E O EkeSaturday, June 8, 2013




nce again, Nigerian politician have not disappointed in their pursuit of their selfish interest. The latest is the attempt to amend the constitution to give the president and governors six years single term. My condemnation of this proposed amendment is soaked in astonishment. How can they in their rightful mind think that this is the most important tonic the Nigerian democracy needs? I am alarmed at the rate the Nigerian national assembly is tearing the constitution they swore to uphold and surprised at how the legislators seem to think that their main duty is amendment of the constitution to suit the selfish interest of politicians. I do not know of any country where its constitution is being amended at the rate, way and manner Nigerian legislators are vandalising the Nigerian constitution.

The argument that the six year term is meant to reduce the cost of democracy is simply nonsense and a smoke screen to impose on Nigerian a constitution which will only serve the interest of the politicians without giving the people opportunity to hold them to account. More money can be saved by addressing corruption and cutting the cost of government in an active manner. Government can make the necessary reforms in the relationship between the government and civil service, and empower the civil service to act in the interest of the nation. How can the government make policy to bring the game keeper under the control of the poacher and wonder why poaching continues unabated? If the current Nigerian government is sincere about the cost of Nigerian democracy it would have started by reducing the remuneration of politicians which is the single most contributory factor to the astronomical cost of Nigerian democracy. At 80% of recurrent expenditure, it is excessive and a 6 year term will not make a difference. This proposed constitutional amendment exposes the self-centeredness of Nigerian politicians and another underbelly of the, corrupt and mutating democracy of Nigeria.

There are just many reasons why this is the wrong move. Apart from the endemicity of corruption in Nigeria, the lack of strong institutions to hold politicians to account is one reason why the time they have to loot should not be extended. The most important boost Nigerian democracy needs is not the extension of the terms of the president and governors. Rather it would seem to be the making of the president and governors accountable to the people who elected them. At the moment, Nigerian political partiesí functions like a Mafia. The constant conflict between governors and their party has a lot to do with governors resisting the insatiable appetite of party leaders for state fund to be diverted for party use through many ingenious schemes. These are the problems that should be addressed by legislation before thinking about extension of term. If a house is on fire, the most important thing is not changing the lock on the door. If a roof is leaking, the most important thing is not repainting the house. If a ship is taking water, closing the hole in the hull is the most important thing and not how long the captain of the ship and his crew should serve. This is the wrong priority at this time and it speaks volumes about the morality, attitude and true motives of Nigerian legislators and executives.

This amendment will not improve the quality of governance in Nigeria in any way. It will not make the president and governors more honest and accountable. It will not enable the police to respect the law and fundamental human rights in the discharging of their duties. It will not create the jobs thousands of unemployed graduates needs. It will not reduce the rate of crimes or build the schools and hospitals the people need. This amendment will not stop Fulani herdsmen from burning out villages or Boko haram sponsors from inciting hatred and intolerance to divide the country. It will only benefit the president and governors who will have six years to ruin Nigeria and enough time to destroy those who may be minded to hold them accountable. There are other more pressing political and economic reforms which will move Nigeria forward and enable democracy to flourish than the extension of the terms of the president and governors.

What the national assembly should have prioritised is electoral reforms which will turn the national electoral commission into a truly independent agency that will not depend of the favours of the government in power. An independent electoral commission whose first duty should be to establish a verifiable on line electoral register for Nigeria and ensure that every Nigerian reaching the age of 18 is enable to go into the register. This agency should make the registration of voters a continuous exercise, set a cut-off date before any election for the registration of voters who would vote in the next election. In this way Nigerians who wants to vote at elections will ensure that they get their names in the voters register before the closing date for registration. In a four cycle democracy, it is about three years and all those who believe that they would be 18 by the next election are encouraged to register.

