OrderPaperToday -Last Tuesday, a bill to amend the 1999 constitution to change the tenure of executive and legislature was rejected by the House of Representatives.
The Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to provide for a single term of six years for the president and governors sought to change the tenure of president and governors to a single term of 6 years from the two terms of four years, and to increase the tenure of members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly to 6 years as well.
The proposal was roundly rejected by lawmakers, irrespective of party lines. Most lawmakers who spoke on the bill faulted it and not even a passionate argument by the sponsor of the bill, John Dyegh (APC, Benue) was able to sway the lawmakers.
Promoting third term agenda?
The bill, like many of the lawmakers noted, was ill-timed. It came in the heat of an intense rumour making the rounds that the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, is considering pursuing a third term. Buhari has denied the claim, and even swore that he will abide by the provision of the constitution.
The senior special assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, who denied the possibility of a third term agenda said: “The Presidency wishes to correct internet-based gossip and un-informed media commentary regarding presidential term limits, given credence by so-called support groups, staging street demonstrations asking President Muhammadu Buhari to do a third term.
“There are no circumstances or set of circumstances under which President Buhari may seek to amend the Constitution regarding the two -term limit on holding office as president.
“President Buhari intends to serve his full second elected term in office, ending 2023 and then there shall be a general election in which he will not be a candidate. There is not even the faintest possibility that this will change. It is important to note that there was a past attempt to change the constitution to allow for the then incumbent president to stand for a third term.”
The sponsor also dismissed insinuations of tenure elongation for the incumbent, who is a member of his party, saying he was only interested in cutting down the huge amount of money spent on conducting elections every four years.
He said: “I’m not seeking tenure elongation for President Mohammadu Buhari as been insinuated but rather, this amendment is for election in 2023. Let us consider the amount of money we use in conducting elections every four years.”
Meet John Dyegh, sponsor of the failed bill
Dyegh, representing Gboko/Tarka federal constituency, is a member of the All Progressivs Congress (APC) and has been in the House since 2011.
The lawmaker was active in the 8th Assembly and vocal on issues of national interest, especially on matters involving farmers and herders clashes. He was one of those who raised their voices over the deadly killings in Benue State.
At the beginning of the 9th Assembly, the lawmaker was one of the first to declare interest in contesting for the speakership of the House. He ran a campaign hinged on the need to ensure equity in spread of political offices by zoning the number 4 office to the North Central where he hails from but later withdrew from the race due to varied reasons.
What is apparent is that the lawmaker did not consult with his colleagues adequately before bringing the Constitution Amendment Bill to the floor of the House. This was obvious in the widespread rejection the bill suffered during the debate on its general principles.
Second strike for the controversial bill
The 6 year tenure proposal did not make an appearance for the first time last Tuesday.
In 2011, a similar bill was mulled during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration but it generated public outcry and was eventually abandoned.
Jonathan said in an interview then that if the proposed amendment is accepted by the National Assembly, he will not in any way be a beneficiary. His explanation then was that the bill was conceived out of concern about the acrimony that re-election generates every four years at both federal and state levels.
Similarly, in 2016, former deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, also raised the issue of single term of 6 years but no concrete step was taken to actualise it.
Although the leadership of the All Progressive Congress (APC) caucus in the House has distanced the group from the bill, it has received good reviews from other political actors.
While the acting leader of the House, Peter Akpatason (APC, Edo), distanced the APC caucus and the president from the bill, a PDP lawmaker, Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo) gave backing to it, arguing that it would eliminate the crisis that characterises elections every four years and reduce funding as well.
“This bill intends to also save the money being spent in elections for second term. It will save this country and our democracy,” Ogun said.
Outside the parliament, there appears to be a growing support for the bill. Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, faulted the House for rejecting the bill and a serving minister also agreed with him.
In a press statement signed by his spokesman, Atiku said Nigeria’s current system of a single tenure of four years with a maximum of two terms rewards incompetence “because even incumbents that have failed would use their access to public funds to return to power by fair or foul means.”
“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.
“Six-year single term would remove such desperation and enable the incumbents concentrate on the job for which they were elected in the first place,” he posited.
In a rare occurrence, the minister of Labour (State), Festus Keyamo, also agreed with Mr Atiku on a single tenure arrangement.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is a vocal supporter of the president tweeted: “At last! Finally we can find a common ground for agreement b/w the actors of the 2 major parties. I agree with this and I know most of my party members do too. So, parliamentarians, please let’s do it, with a CLEAR provision that the present president & governors will not benefit.”
It is not clear if the consensus outside the parliament will be convincing enough for the lawmakers to reconsider the bill. However, If the mood of the House during the debate is anything to go by, it would take a lot of lobbying and consultation by any sponsor of the bill to get the lawmakers to even give it a thought.