Moves to amend the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to review the tenure of the president and state governors from the extant two terms of four years each to a single six-year tenure, collapsed yesterday at the House of Representatives. The House summarily killed the bill, sponsored by Hon. John Dyegh, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member from Benue State, which also sought to amend the tenure of lawmakers in the National Assembly and states legislatures from the initial four-year period to six years.
Dyegh’s colleagues stiffly resisted the bill during its consideration yesterday for second reading at the resumption of plenary.
However, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar faulted the decision of the lawmakers, describing the rejection of the bill as a missed opportunity. At the second reading of the bill, almost all the members that contributed to the debate on the bill rejected it.
The consideration of the bill came against the backdrop of the speculation that President Muhammadu Buhari was nursing a third-term ambition, an allegation, which the president has severally disclaimed.
In his lead debate, Dyegh said democracies the world over face problems of representation, adding that fledgling, nascent and emerging democracies in particular tend to face high level of challenges.
He identified one of the challenges of democracy in Nigeria as the desperation by politicians to remain in power, sometimes at all costs, resulting in electoral violence that claims lives.
“Limiting terms of office of a president or governor to a single, elongated tenure, therefore, offers a promising, long time solution to the avoidable loss of limbs, lives and sources of living attributable to conflicts arising out of re-election processes.
“You will agree with me that the present four years plus four years tenure of eight years is not helping matters; it is taking us backwards. Practically speaking, the occupier of the seat spends only two years in the first and the remaining two years fighting re-election, which in Nigeria is many times more expensive than the first election and mostly dependent on lean resources of the state allegedly.
“In the second tenure, he spends two-and-a-half years working on the remaining one-and-a-half years preparing his exit/soft landing and installation of a successor. So, the total times spent for actual work for the state is not more than four-and-a-half years of the eight years,” he stated.
Dyegh added that the proposed six-year single term would afford the president or governor to be more focused, more dedicated and the usual do-or-die battles for re-elections would be eliminated; no lives would be lost, money would be saved, while the country would experience better development.
The lawmaker noted that the high turnover of legislators in the country has led to loss of experience and institutional knowledge and failure of entrenching loyalty to the electorate.
He explained that in the judiciary, a law graduate rises from a magistrate through the ranks to be a judge or Supreme Court justice and as such, the judiciary is rich in terms of experience and institutional knowledge.
He said this was why judges could easily make references to cases dating over 30 years; whereas such institutional knowledge is lacking in the legislature.
In his contribution, Hon. Sagius Ogui said he was in support of the bill because it would save the country’s democracy, considering the huge amount the executive always spend while seeking a second term in office.
But Hon. Yusuf Gagdi countered that the country’s democracy does not require six-year single term for the executive and called for the strengthening of the Electoral Act to address the lapses politicians exploit to game the system.
Also, Hon. Olumide Osoba noted that what the country needs is electoral reform and not tenure extension.
On his part, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, said the immunity clause for governors and president should be removed.
According to him, “Why we are having all these issue is because of immunity. We should remove immunity clause for the governors and the president to allow accountability.”
However, faced with the stiff opposition to the bill from his colleagues, Dyegh (APC-Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency of Benue State), said they misunderstood the intent of the bill.
After the debate, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, who presided over the plenary, put to it to voice vote for the bill to move to second reading, but lawmakers overwhelmingly voted against it.
The deputy speaker, therefore, ruled that the bill be stepped down.
Atiku Faults House’s Rejection of Six-year Single Tenure
However, reacting to the rejection of the bill, Atiku expressed displeasure at the speed with which the House rejected the six-year single term proposal.
Atiku in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, said the lawmakers threw away the baby with the bath water at the expense of the larger interest of the country.
According to Atiku, “in view of the challenges facing our current democratic order, especially the culture of rigging that subverts the will of the people, six-year single term would have ended such untoward practices in our electoral process.
“The desperation for second term by the incumbents is the main reason why they go for broke and set the rule book on fire, thereby making free and fair elections impossible by legitimising rigging at the expense of their challengers that have no access to public funds.
“A situation where the incumbents deploy more public resources to their second term projects than using the funds for people’s welfare encourages massive rigging that undermines electoral integrity.”
Atiku expressed optimism that a six-year single term would address the desperation by incumbents to remain in office and enable them to concentrate on the job.
He expressed regrets that “eight-year term of office rewards incompetence because even incumbents that have failed would use their access to public funds to return to power by fair or foul means.”