(Vanguard of Sunday, November 10, 2002)
We are at it again, rushing into areas that will further compound the problems we have created for ourselves. The in-thing now is the tenure of office-holders. What do we think –single-term tenure or double-term tenure?
I addressed this issue at the International Conference Centre in Abuja the other day. We had no limit to tenures in the past. So, we started at Independence with limitless tenure, then opted for two terms for the chief executives of the centre and the states. Three years into the road we have chosen to walk, we are arguing for whether the two-term tenure of four years each should be continued or we should have a single-term term, the number of years notwithstanding.
The good news is that no one is asking for return to limitless-term tenure. How else would Togo and Zimbabwe and Egypt and Kenya have accommodated their leaders for this long? So, we thank God that many have not emerged from among those who permanently walk the corridors of power to argue that those who are in the executive and legislative arms of government today were specially created by God to be there and should be left there forever.
The good news also is that no one is asking that the two-term tenure must be more than four years each. But the bad news is that no one seems to be looking at the cost of the present dispensation and how whatever changes we make should work towards the end of bringing down the cost very drastically.
The question of tenure is tied closely to how people want to see or interprete section 14 (3) and (4) of the constitution which I would like to reproduce:
“Section 14 (3): The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that or in any of its agencies.
Section 14 (4): The composition of the government of the State, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such government or council and the conduct of the affairs of the government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the peoples within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the Federation.
Federal character is defined by section 318 of the Constitution as referring to the distinctive desire of the people of Nigeria to promote national unity, foster national loyalty and give every citizen of Nigeria a sense of belonging to the nation…
The way the average politician sees this section is that in the area of electing people, all office-holders must be seen to come from different parts of the country. There are 97,000 communities in the country and these are grouped into more than 350 nationally groups. Politically, the country is divided into one central government, 36 states and 774 local government areas.
Federal appointments must reflect the three senatorial districts in each state and all the local government areas must reflect the wards that constitute the local government.
The rush for representation is determined by the level to which appointments are made. For President, the question is which of the zones or nationally groups? The present situation is that President Olusegun Obasanjo is Yoruba. He would have done four years in 2003?
If he opts to do another four years, which the Constitution entitles him to, would he be fair to other nationality groups in the South who know that after eight years, there would be no doubt that the next port of call for the office of President would be the North?
The contest for the office is thus between the North and the South. If it is in the South, as it is today, the push to occupy the office would be made by three groups – the Yoruba who already have it and can go for another four years because the Constitution say so; the Igbo of the South East and the Niger delta nationalities who would want to occupy the position because the chance for the South would have ended in 2007.
Where the governorship of a state is involved, the senatorial districts that constitute the state would fight for occupation of the office. The current request countrywide for power-shift is thus identifiable by the level at which positions are being contested.
What the Constitution is thus emphasizing us that the place of origin of citizens is what must determine office-holding, and not competence or merit. This constitutional requirement is not located only in the political boxing ring, but also in all areas of appointments into the public service, including, surprisingly, the Judiciary.
It is the urge to take their share of the cake baked by section 14 (3) and (4) of the Constitution that has led to the call for a single term tenure. It means that were we to just say that all office-holders should serve for five years; we would have solved the problems of killing ourselves or waiting for vacancies to occur in government houses countrywide.
I doubt that this will resolve the political stress the present arrangement is causing. The stress is both financial and emotional. Financial because we cannot afford it, and emotional because the political offices are corruption-prone. The training to serve is absent in political offices are corruption-prone. The training to serve is absent in political office-holding. The anticipation is what is there to take home to my people. And the expectation of the people whose turn it is to take up the positions is what did he bring home to us?
These anticipations and expectations are a serious threat to development and growth. Do we therefore have a choice of a road because of what we can get from that road or because it is a road that people are secure and that their welfare is assured.
I believe that we must make changes in the dispensation we have chosen only insofar as to make the road less crowded, less expensive and less stressful. I have on October, 1, 2002 addressed the way we can do this in my publication To Save Nigeria: LET’S TALK. I took copies to the International Conference Centre forum which was organised by Tell Magazine; and they were handed over to those who attended.
I have since taken the opportunity of my presence anywhere to push for the need for us to talk. It makes no political, economic or moral sense to borrow to run a government at whatever level. That is what we have been doing. Before 1999, people complained that spending 70 percent of our resources on recurrent commitments was too high. A country that wants to grow should not put too much of its resources into more planning than developing.
As at August 2002, we were spending 92 percent of our earnings on recurrent expenditure. I have it on good authority that as at the beginning of this month, we have nothing for developing the country. Our recurrent commitments have swallowed up everything that comes into the kitty.
How long for are we going to put up with this? This is not on, and if the single term tenure will be opted for outside a profound refocusing of our structure through a conference of whatever name known by, then it is opting for death through another name. And death will remain death.
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 474 – 477; Lagos, 2011).