Once upon a time there was a woman with 6 sons with different gifts and natural talents (in the beginning there were 2, then somehow they morphed into 3, then 19, 30, 36 but that’s another story). She coaches them about the way of the world – the natural selection of life which weeds out the weak and rewards the hardworking, the adaptable and the ever evolving. “Your special gifts are to help you manage the trials you will face and only the best of you will lead and it matters not whether you are the youngest or the oldest (think of the dreams of Joseph/Yusuf’s father in the Bible and Quran).
The sons analyse their gifts against the tests of life which have been revealed to them and decide that the easiest way to deal with the headache of leadership is to rotate the leadership between them and give everyone a single shot at a time at being leader. This meant that regardless of how lazy or unproductive the men where, it did not matter; they would still get a shot at being leader. Soon, the few who laboured to develop their talents decided it was not worth it because no matter how hard they worked, their lazy brothers – against the laws of nature still thrived and continued to demolish whatever they tried to build.
This in a nutshell sums up federal character and the single tenure proposal – one of the most asinine, half-witted, sophomoric and fatuous ideas to befall Nigeria.
Forget Nigeria’s dismal social and economic statistics on health, education, power, infrastructure, corruption, security, MDGs, poverty, unemployment and whatever indices are used globally to track development. Right now we are allegedly at crisis point, caught between Aso rock and a boulder. The fuel subsidies are rumored to be costing us between 10-13 billion dollars annually and now that money meant for the excess crude account will start going into the sovereign wealth fund…there is no money to keep up the subsidies. Hard place One. The state governors are sweating champagne bullets because they cannot pay the new minimum wage of N18,000. Most states just don’t make enough between internally generated revenue and their monthly allocations from Federal to pay up – so states are potentially bankrupt. Hard place Two. Between our three levels of government we spend 75% of our annual budget on recurrent expenses i.e., the salaries and benefits of our politicians, civil servants and their sirens and fleet of exotic cars. Let’s put this in perspective. You get N100 every year and spend N75 on food, diesel and transport and have only N25 left to invest, educate, save and conduct repairs such as fixing a leaking roof. Hard place Three. As if that is not enough, Nigeria perpetually runs a deficit budget. So although you only earn N100 and spend N75 on everyday costs, you somehow spend N200 every year because you borrow against the future and that extra N100 is spent on throwing annual birthday parties for your family. Hard place Four.
Apparently we are going to have to ease the pressure building up in all these hard places and try and reverse the trend and if people think we are suffering now…we have not seen anything yet.
Now a discussion about tenure elongation while all this is going on is so absurd and puerile that rational minds are tempted to think: “Forget it. It is such a foolish idea it must be a smokescreen for something else”; the way the Roman Emperors used man-eating lions to distract the plebs from their hunger. But the story won’t go away. The President’s spokesperson, Ruben Abati, has confirmed that a bill will be making its way to the National Assembly and newspapers have reported that President Jonathan has recruited 6 members of the National Assembly to ‘manage’ the bill within their geo political zones.
There are many reasons to oppose the bill but two especially difficult to rationalize arguments are that nothing stops the Constitution from being changed again and there are different ways to peel an orange. If the Bill is passed to provide for a single 6 year term to be rotated amongst a pre selected number of zones and after all the stress and distraction from the real work at the center which we need our government focused on…someone will hopefully just come along and change it again…then what?
If the real reasons behind President Jonathan’s proposal are in his words because he “is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election, every four years, generates both at the Federal and State levels…the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that has attended each general election…with the concomitant unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations”, then there are other ways to deal with these issues.
One, we can find a way to manage the governors powers and undo the unholy pact they apparently have that the President of Nigeria must be a former governor. Immunity for all elected officials should be removed from the Constitution with a caveat that they cannot be prosecuted while in the office where the alleged criminal activity took place. We can make it an eligibility criteria for any elective office that if you have spent two terms in any office, you are not eligible for any election until the expiration of at least eight years – this means ex Governors like Saraki and Yerima can come down to earth and live with mortals. A ceiling on how many times Nigerians can sacrifice themselves by serving the country in elective or appointive position would be something to also consider. And, abolishing the “State Joint Local Government Account” under Section 162(6) of the 1999 Constitution would free our Local Governments from the heavy boots of the governors and let the practice of true federalism take root.
Two – independent candidature during elections would deal with the intra and inter party squabbles because politicians who believe that their constituents will support their candidature will be able to throw off the umbrella of party patronage and stand for election independently. This will further reduce the power of the parties, the governors and the President.
Three, strengthen the Independent National Election Commission and do more to plug the holes which support election rigging. There is no reason why we should have party symbols and not names of candidates on our ballots. If Nigerians are smart enough to memorise the names of our national football team as well as European league footballers, we can remember the names of those we want to elect.
Four, if elective and appointive positions become less lucrative only those who really care will make the sacrifice. Slash the salaries and benefits across the legislature and executive and close the gaps which allow for extortion and corruption across the civil service and within government. If the legislators cannot secretly borrow money and inflate their allowances or give themselves ‘sitting allowances’ for committee meetings that they are bound to attend then we will reduce the number who are there to get rich quick.
Five, if the President really cares about managing the polity, he can use the Freedom of Information Act to publish line by line information on where the revenue, security votes and discretionary spend goes and use the ire of the public to drive accountability in public office and push those responsible for ‘overheating the polity’ out.
All these options and more are available and thankfully Nigerians have had the experience of battling unsavory Constitutional changes. However, 2006 and the Obansajo third term bid was five years ago and since then our moral anemia has increased, our social capital tank is almost at zero and we are a lot more religiously and ethnically divided. Perfect mental and physical condition for this type of coup.
We need to be vigilant and tireless in opposing even the thought of this distraction unless we want to stay on this path of laziness and mediocrity which will allow a bunch of men to continue mindlessly passing us around like a cob of corn. Let’s take the road a lot less travelled in Nigeria and complain loudly and persistently in public until those in positions of power know that things have to change for the better, for everyone.