Controversy over Jonathan Single-Term Concept: Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan's Proposal for a Single Term of Six Years for Future Presidents and State Governors Is Generating Robust Public Debate. Political Experts Say This Is Healthy for the Nation's Evolving Democracy, Writes Frederick Mordi

By Mordi, Frederick | African Business, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Controversy over Jonathan Single-Term Concept: Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan's Proposal for a Single Term of Six Years for Future Presidents and State Governors Is Generating Robust Public Debate. Political Experts Say This Is Healthy for the Nation's Evolving Democracy, Writes Frederick Mordi


Mordi, Frederick, African Business


In 2006, surreptitious moves were reportedly made to extend the tenure of Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo in what was then infamously tagged the 'Third Term Agenda'.

An amorphous body known as 'Corporate Nigeria,' which was composed of some respected bank chief executives and captains of industry--key players in the nation's economy--was allegedly the architect of Obasanjo's Third Term Agenda. Corporate Nigeria felt tenure elongation would give Obasanjo enough time to consolidate his successes on the economic front.

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But civil society groups and his political opponents, particularly his Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, vehemently fought against Obasanjo's bid for tenure elongation on the ground that it would violate the nation's Constitution, which prescribes two terms of four years each as the maximum number. The matter was eventually resolved when Oba-sanjo endorsed the late Umaru Yar'Adua as his successor at the 2007 Presidential election, effectively signalling the end of the Third Term debate.

Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, (who succeeded Yar'Adua), appears to have stirred a hornet's nest again, with his current proposal of a six-year single term for future presidents and governors of the country. Though Jonathan has insisted that he would not be a beneficiary of the proposed new tenure limit as he has repeatedly assured Nigerians that he would fulfil his promise of running for a single term of four years that would end in 2015, the opposition is not convinced. There is no smoke without fire, they say.

Healthy for democracy

Despite the condemnation that has followed Jonathan's decision to send a bill on the proposal to the National Assembly for debate and possible final assent, he has stuck to his guns, insisting that it is for the good of the country. The President's Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, says the debate is healthy for the nation's budding democracy.

Abati said: "It is still at the level of ideas. If you check the debate out there you will see that there are a lot of people supporting the President, but with some of them say the time is not right. The debate is healthy for our polity."

But the major opposition parties in the country, particularly the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Labour Party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), have criticised the proposal, which they say is "distracting".

They want the President to address the security challenges in the country and other socio-economic issues rather than divert attention to tenure limits for elected public office holders. They argue that a President's success in office should be measured by the impact he has made rather than the number of years he spends.

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On its part, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a political party that is very strong in the southeastern part of the country, believes the proposal would make politicians unaccountable to the people.

The Chairman of the party, Victor Umeh, said: "The President may have good intentions for proposing this bill, but a critical analysis of the implications of passing this bill into law is that people will now be elected for a six-year single tenure. So it is very dangerous from the blast of the whistle. They can decide to abandon the electorate and you cannot do anything to them. With the Immunity Clause in our Constitution, it means that it will be very difficult to remove them when they are going wrong."

Umeh, who insists that six years will be a long time to allow a non-performing governor or a president to remain in the saddle, believes that the four-year tenure is better. He vowed that his party would oppose passage of the bill by the National Assembly because it is, according to him, undemocratic.

"We believe that when public office holders know that they are going back to the electorate to renew their mandate, they will be responsible," he added.

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Controversy over Jonathan Single-Term Concept: Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan's Proposal for a Single Term of Six Years for Future Presidents and State Governors Is Generating Robust Public Debate. Political Experts Say This Is Healthy for the Nation's Evolving Democracy, Writes Frederick Mordi
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