In addition, the services of volunteers should be requested and NYSC and retired teachers and civil servant recruited to work as electoral officers. What Nigeria needs is an electoral commission that has the power and resources to conduct better screening of candidates put forward by the parties for elections. Such an electoral commission will be able to ensure that only candidates who have emerged through the partiesí democratic structure and process are cleared to contest elections. This is what Nigerian government can do if it puts the interest of Nigeria over and above the selfish interest of the cabals who are bent of destroying Nigeria to serve their greed. If the right political reforms are made, it will attract the right kind of Nigerians to politics to give Nigeria a future. Nigerians must not allow politician to recreate the Nigerian constitution in their selfish and corrupt image.

What Nigerian needs is the reformation of the electoral process, to make it more participatory. Less money driven and less expensive to conduct elections and this does not require a change of the length of the term the president and governors should serve. What Nigeria needs is for political Parties to be compelled by law to democratise the selection of candidates by abolishing the demand of large sums of money from aspirants. Instead, a minimum registration fee for forms should be demanded from all candidates and they should be mandated to get a minimum signature of registered party members who support their application and candidacy to go into the party primaries. This will open politics up at the grass root level to all, creating a level playing ground. In this way, the party members would be the one selecting the candidates. The government has refused to make the single most important reform of our electoral system which will enhance accountability and democracy but instead, wishes to legitimise autocracy, godfatherism corruption and further weaken true democracy in Nigeria. This is a tragedy.

In addition to widening participation, the independent electoral commission should become an Agency which is independent of the government so that it can develop the electoral process and make reforms without government interference In fact, what Nigeria needs is to remove the limit on how many times a person should run for office. There is no need and reason why the number of times a person can run for any office should be limited if the elections are free and fair. Why should a good and honest leader be prevented from putting himself forward to serve his people, if the people will vote for him? What we need is to make election free and fair, and the law able to hold people to account and leave people to present themselves for election every four years. We should also limit the amount politicians are supposed to spend for election. In this way we will be sanitising our democracy and people can remain in office to bring about change if they are performing and delivering the development the people want. In fact, unlimited term and free and fair elections may be the incentive corrupt Nigerian politicians may need to clean up their acts as they can see that honesty good behaviour and right moral conduct can prolong their time in office.

This amendment is not in the best interest of Nigeria. The politicians are asking for six years single term so that they would do as they like for six years without sense of accountability. This amendment seem to be rooted in the terrible adage used to justify corruption in Nigeria which is that "a man who climbs the iroke tree should stay long enough to collect all he needs from the top of the iroko tree because no one climbs an iroke tree twice". This may be while some politicians while in office steal like money is going out of fashion. Nigeria cannot have a constitution that portrays public office as positions people aspire to for selfish reasons. Good men and women need a good constitution that would enable them make the changes the country needs and protect them from those who have corrupt motives. Changing the constitution to extend the terms of the president and governors and making it easier for legislators to impeach the president and governors will only create a tyranny of legislators and this would be more dangerious than dictatorship. Two or more four years terms ensure that they are forced to fulfil their promises because they will seek re-election and if they have not perform the voters will not return them to power. In Africa it is easier to remove from power a president that has served four years than the one that has six or seven years. All African dictators started with more than four years term. Nigerians must not forget that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutly to quote Lord Acton. It is impossible for a politician to achieve in six years what he is unable to achieve in four years. Nigerian legislators should stop behaving as if the generality of Nigerians are idiots They should learn to govern in the best interest of the people who elected them and not abuse their position and power to change the constitution to give them undue advantage. This is the beginning of institutionalised corruption where the constitution is amendated to legalise a system that condones corruption and protects criminals. This abuse of power must stop.

The current PDP dominated legislature should stop destroying the constitution of Nigeria. There is not much wrong with the constitution. Politicians are supposed to uphold the constitution not change it to suit their selfish interest. What is happening in Nigeria is the rape of democracy and every honest and responsible Nigerian must oppose the attempt to make Nigeria politicianís paradise and hell for the people. I oppose the constitutional amendment to give six years to the president and governors. It is not in the best interest of Nigeria but another attempt by politicians to make life better for them at the expense of accountability and democracy. This amendment must not succeed for the sake of good government, accountability and sustainable democracy. Nigerians should reject it.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.