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OPINION: "Terrible Idea" of a Six-Year Single Term

OPINION: "Terrible Idea" of a Six-Year Single Term

While basking in the euphoria of his election in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan mulled a single term. Also, at the height of oil subsidy protests in January 2012, his special adviser on media and publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, hinted that the president had a plan to send a constitution amendment bill to the National Assembly that would provide for a six-year single tenure for the president and the governors. With the "ratification" of the Senate ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Amendment of a single term of six years for the president and state governors, the idea is no longer hidden.

In its report, the Senate committee seeks an amendment to sections 135 and 180 of the constitution to allow for a single tenure for executive offices. Also to be amended is Section 137 barring incumbents from benefitting from it. At the public hearings and town hall meetings, it was clear that the idea had no backing of the Nigerian people. So, it remains unclear how the committee came to that conclusion and included it in its report.

Concerns about the current two-term tenure of four years each might be legitimate, but there are still reasons to maintain it. Most elected governors tend to do more in their first term in office with the hope that they will be rewarded with re-election. This is the practice in most democracies of the world. Rejection at the polls is the price for a dismal first term. So why do we want to do away with this democratic incentive for hard work? A single term of six years may present plausible prospect for reducing the cost of election or governance, but it could also engender avarice and heat up the polity as beneficiaries of single tenure of six years could also, mid-way into their tenure, brook tenure elongation and change the provision to enable them serve for two terms of 12 years.

From whichever perspective, the proposition is not only tendentious but profoundly undemocratic. It will certainly mean the INEC updating the voter register every six years and leaving new entrants into the voting age bracket in abeyance for years. The cost of providing security for elections will become invariably higher because of the fear that losing out would mean being in the political wilderness for six years. The truth is that the cost of elections is not necessarily a function of its frequency. Above all, global statistics indicate that the concept of a six-year single presidency is not fashionable in virtually all the six continents of the world: 196 countries in the six continents practise two terms of four years, and, of the 54 countries in Africa, only Senegal and Ethiopia operate two terms of six years.

Indeed, almost all the advanced democracies do not favour the idea. Virtually all the American leaders who shared such sentiments often expressed contrary views in later years. Professor Arthur Schlesinger of City University of New York concluded in his analysis of the six-year presidency that it is "a terrible idea" because it is completely antithetical to the "philosophy of democracy". We cannot agree less.

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