he House of Representatives recently rejected a bill seeking to alter the tenure of presidents, governors, state and federal lawmakers, and other public officials to a six-year single term.
The bill was sponsored by John Dyegh (APC, Benue). It was due for the second reading but majority of the lawmakers opposed it and it died a natural death.
Part of the reasons why the bill was rejected was the feeling by some members of the House that the bill could be wrongly interpreted to mean a way of opening the door for a third term tenure for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is currently serving out the second of his two terms in office. He was first elected in 2015.
That much was said by Haruna Bello (APC, Kano) who said it could lead to suspicion of a subtle ploy to extend Buhari’s tenure.
Many lawmakers opposed the bill while a few others said such a proposal, if allowed to succeed, would save the country the stress of running for re-election during the first four-year term of presidents and governors.
At the end of the debate, Idris Wase, the Deputy Speaker of the House, who presided over the plenary, put the bill to a voice vote. More voices rejected the bill.
We recall that a similar move was made in 2006 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was rounding off his second term. Proponents of the third term agenda had come up with constitutional amendment, which would have paved the way for Obasanjo to extend his tenure beyond the two terms.
But on May 16, 2006, the Senate rejected the constitutional amendment and killed Obasanjo’s dream of staying beyond 2007.
The bill was rejected in a voice-vote by the Senate after a debate transmitted live on television.
The rejection of the bill came weeks after President Buhari had publicly declared that he would retire to his home after the mandatory two terms imposed by the constitution. He was speaking at the National Executive Council meeting of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja.
Although the president has been clear enough that he is not seeking a third term, conspiracy theorists of the third term are wont to believe that the president is looking for it through his foot soldiers.
Perhaps, that was why the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, came out in the open last week to debunk the rumour. He said that the president’s body language so far did not show he’s interested in a third term, much less use the legislature to initiate the process for him.
But the rejection of the bill has attracted differing reactions. While some people hailed the move as a right step, others saw it as a rejection of a golden opportunity to stop the second term madness that has been widely argued to make elected officials lose focus in governance. One of such persons that saw it as a missed opportunity is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
“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,” Atiku said.
He explained that “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 legitimizing rigging at the expense of their challengers that have no access to public funds.”
We do not believe that Buhari would seek a third term in office. We also do not believe that the bill would have made him think of seeking a third term in office. Rather, we believe that the bill ought to have been passed, considering that the single six-year tenure has been canvassed for long by Nigerians. That was evident in the different Constitutional Conferences held since 1994. We note that the Obasanjo third term agenda swept away with it other important aspects of the constitution amendment that would have been valuable for Nigerians.
That is exactly what has happened with the same rejection by the House. Considering that various parts of the country have been clamouring for the presidency to reach their zones, the six-year single term would ensure rotation among the zones and ensure that whoever that is elected for a single six-year term, would focus on governance and run away from the madness of the 2nd term syndrome, which has not helped the country.
We believe that rather than help grow democracy, the second term syndrome has helped under-develop democracy in the country. This is evident in the do-or-die attitude of incumbents, who seek second term as if their lives depend on such.
We are of the view that rather than throw away the bill prematurely, there was the need to look at it holistically, with a view to subjecting it to full debate and taking the merits out of it. Nigeria cannot afford to be going back and forth in the democratic process, losing years of development to undemocratic practices of desperate politicians looking for re-election.