For some undemocratic and diabolic reasons, the difference between three years and three terms is getting blurred among a set of the ruling political class. It is a familiar, though infamous route that some had travelled in the past to arrive at a dead end with shame and regrets. Doubtless, President Muhammadu Buhari cannot afford the mistake of a third term that is unknown to our democracy. This is not expedient at a time the masses eagerly yearn for clear-headed programmes and policies to lift them out of seething poverty and misery – all within the remaining three years of the Buhari’s political career and term in office.
The proposition of a third-term tenure made headlines recently, when an All Progressives Congress (APC) member in Ebonyi State sought legal action instigating constitutional amendment to elongate the tenure of the president and governors. The ruling party condemned the move, blaming it curiously on “the desperate and misguided opposition.” The potential benefactor of the move, President Buhari, has also denied that he has such ambitions to stay longer than 2023. Amid the denials, both the president and the National Assembly should be reminded that the third term agenda is not only unconstitutional and immoral but it is also a distraction to the throbbing expectations of the masses.
In any true democracy, the constitution is supreme. And the 1999 Constitution as amended is clear on this sordid plot to change the rules and shift the goal-post in the twilight of the game. For a fact, a third-term agenda is alien to democracy in Nigeria. The president toed the path of a democrat when he said: “I am not going to make the mistake of attempting a third term. Beside the age, I swore by the holy book that I would go by the constitution and the constitution said two terms.” Even in the United States that our democracy tries to mimic, they had since 1947 put the contentious matter of open-ended presidential tenure to rest, at least to say that no personal ambition can be greater than public good and probity.
The president’s die-hard faithful and third-term advocates would agree that good fortunes had been most kind to Buhari. Not only is he one of the world’s oldest to be democratically elected, the electorate had been most enduring and supportive of him throughout his prolonged ill-health and consequential truancy. Records have it that Buhari spent one year and 39 days out of his first three years outside the country. Most of them were spent in a London hospital at the tax payers’ expense. His political opponents took him for the dead, calling him incapacitated and brain-dead in the Jubril of Sudan and alleged cloning episode. At one of his returns from medical tourism, he had looked into the cameras to say, “I have never been this sick before” and at another time, “At 72, there is a limit to what I can do.…” Despite all these human frailties, Buhari contested for a second-term and he was returned to office. What more could anyone ask for?
But while all these lasted, the masses continue to bear, stoically, with the government even as the economy plummets with attendant job losses and poverty. While the president was away in London hospital or on some funny international trips, scores of Nigerians were getting mauled in armed robberies, banditry, kidnapping, diseases of epidemic proportion, other disasters and economic depression. All of these are still part of the daily narratives and contrary to the change agenda high horse that Buhari rode to power. The masses can only ask: when exactly will Buhari deliver on his campaign promises and avail well-being to the people?
So, it is only natural to demand focus from Buhari and not a distraction of an extended tenure. The president has a moral obligation to the people, at least to ease their suffering and reassured them of a better tomorrow. It is not by accident that the country under his watch has become the poverty headquarters of the world. The misery index is quite alarming and shameful but the stark reality of living in Nigeria is grimmer. The buck stops at the table of the president and he can cause dramatic changes in this second term.
While Buhari is busy implementing the true change mantra he promised, the National Assembly (NASS) must avoid the commotion of an amended constitution as proposed by enemies of democracy and indeed the country. The constitution is clear on the procedure of any amendment. But the legislators hold it a duty to the Nigerian public to morally and legally defend the constitution against the frivolous greed of a few. The National Assembly behaving like an appendage and rubber stamp of the executive would not be helpful at all.
A recent comment by the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan that “every request by Buhari to National Assembly is good for Nigeria and shall be approved expeditiously” is unprecedented in modern democracy. It presupposes that the president can do no wrong. But this is a fallacy. It is not part of the majesty of democracy. If that reasoning is correct, then there would be no justification for a legislative arm of government, or retaining some of the most expensive lawmakers in the world.
In case Lawan has forgotten, the lawmakers just like the president have sworn to defend the constitution. Nigeria’s National Assembly has the responsibility of checks and balances and the lawmakers are only as good as keeping this oath. While we abhor antagonistic disposition to the executive, the Nigerian electorate expect more discretion and constitutionality from the hallowed chambers of our federal legislature. And this unpopular rumbling of a third-term scheming would be a major test case of our democracy and the integrity and honour of the ninth Assembly.
Above all, the burden of history rests on the current administration to deliver on its promises to the people. The trend in modern governance is replete with examples of leaders that had within a short period either transformed or reset their countries on the path of development. The experiences of the Asian Tiger attest to this giant leap. Sustaining such transformation often forms the basis of tenure elongation in some countries. However, this is not the case in Nigeria.
The point we must all take to heart is that the longsuffering electorate have long-awaited a rescue from the grim realities of today’s Nigeria. A government that cannot stay focused to deliver on its promises in four or eight years should not sit longer enough to be voted out in another election. It only needs to requite itself constitutionally and honourably. All told, those behind the third-term-for-Buhari reproachful campaigns should be made to stop the toxic message against the brand reputation of the most populous black nation on earth.