A Single Tenure is not an Elongated Tenure

By Reno Omokri

As Robert Frost once famously said, "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence". Bearing this in mind, one could ask a really valid question-whether a person who cannot consider an idea without losing his temper or imputing motives that do not exist can be said to be making the most of their education?

I ask this question because not long ago one of the most vociferous critics in Nigeria once said that the reason why elections in Nigeria pre-2011 were not free and fair was because of the "do or die" tendency of incumbents to get re-elected. It was also said that this was the reason why they focused on re-election rather than performance in their first term. So you would expect that if such a critic was sincere he would support any idea that aims to cure the evil he highlighted. And what can be a better cure than a proposal for a Single Term (not Tenure elongation as is mischievously being bandied about by propagandist)?

One renowned critic asked in her comments- how are we sure that the President would not benefit from the proposal? This is proof that many a critic opine on things that they have not studied. Mr. President has categorically said that he is not interested in benefiting from the proposal in the event that it becomes law. And beyond that he was sworn in under the 1999 constitution as amended which provides for a tenure of four years. So in the event that the proposal is endorsed into by the National Assembly and 2/3rds of the State Houses of Assembly it will not take effect until 2015.

What is leadership? It is providing direction for an institution. Now we already know that re-election is the thing uppermost in the minds of an incumbent. This has been proven over and over and over again.

It was re-election that the government of President Shehu Shagari (a perfect gentleman) had in mind which was why Umaru Dikko was strategically placed where he was to gather funds for the re-election of the then President which meant that the serious business of government suffered. It was because of re-election that the NPN overdid things and engineered the first "moon slide" in human history and defeated the UPN in the Southwest as well as Azikiwe in the Southeast. In fact the pressure brought to bear on the polity was such that critics began to openly call on the military to intervene. And the rest is history.

And in the 4th republic under President Obasanjo, Nigerians witnessed re-election fever that caused such instability in the nation to the extent that an incumbent Vice President gave an interview to the BBC threatening to either run by himself or support his boss's opponent or support his boss. It was re-election fever that caused the rupture in the relationship between President Obasanjo and then Vice President Atiku Abubakar and which eventually culminated in an election that played out like war games rather than a game of numbers which politics ought to be.

Let us be prudent enough to remember that every military coup that truncated our democratic march since 1966 was not targeted at a first term administration but a re-elected government. Let us think deeply and ask ourselves why. If the nation had no problem when they were elected why did we develop the problem with them upon their re-election? Didn't the philosopher Santayana say that a people who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it?

This is the reason why I asked the question-what is leadership? A leader is one who keeps his head when others are losing theirs and focuses on the big picture while others are fixated on the little picture. President Jonathan has shown leadership and foresight and let us take a deep breath and look at the proposal again but this time with our history in mind.

The fact is that re-election campaigns are too acrimonious. And if we do not check this trend we will keep tugging at the seams of the ties that bind Nigeria as one united nation and that is not good for anyone, not the incumbent, not the opposition and certainly not for the system.

So let us calm down and in an impassioned manner consider the merits and the demerits of the idea without imputing motives that have nothing to do with the idea. The Single Tenure Proposal is intended for Nigeria's benefit not the President who has said that he has NO interest in benefiting from it.

Nigerians should understand that most criticism of this proposal is not objective or altruistic.

There are three categories of people criticizing this proposal. The first are people who due to recent political and personal set backs have made it their objective to go against anything this administration desires. These category of critics are so predictable that I can tell you what they are going to say about anything the president does. They will take the opposite path. I daresay that if the President said that they are patriotic Nigerians they will automatically say "we are not patriotic" before realizing what they are saying. In short they are contrarians.

The next category are those who are famous for being famous. They stand on nothing. They hear about a policy and decide what reaction will attract the most attention to them and they take that reaction. These are people who want to remain relevant by commenting on current affairs. Note that they comment but do not analyze. I saw first hand their fickleness during the last elections. When at first it appeared that the CPC was winning the elections they were all over social networking sites with chants of 'yes, we have done it. The PDP is dead". Then when more results started coming in and it became obvious that the CPC had lost out they changed their tune to "at last Nigeria has outgrown ethnic politics. This is a victory for all Nigerians". This is something I witnessed first hand so I am not so moved by overly excited critics who can move here or there depending on what they think will generate the most comment on their facebook status updates.

