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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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Democracy by its very nature abhors personalisation of power. It presumes that power belongs to the people who should have the unfettered opportunity to periodically asses their leaders and decide if they wish to have more of their leadership or to dispense with them. Any attempt to muzzle the people under whatever colouration is anti-democratic and must be resisted by all lovers of democracy.

 

Six-Year Single Term Proposal is a Charade
by Atsar Terver

Being one of the most ardent non-supporters of a Jonathan Presidency for reasons I did not fail to elucidate in my previous writings before the 2011 general elections, I had planned to remain silent for a while when he finally clinched victory in an election that has been (doubtfully) christened ‘free and fair’. My decision was for two reasons; one was to give him a chance to prove me wrong on most of my gloomy predictions about his performance. The second is related to the first; that is not to give the impression that my opposition to his presidency is just for the sake of it!

 

So I watched silently as he squandered millions of tax-payers money to throw a bash for his inauguration which was conceitedly made to look like Nigeria’s birthday. I watched silently as he put together an uninspiring cabinet of recycled hands and party stalwarts (as compensation for their roles in getting him into the villa). I watched silently as he demonstrated helplessness over the insecurity in the northern part of the country occasioned by the uprising from Boko Haram. I watched silently as the power supply in my neighbourhood continued to slide from worst to worst. I could not say a word even as the PIB kept staggering to the brink of being thrown into oblivion. I watched as the Naira continued to slide against the Dollar while prices of essential items continued to soar in the shops. I was quiet as unemployment continued to rise along with the decay of roads and other infrastructure.

I was prepared to hold my peace even as GEJ carried on as if none of these problems deserved urgent attention. But my silence could not be sustained much longer when in the midst of all these, Jonathan rolled out his priority list and the first item on his agenda was the six-year, single term proposal. My first reaction to this idea was: Oh mine; does this guy really know what is Nigeria’s problem? If the president considers this tenure thing as a priority for his government, why was it not among his campaign promises, which am sure he may not even remember any now?

Then followed the denials and then, the defence. First the president who announced this plan quickly denied that he was the originator of the proposal. He said the idea was actually hatched by the conference of Political Parties. How he ended up becoming the spokesman of the Conference of Political Parties remains a mystery. Next he announced that the Presidency would send an executive bill to the National Assembly for this proposal. Why would the presidency take upon its shoulders a proposal that was hatched by the CNPP which also should know what to do to realise their proposal? If it is in his character to take up causes from pressure groups, then why has the President not taken up other proposals from the CNPP like the call for a Sovereign National Conference for instance?

Those who have carefully watched the president’s body language from the time he was deputy Governor in Bayelsa state all through the Yar’Adua illness/death and the zoning debate should have known by now that anytime he profusely denies personal interest in a matter, the opposite is always the case. Anytime he feigns disinterest, he is working tirelessly underground to achieve just that interest. Deceit, denial and pretence thus appear to be a winning formula for this government! For instance, during the last election, while the President repeatedly mouthed his determination to ensure a credible election (meaning free and fair), he actively deployed state resources and government machinery (which other contestants did not have) to ensure the outcome was in his favour.

Saying one thing and doing the opposite has become a culture of the Nigerian politician. That is why I urge Nigerians not to take statements like this from Reuben Abati seriously. ’The proposed amendment will not have anything to do with him as a person; what he owes Nigerians is good governance, and he is singularly committed to this’. Why would Abati want us to believe the amendment would not have anything to do with the President when indeed, his goons have argued that he can contest for a third (what some misinformed persons call second term) in 2015 and very soon, once the bill is passed to law he (Abati) would be the one telling us the same thing?

If indeed the idea is a good one, why the alacrity to disown its origin while at the same time championing it with frenzied zeal? Why the contradictory demeanour? When a leader lacks the courage or integrity to tell the people the truth, then, suspicion and distrust on their part should be expected and this accounts for the discordant voices that have emerged since this matter became an issue for national debate.

It may be amazing to some people that the person trying to sell ice to the Eskimos this time around is no other than Reuben Abati, but this is not surprising to many of us who noticed his half-hearted style of criticism long ago. I have always said that Reuben is a partisan and biased journalist, who used his writing to curry favours from government while pretending to be pro-masses. His joining the GEJ government and becoming the chief defender of Jonathan's ineptitude has proved me right.

