The Wisdom of One-term Tenure
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
This is the second and last part of our response to the suggestions given by The Patriots to Obasanjo and the nation. In the last edition of our discourse, we looked at the fallacy of rotational presidency. Among other things, we wondered why senior citizens would descend to such a low level of mediocrity that offers the country at any given time only a 16.67% chance of having the best leader. Moreover, why should politics be rotated if we cannot rotate economic and social fortunes of the society like banking, spare parts dealership and export of prostitutes to Italy? We marshalled arguments in favour of merit as the only yardstick for winning the highest office, not culture, ethnicity or language.
Today, we will look at the wisdom of one-term tenure, another component of The Patriot’s suggestion. Though we agree with them in this respect, we differ in both motive and purpose. Their motive is to bar people from the far North from leadership because they believed they have been “accorded preferential treatment.” We will prove here that this is a deliberate attempt to twist facts and we never believed that people like F. R. Williams and Professor Ben Nwabueze would reduce their language and logic to pedestrian latitudes. To start with, let us recast what they said:
“It is our considered view that in order to promote the objective of ensuring that no cultural, ethnic or linguistic group is accorded preferential treatment, we ought to develop a convention of ensuring that the top and most important political office in this nation goes round in a way that manifest our conviction that no particular ethnic, cultural or linguistic group is accorded preferential treatment over others. On this ground alone, the rotation of the office of the President every five years among the geopolitical zones is likely to be a more effective demonstration of the equality of the nationalities in each zone if no one person from a particular geopolitical group stays in the office for more than one term.”
Now let us examine the facts. Gowon ruled Nigeria for 9 years; Obasanjo, 8 years, by 2003; Babangida, 8 years; Abdulsalami, 1 year; Ironsi, six months; and Shonekan, five months; These leaders were all from the zones that The Patriots claim to represent. Their cumulative tenure will be 27 years, by 2003.
On the other hand, from “The non-Patriots” zones, Balewa ruled for 5 years; Abacha, 5 years; Shagari, 4 years; Buhari, say, 2 years; and Murtala, six months. They had a total of only 16 years.
Ethnically speaking, the Yoruba or people of Yoruba origin have ruled this country for at least 17 years; minorities, 14 years; Fulani, 6 years; Kanuri, 5 years; and Igbo six months. The Hausa had nothing so far. The statistics will be more revealing if we go further to analyse the ethnic composition of various Supreme Military Councils, the Armed Forces Ruling Councils and Federal Cabinets. We will leave that until a later date.
The patriots have spoken about language. The Hausa here, in our opinion, should protest more than any other person. His language is most widely spoken but the leadership of the country is yet to rotate to him. Had he known his right he would have fought for it.
We have therefore maintained a good degree of ethnic variety in our leadership without resorting to a convention of rotational presidency.
Our support for a one-term tenure is based on experience and logic superior than ethnicity. The bad experience we have in this country is that leaders, military or civilian, hardly agree to vacate power amicably. Here is a graph of that experience.
The earliest manifestation of reluctance to handover power to civilians started with Gowon. This formed one of the reasons why he was toppled in 1975. That is why when his successor, Murtala, came to power he immediately set a date for return to civil rule. The credit of 1979 military-civilian transition therefore goes to Murtala. It has wrongly been accredited to Obasanjo. The latter’s present persistence to go beyond 2003 using the tool of incumbency amidst widespread appeals to the contrary (like that of The Patriots which he has defied outrightly) has cast a serious doubt about his propriety over the 1979 transition. It is now clear that it was the joint commitment of the then SMC to uphold the earlier promise of Murtala that denied Obasanjo the slightest contemplation of self-succession. The SMC members in 1979 were not similar to the sycophants that surround him today, people who tell him “you are God!” (And, sad enough, he believes them. Someone tried to rationalize it to me by telling me that in Yoruba culture a leader is addressed as God. Haha!)
Shagari undoubtedly stood the best chance among all the presidential candidates to win the 1983 election, as he did in 1979. There was no way, for example, the East or North would have voted for Awolowo. However, Shagari’s party, the NPN, like all its five competitors, rigged the election to the best of its ability. And the NPN had the best ability, with a greater spread and more resources at its disposal, just like our PDP today. So it won a ‘moonslide’ victory. That formed part of the reasons for his overthrow.
