t was Clemenceau who said that “war was too serious a business to be left to Generals. I suppose politics is too serious a business to be left to politicians and law making and constitutional amendment, would seem to me far too serious a business, to be left in the hands of law makers. Especially the crop we have in Nigeria at the moment. This is why; I wish to revisit the position of Senator Ike Ekweremandu, the Nigerian Deputy Senate President, on the proposed amendment of the Nigerian constitution. As I have argued elsewhere, the struggle in Nigeria should be to eliminate interlopers from her politics and elect into power, those who genuinely wish to offer their services for the good of all, and build Nigeria into a secular democracy, united on civil values under the rule of law; where due and democratic processes are respected.
We can begin to make progress in Nigeria by applying a very simple test for high office and ensure that only those who pass this objective test would be eligible to contest for elective offices. There are many tests Nigerians can choose from. At least, we can consider the test United States administers to its soldiers to determine those that have what it takes to proceed to officers’ corps. It has proved reliable over the years. They do not need the test for their politicians because their society is advanced enough to allow natural process to weed out imposters from her politics. Nigeria seems to be amongst countries which do not seek to select from amongst its best, those she elects to position of authority, responsibility and leadership. We seem to ignore the fact that the battle between ignorance and enlightenment is still raging in our country.
Aberrations of nature, which has understandable scientific basis, are still presented as witchcrafts, with disastrous consequences for many innocent people. Rare or chance occurrences which are part of the natural order are still being presented as miracles by religiously deluded and ignorant bigots, who masquerade as men of God, and whose only interest is the use of religion to exploit and control others. Religious leaders continue to ascribe to Satan or offer ignorant explanations for what science has provided clear, correct and truthful answers.
These and more, are why additional effort should be made to eliminate the shallow thinking, profound ignorance, and biased method of argument, which has become characteristic of Nigerian politics. Hence my decision to examine some of the reasons advanced by the Nigerian deputy senate president, for the constitutional amendment he is proposing.
During the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, Biafra had a propaganda jingle which says” Onye ndi iro gbara gburugburu na eche ndu ya nche nmgbenile, umu Biafra, onye arahula ura”. A man surrounded by enemies should be vigilant, Biafrans do not sleep. In other words, vigilance is the price of eternal security. I suppose those who want democracy to take root in Nigeria should not rest on their oars, or be indifferent to the realities of the constitutional amendments being proposed by senator Ekweremandu and co. The recent pronouncements by Senator Ike Ekweremandu, that “single term for the president and governors will solve all our entire problems”, is another expression of magical thinking by those who have failed to deliver the dividend of democracy to the Nigerian electorates. It is a typical Nigerian politicians’ pronouncement, meant to colour selfish interest with a cloak of national interest. It says that, Nigerian politicians do not listen to Nigerians and treat their views with contempt.
Time and time again, Nigerian politicians focused on their selfish interests, have proposed single term for offices, and Nigerians have returned resounding No. In spite of this, the politicians have continued to push for constitutional amendment that will enable them stay in office longer. There is no attempt to link time spent in office with performance, which is the case in developed countries. They claim that the problem of Nigeria is the short term politicians stay in office and argue that if it is extended, all the problems of Nigeria would be solved. Moreover, there is no evidence that they use the current four years for anything, other than stealing and rendering the law impotent. They fail to give honest recognition that the four years term is meant to ensure that only those who perform, are returned for another four years. They are not addressing the endemic social inequality in the system which is one of the real causes of crimes in Nigeria. They have done nothing about the abuse and extortions Nigerian are subjected to daily by traffic warders who have become the next level of corruption and oppression after the police.
Instead, they want to change the four year term politicians serve at the moment, which is meant to be an incentive for politicians to perform in office. All over the world, wherever there is a free and fair election, politicians who perform in office are returned at elections. In American, and many Western countries, politicians are returned to office, as long as they are performing, and so far, it seems to be curtailing the tendency of politicians in the west politicians to be corrupt, and the politicians are not advocating for their term to be elongated.
There is no reason to suggest that all the problems of Nigeria emanate from the fact that Nigerian politicians spend four years in office, as senator Ike Ekweremandu claims. His statement is as false as it is dishonest. It is imprudent and an effrontery on the intelligence of Nigerians, for him to continue to argue his case in the way and manner he is doing. Even China knows that the problem of Nigeria is dishonesty and corruption of the elites and that the Nigerian government is not doing enough to address these problems. Many Nigerian politicians lack insight and the largeness of the heart to give the needs of ordinary Nigerians, the same consideration they give to the needs of their families, friends and associates. It is this narrow definition of self-interests by people in the same position as Senator Ekweremandu that is the problem of Nigeria. This is what needs to change at this time for Nigeria to make progress and not the time politicians spend in office.
The attempt to evoke the doctrine of necessity to alter the Nigerian constitution so that politicians who have shown that they are corrupt, and not minded to change to elongate their term of office, own a foreign account and make it impossible for them to be prosecuted for crimes against the state when they leave office; would be the legitimisation of illegality and a betrayal of the people. The doctrine of necessity should not be abused to secure selfish interests of a few and therefore must now, not succeed.