As far as I am concerned, this six-year tenure is just a superfluous distraction by a government that obviously does not know what to do with a four-year mandate. Recall that hours to his inauguration, Jonathan flew a kite in this direction by canvassing some jejune reasons why 4-years is too short a time for a government to do any serious development! There is no closer approximation to the adage, ‘a lazy man complains about his tools’ than this. If a leader does not know what to do in four years, then six years won’t do any magic. The Bible says that it is he who is faithful in little that can be trusted with much.

Jonathan said it takes about two years for elected government officials to settle down! I am yet to read a more embarrassing statement from a leader of late. If Jonathan for instance was not prepared for leadership to the extent that it would take him a whooping two years to settle down, then why was he so desperate to take power when there were other better prepared candidates who could hit the ground running? In the same vein why would he appoint inexperienced people as ministers or advisers? Is it to use the destiny of the Nigerian people as experimental sample for leadership training?

The primitive mindset that government business must revolve around a personality rather than enduring institutions is behind this thinking by the President. Where a stable institutional framework for governance exists with strict obedience to rules and the law, it becomes immaterial how short a specific individual stays in the saddle. Under such a system, nobody (good or bad) is elevated to the status of indispensability.

While we need continuity and stability of institutions, we do not need a Jonathan for Nigeria to work. Jonathan should have known by now that when Abacha died, Nigeria continued to exist and when Yar’Adua also died, Nigeria did not die with him therefore it is wrong to believe that an individual should hold the key to the nation’s progress.

The proper understanding on leadership should therefore be that an elected President or Governor comes in with the full awareness that he will contribute his own quota within a limited time frame and leave the stage for another. Any thoughts of perpetuity of an individual are self-serving and should be banished.

The excuse about excessive spending on elections every four years is typically hypocritical of this government. Can GEJ give us an honest account of his spending during the last election? Can he disclose the source of the billions he expended on his campaign and why he had to do so against the stipulated limits by the Electoral Act?

A serious government should know that the issue of excessive spending (not just of public resources) during elections can easily be tackled by simple strict enforcement of relevant provisions of the Electoral Act. The question is: why was he not ready to obey or enforce the law during the last election only to turn round and see something wrong with that immediately he got the Presidency?

Can a President whose antecedence does not indicate prudence and accountability be taken seriously on this claim? These are the type of questions an Abati, outside of government would be asking the President; now he needs to attempt an intelligible answer for his new boss. This his Political circumlocutory prevarication will not do.

Come on Mr. President; will there be no elections after the expiration of the proposed six-year tenure? Experience has shown that an outgoing President could as well sponsor a surrogate to take over from him in order to protect his interests out of power, in which case state resources will still be deployed by him to achieve that aim. GEJ is a living witness that OBJ as an outgoing President still spent state resources to bring him and the Late Yar’Adua to power in the 2007 charade called elections. On this point too, the proposal stands defeated.

Then the fact that a President knows he has six straight years to rule without recourse to the people for re-election would encourage non-performance and unmitigated embezzlement. Six years of looting is long enough time for a thieving leader to gather the fortune of a lifetime, which appears to be GEJ’s salient motivation for this proposal.

If a leader is good, there is no harm in re-electing him for a second four-year term as currently practiced but it is extremely dangerous to thrust power in the hands of a wrong leader for a protracted period like six years, during which he would cause enough damage that would take the nation two decades to recover from.

As opposed to the six-year tenure, I dare suggest that a newly elected President should be given a two-year probation within the four-year tenure after which a mid-term election should be conducted to determine if he can be a candidate in the second term. If he loses, his party begins the search for a replacement right away leading to his removal at the end of the four year tenure.

The people should be ready to stand up against the emerging cabal themselves because their so-called elected representatives under the leadership of David Mark cannot be relied upon to stop this agenda. The kind of political horse-trading that goes on when such bills are discussed has nothing to do with the people but everything to do with the personal ambitions of the top players.

Democracy by its very nature abhors personalisation of power. It presumes that power belongs to the people who should have the unfettered opportunity to periodically asses their leaders and decide if they wish to have more of their leadership or to dispense with them. Any attempt to muzzle the people under whatever colouration is anti-democratic and must be resisted by all lovers of democracy.

 

 


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