Nigeria should feel isolated from power; the political system must ensure that everyone is fully represented and integrated. Every part of Nigeria must be given a fair shot at presidency. It is good for the peace of the land. Without federal character, things would even be worse. We could have a cabinet that does not have a single south-easterner and no law or principle would have been broken. Federal character guarantees that every state is represented.
Having said that, I like the sound of the one-term proposal, but you know my position: it is not the solution to the Nigerian conundrum. It will address one problem – that of political equity – but it will not guarantee food on the table, 24-hour power supply or drugs in the hospitals. Nothing is inherently wrong with our system but everything is wrong with the operators. Until we address the leadership deficit ravaging every nook and cranny of Nigeria, until we have leaders who are irrevocably committed to development, we will remain stuck. One term, two terms, six years, eight years, presidential system, parliamentary system, regionalism… none of these things will turn Nigeria to Dubai on their own.
Finally, if the one-term proposal will help institute what I call “development as a relay race”, I’m in. That is, successive administrations will treat government as a continuum and carry on with the good ideas they meet on ground. My biggest admiration of President Buhari since he came to office three years ago is the commitment to completing some of the projects and ideas carried over from Jonathan. As a Nigerian, as a student of development, I looooooove it. Politicians and partisans won’t like it – for them, politics always comes first. All I want to see is a prosperous Nigeria built on sound ideas. That’s why we must keep the national discourse alive and robustly debate every proposal. Imperative.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
BUHARI VS OBASANJO
In the 2011 presidential debate organised by NN24 and moderated by our own Kadaria Ahmed and CNN’s Jonathan Mann, Candidate Muhammadu Buhari promised to probe the “$16bn power expenditure by PDP from 1999 to 2007” for which there were no bright results. Seven years later — and three years after finally becoming president — Buhari has “re-opened” the file. Not many think Buhari will actually probe former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his erstwhile supporter turned traducer. There is an unwritten rule that former Nigerian leaders are untouchable. However, something tells me that the rule will be broken someday. We are getting closer and closer. Equality.
MILITARY VS AMNESTY
I don’t know who is advising the Nigerian military, but if I were in a position to advise their advisers, I would say they should tell their clients to pipe low in their war against Amnesty International. There seems to be this feeling in the military hierarchy that AI can be intimidated into silence. It won’t happen. The international human rights organisation, set up in 1961 “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end abuses of human rights”, has survived the most brutal military regimes all over the world. I would suggest that we deal decisively with the issues of rape, extrajudicial killings and other abuses by Nigerian soldiers. We will be the better for it in the end. Commonsense.
JIBRIN VS HOUSE
Now that another court of law has ruled that the legislature does not have the power to suspend members, let us hope that our lawmakers will find another way of enforcing discipline without the military-style sledgehammer. Different courts had previously voided the suspension of Senators Ali Ndume and Ovie Omo-Agege, and now Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin has been let off the hook. Dissent is essential to democracy. Senator Arthur Nzeribe was the first to be hit with the suspension sledgehammer in 2003 when Senator Anyim Pius Anyim was senate president. Let everything be done decently and in order, no matter the perceived offence. Draconian.
On Friday, a delegation of Nigerian female parliamentarians paid a visit to President Buhari at the presidential villa. They made a case on the marginalisation of women in Nigerian politics (an indisputable fact, by the way). Personally, I think the Buhari administration has not been gender-equitable in the distribution of important political offices. Well, the women have requested for the slot of vice-president. In his response, Buhari joked: “It’s a pity the vice-president is not here. But I believe the secretary to the government of the federation will tell him that his position is threatened.” I blame the women: they should have asked for the position of president. LOL.