Then there are public analysts like Professor Pat Utomi, Ayo Adebanjo, Olisa Agbakogba, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, Yusuf Ali and Bamidele Aturu who analyze before they opine and their opinions reflect a thorough understanding of the subject matter they are talking about. I am particularly impressed that Dr. Utomi came out to say that the issue here is a Single Tenure and not an Elongated Tenure and that since the President could not possibly benefit from it Nigerians should leave off chasing the shadow and stick to the substance of the proposal which we do not yet have as the bill has not been released. It is just a proposal at this stage.

As Mark Twain did say, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it". Nigerians should consider this idea objectively because since the present government is not to benefit from the proposal the beneficiary must be the nation and if Nigeria is to benefit then the patriotic thing to do is to support the idea. But if some think that Nigeria will not benefit, let them say why they think so and not limit their thinking to rejecting the remedy for the malaise they had hitherto identified because of the possibility that the incumbent president and governors will benefit because that has already been addressed even before the proposal came to be. It is too early in the day to play a tune with a broken record for a proposal that only entered into public consciousness just days ago.

My own personal view in a nutshell is this, the President had said on the 31st of January, 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that he will not re-contest the Presidency in 2015. The proposal for a single tenure will if approved by national and state legislators not take effect until 2015. This means that the President CANNOT benefit from it. If he cannot benefit from it then why the hue and cry from the opposition? Why not look at the idea on its own merits? This proposal will do more good than bad for Nigeria and if it succeeds Nigeria will benefit but if it is defeated I can assure the critics that it will not be President Jonathan's loss but ours because he never could have benefitted from it in the first place.

So let us get over the excitement generated by opposition parties. It is not for nothing that they are called the opposition. Their job description is to oppose the incumbent. They are not concerned about Nigeria. Their only concern is power. They can be likened to U.S. Republicans who will rather see the U.S. default on her loans for the first time in history than offer patriotic cooperation to the Democratic Administration of President Barack Obama simply because their focus is power not America or the American people. If you doubt me then recall the fact that the opposition criticised the President for being "soft" on terrorism and then when the situation demanded it and he sent the Joint Task Force to Maiduguri to bring the situation of things there under control they changed their tune and accused the man they had hitherto labelled as "soft" with a new term "high handed". You just cannot win with the opposition because opposition is what they do and citizens should not confuse opposition with patriotism.

We as Nigerian citizens have to form our own opinions about this idea. We should not surrender our reasoning process to the opposition which is what we are doing if we allow them define the conversation.

And already, they have begun to use subliminal messaging to confuse the subject of the conversation-they skillfully avoid using the term 'Single Tenure' and draw comparisons between this proposal and the third term gambit all the while forgetting that in 1995 Nigerians elected into the Constitutional Conference recommended that for the unity and stability of the Nigerian nation it would be best if the nation had a president who served for a single tenure. Many of the critics of this proposal were members of the Constitutional Conference and many voted for the idea in 1995. Please do not take my word for it. Take a roll call of the opponents of the Single Tenure Proposal then go through a list of the elected members of the Constitutional Conference of 1995 and make comparisons. The idea even found its way into the Constitution that came about from that conference but which never saw the light of day. So if notable critics who are now up in arms against a Single Tenure supported it in 1995 the question to be asked is what has changed between 1995 and now? I will answer that question-the problem of incumbency has only grown worse! If that be the case the remedy is even more needed now than it was back then.

So let the conversation continue and next time the critics attack the proposal, please take time to consider their motives because motives will change and critics will come and go but Nigeria our motherland is not about to go anywhere and it is up to us to make her what we want her to be.

Omokri is VP Africa, Trippi and Associates, the D.C. consulting firm best known for its work with the Howard Dean and Morgan Tsvangirai Campaigns.