Before Buhari could settle down and promise a date for return to civilian rule, he was overthrown in a palace coup. But given his proximity in character to Murtala, we can reliably deduce that had he, at a later date, given any such promise, he would have honoured it. The same benefit of the doubt cannot, however, be accorded his successor, Babangida.
During the tenure of my favourite – maradona – we had what could be described as the classical case of tazarce through various sit tight strategies that depleted leadership of all its respect. Strategies in various forms were used to prolong his regime until, before we could realize it, he had already spent the equivalent of two civilian terms – eight years. He refused to register parties, but formed his own – SDP and NRC – instead. He banned all formidable candidates, cancelled primaries and finally cancelled June 12 presidential elections. He kept on shifting the goal post and changing the rules of the game until when we got fed up with him, or he got tired of us, he bowed to pressure from within his council and ‘stepped aside.’
Abacha terminated the five months tenure of Shonekan upon pressure from June 12 supporters. He refused to handover power to them and retained it until his death in 1999, after he has spent more than the equivalent of one civilian term. I was among those shocked when he started to play a game reminiscent of the style of maradona.
Abdulsalami had no option but to handover to the person the international community planned to become the president. He knows, more by participation than by perception – if we choose to believe al-Mustapha – the scenario that brought him to power. He made all arrangements to ensure the success of Obasanjo who is today insisting that he must contest the next elections even in the face of his crippling administrative incompetence, which includes inability to compile voters register and holding local government elections – things which even maradona did with pleasant ease. As we said last week, given Obasanjo’s legendary failures, people have started looking at the possibility of having a caretaker (fiya-teta, to borrow from the political parlance of contemporary Gombe) federal government next May.
From the graph of tenures plotted above it is clear that persistence to rule indefinitely or the inability of leaders to peacefully allow free and fair elections that will give their opponents any chance to takeover power is pervasive in our recent history. Therefore, if there is any way we can limit our civilian administrations to one-term tenure, from local, state and federal levels, then the greatest threat to democracy would have been effectively done away with. That alone would have revolutionized governance.
We can further support our argument by drawing examples from local government chairmen and state governors. Non of them is less bent on self-succession than Obasanjo. But space will not allow us to dwell on that.
The issue is not restricted to Nigeria. Africa had people like Naser, Amin, Mobuto, and Numeiri. Now we have Mubarak, Moi, Mugabe, el-Bashir, etc. Elsewhere in Asia we have the bad examples of Marcos of Phillipines, Suharto of Indonesia, Mahathir of Malaysia, Musharraf of Pakistan, and so on. Saddam two weeks ago held elections where the turn out was 100% and won another tenure by 100%!
What these names and their decades long tenures suggest is the natural penchant of men to become tenacious once they are on power and especially where the political culture is too weak to check their lust. Man does not want any good to cease. As God himself testified about man, saying, “His love for good (interpreted to mean wealth) is intense.” And in the Third World there is nothing good to leaders better than uncontrolled access to wealth of the nation that the leader and his associates can freely loot in billions of dollars. We once had a regime whose cabinet slogan was “Don’t shed tears for Nigeria. Just help yourselves.” Today, the intoxication has gone beyond that. Some people are raising the President to the status of a deity, like Pharaoh and Nimrod. That is the ultimate in power.
However, this lust, like other preoccupations of our elected officers, need to be checked. If democracy is to last in Nigeria there is no alternative to limiting tenures to a reasonable period of one term. The following are our reasons.
One, it will sharpen the focus of the leadership when it knows that it has only a term. It will try to substantially achieve its goal within that period. One may ask, what if the goal is wicked? The answer here is, well, it does not make any difference. Once the country has made the mistake of voting a crook into power, it doesn’t make any difference whether we allow him a four-year term or twenty terms of ten years each. We have had cases of people who did not change their performance for eight years. The length of their stay did not mitigate their thirst to destroy the over eighty-year old institutions they inherited. So let any avaricious leader destroy and loot the most he could within, say, five years. His damage is cut by three years. We will then be more cautious in our choice, more resolute in voting for a better successor.
