Friday, August 5, 2011

Conditional support for single term for executives

I really find it difficult to fathom the urgency that made the Presidency to fly the kite on the issue of single term for the president and governors which opposition parties have mischievously christened tenure elongation. Could it be to distract us from the menace of Boko Haram, or the hullabaloo occasioned by the licensing of Jaiz Bank which has pitted Christians and Muslims against one another over the Islamic banking proposal? Or perhaps, it was meant to take our attention away from demanding the implementation of the minimum wage of N18,000 for workers and the call for improvement in the standard of living of Nigerians. Whatever it was, I think what President Goodluck Jonathan did amounted to doing the right thing at the wrong time. Jonathan is barely two months into his four year tenure, and the National Assembly is yet to constitute the joint committee on constitutional reform, with no request yet for memoranda by the parliament; so why the haste?

If only for the sake of an academic exercise, I will comment on this issue that has heated the polity since it was officially broached by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. According to Abati, “President Jonathan is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election, every four years, generates both at the federal and state levels. The nation is still smarting from the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that has attended each general election, the fall-out of all this is the unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations. In addition, the costs of conducting party primaries and the general elections have become too high for the economy to accommodate every four years. The proposed amendment bill is necessary to consolidate our democracy and allow elected executives to concentrate on governance and service delivery for their full term, instead of running governments with re-election as their primary focus.”

In order to disabuse the minds of Nigerians who may think the proposed bill is for personal aggrandisement of the initiator, the statement went further to say that, “The envisaged bill is part of the Jonathan administration’s transformational agenda aimed at sanitising the nation’s politics. The President believes that this single move, when actualised, will change the face of our politics and accelerate the overall development of our nation. If the proposed amendment is accepted by the National Assembly, the President assures that he will not in any way be a beneficiary.”

In spite of the strident clarifications, groups such as the Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Nigeria Labour Congress, and the Nigerian Bar Association, have issued statements criticising the proposal and expressing their deep resentment to it. Not even the claim by the President on Thursday, July 28, at the Peoples Democratic Party’s National Executive Council meeting that the single term idea was not originally his, but that of the 29-member inter-party advisory committee set up by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008, was able to placate the antagonists of the proposition.

Having followed the argument of the proponents and opponents to the idea for a while, against the welt of opposing views, I am in support of a single term for the executives i.e. president and the governors. My support is however conditional. The pre-conditions are as follows: The proposed constitutional amendment must include the removal of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Yes, the controversial Immunity Clause which the constitution refers to as ‘Restriction on legal proceedings’, must be excised from our grund norm (Constitution). The rationale behind this is that if an executive knows that he is liable to criminal and civil prosecution even while in office, irrespective of his or her tenure in office, there is the likelihood of such person(s) refraining from abusing his or her office.

My other condition is that the impeachment clauses as contained in Section 143 for the President and 188 for the Governor and Deputy Governor must be made less cumbersome. I humbly request constitutional amendment to sections 143 (11) and 188 (11). These sections define gross misconduct as “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly (or House of Assembly) to gross misconduct.” If we leave these sections as they are, the executives will be susceptible to parliamentary blackmail since the law says whatever amounts to misconduct in the opinion of the parliament is tantamount to an impeachable offence. I submit that impeachable offences must be listed in the constitution so that any president or governor who infracted on them will know he has deliberately done himself in. I assume that genuine fear of possible impeachment will make our chief executive officers not to misbehave.

My last pre-condition to supporting a single term for the executives is the imperative of strengthening of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal. Once the anti-corruption agencies are alive to their responsibilities, the immunity clause is off and there is a likelihood of impeachment in the event of known gross abuse of office, I believe the chances of a bad president or governor staying the length of his or her tenure in office before the next elections will be slim. Then the single term in office will make better sense, at least to me.