There is no justification whatsoever to appease corrupt politicians with elongation of terms. They have failed woefully. Corruption is still endemic. Politicians indicted for crimes against the state still occupy state houses, and those who have left office, walk the corridors of power. Nigerian university teachers are still on strike. National utilities have been sold to those who looted Nigeria in the name of privatisation, without the government first establishing effective regulators, as is usually the case in countries that privatise their utilities. The result is that the government has turned the national utilities into cash cows for those whose corruption and incompetence made it impossible to the utilities to function effectively under government control. This is another example of” rip off Nigeria” by corrupt politicians. Daily, Nigerians road users face multiple levels of harassments, intimidation and extortion from the police and traffic wardens, and the national assembly does nothing. They have not spoken for Nigerians, on issues where Nigerians expects them to speak for them. The injustices and tyranny in the Nigerian system are just too much and Nigerian legislators seem oblivious of it.
Nigerians should tell Senator Ekweremandu and his bosses that its present constitution is viable, and all it needs is for them to stop making its implementation impossible and ensure the rule of law and strong institution, which can hold them to account while in office. This is the tonic the Nigerian polity needs at this moment, and not the tinkering of the constitution to give politicians more time to steal and be unaccountable. Why is the senate not spending time on bills to eradicate corruption in Nigeria? Which is more important at this period in Nigerian history, the elongation of the terms of politicians or eradication of corruption and terrorism? Senator Ekweremandu statement simply shows that the people at the helm of affairs in Nigeria have got their priorities very wrong.
Everything about this idea is wrong. It seeks to appease politicians and not enhance the welfare of the people. I do not think that constitutions should be amended to appease politicians. Senator Ekweremandu argued that it would stop those fighting the president for second term. Well, Nigeria does not need to change her constitution to appease those with overvalued ideas of their entitlement in this country. They can fight the president as much as they like, but all Nigerians need, is a free and fair election where their vote can decide who exercise power over them. I suppose the senate should rather concentrate on this, than attempting to change the constitution for the benefit of politicians of fortune. Furthermore, Nigeria does not need to adopt single term to cut the cost of election. The cost of election can be cut by good electoral reform that pegs the amount of money a candidate can spend, penalises the candidate for the violent behaviour of his or her supporters and ensure that candidates have the same time to campaign. In this way, each candidate can sale him or herself to the electorate, who would then decide who they want to exercise power on their behalf.
Therefore, the cost of election cannot be used to sustain the argument for the elongation of term. It is not rocket science, it can be done, but Nigerian politicians seldom bow to superior ideas. Instead, they continue to push an idea not because it is superior and would deliver the over ridding objectives, but because it is their idea and they believe in it. The facts are clear, the elongation of term only benefits the politicians and give them more time to abuse power and makes it more difficult to hold them accountable or prosecute them for their corruption. Nigerians should once again, tell the senators pushing this self-centred idea that we do not need it.
In fact, I am an advocate of limitless term, which I know can be a good thing and make for sustainable development in a culture where corruption is not endemic. In a country like Nigeria, four years is enough for any honest president or governor to make his mark and demonstrate his character and vision for Nigeria or his or her state. Once Nigerians begin to test good leaders, they will buy the wisdom of allowing them to run as many times as possible. The current arrangement is ok. A man, who did nothing in four years, will not do anything in six or eight years. Nothing predicts future behaviour like past behaviour.
Moreover, it is the responsibility of the legislators to enact laws to criminalise the various ways governors are abusing their power to stifle opposition. It is certainly wrong to be rewarding the governors for obstructing the development of enduring democracy by changing the constitution to placate their greed, and lack of respect for due and democratic process. In fact, everything senator Ekweremandu recommends says one thing, Nigerian have to appease corrupt politicians to have peace. In addition, Nigerian does not need state police to eradicate corruption in the police. Just look at how the various state militias operate at the moment and one can imagine what Nigeria would become when many of the governors we have today, have their own police. It would be the end of democracy, and individual liberty as we know it in many states of Nigeria. Indeed, many states of Nigeria will become little Zimbabwe.
America did not change its constitutions to placate the Mob, America imposed the rule of law and the mobs bowed to the rule of law. Ekweremandu and his colleagues should stop wasting their political capital by pushing spurious agendas that would not take Nigeria forward. They should give teeth to existing legislation, empower independent institutions like EFCC, and enact better laws to contain the excesses of governors and other politicians. This is how patriotic legislators use the law to change their country. They do not change constitution to give those who are breaking the law what they want. I am disappointed that the Senate is thinking in the way Senator Ekweremandu articulated in his brief and would be willing to debate this matter with senator Ekweremandu anywhere any time, and if requested to appear before his committee to argue coherently, why his proposal is a no brainer. Nigeria needs the politicians to change, not for the politicians to change the constitutions for their benefit. I hope Nigeria survives.