Two, it will stop incumbents from abandoning their duties and becoming unduly preoccupied with the politics of second term, just halfway through their first tenure. We have today a situation where serving ministers have already been appointed as campaign managers of the incumbent. We wonder into how many portions they will divide their attention.
Three, it will make the leader more resolute in implementing painful corrective measures whenever necessary since he know that he is returning to the electorate for any vote again. At present, even in the United States, it is a standard practice that any painful measure that cannot be introduced within the first two years of the first term has to wait until the second term.
Four, democracy will not be encumbered with executive interference like the ones we have witnessed under Obasanjo. Why should there be any need for his indulgence in party leadership politics? He will also be less interested in the politics of INEC timetable. Finally, he does not need to apply to God to approve his desire for a second term.
Four, controversies over the fear of a second term, like the impeachment saga and conflict with the vice-president or deputy governor, would have been reduced to exceptionally minimal instances with a one-term tenure. Under such situations, the nation would rather resort to corrective measures than opt for impeachment.
Five, there would be an increased demystification of the executive. Other arms of government and law enforcement agents will be under less apprehension of executive high handedness. They know, immediately after the first half of his tenure, that the President or Governor will be a lame duck. His strength during the second half will largely come from the popular support he enjoys, if has worked hard to earn any.
Six, since men are more committed in helping themselves than in assisting others, the executive will be less enthusiastic in employing instruments of government to the benefit of his successor. The ground may become more levelled then, though still undulating somehow, for all candidates to play.
Seven, more importance, especially as a result of item six above, will be attached to the electorate. We will not have a situation, like today, of governors and ministers immobilizing the electorate that their votes are worthless because the incumbent can achieve his desire, meaning he can rig elections to win a second term, with or without their support.
These and many other reasons are what make us suggest, almost a year ago now, that any future constitutional amendment has to seriously consider the adoption of a single tenure. As the reader could see, our decision, unlike that of The Patriots, is based on logic not on fallacy, ethnic malice or sentiments.
The opponents of one-term tenure have, as their main reason, entertained the fear that it will exacerbate corruption, in that elected officers, executive or legislative, will hurry to devour the treasury with the maximum ferocity possible or inflict more injury to their opponents. We have at least four reasons against such fear that we will briefly enumerate now.
One, as we said above, habits like corruption and victimisation are functions of character, not practices arising from unfounded calculations. They are not moderated or exaggerated by duration. Two, a single tenure is most likely to compel a second thought among elected officers, that they will soon vacate their seats to face the price of their action while on power. Three, the weight of advantages that a single term would yield as listed above will definitely combine to strengthen the system, to make it more effective in restraining the ‘tyranny of the elected.’ Fourthly, people should rather think in the positive domain and imagine the vigour with which, on the other hand, a good leader would try to register record achievements within the limit of single tenure.
We may lament a situation whereby God may bless us with an exceptionally good leader whom we may wish could stay on for a second term. We may even shed tears as we listen to his voice in his farewell address to the nation. Yes. It will be painful. Nevertheless, that will only strengthen our resolve to elect a successor who will continue with his good work. Nigeria is big enough to produce whatever capacity of leadership we may desire.
A single five-year term is reasonable, neither too short to prevent the successful implementation of programs nor too long to support totalitarian ambitions and manoeuvres that could threaten democracy.
The Patriots and other people who attach too much weight to ethnicity are grossly exaggerating the reality on the ground. Our people are ready to welcome any good leader irrespective of his ethnic origin. We the elite should not pollute their minds. It is the prevailing atmosphere of mediocrity that makes it even possible for people, as high in position as Chief F. R. Williams and Professor Ben Nwabueze, to descend so low as to adopt the ethnic language and fallacies of Ohaneze and Afenifere.
We call on them to abandon the retrogressive path of laziness and sentiments. As their productivity decline with old age, they should retire and allow us associate with reason and merit from wherever they may originate. That is the surest path to realize the long denied glory of our motherland.