Tyranny of term-limits

Now that PMB has declared his lack of interest in seeking a third term, Nigerians are free to interrogate the subject matter “Term-Limits” both in style and substance.  Prior to PMB’s declaration, mere mention of the topic will amount to throwing a hand grenade into a tinder box called “Third Term Agenda”. No time is better than now that those charged with the constitutional responsibility and duty to review the 1999 Constitution (as amended) have on their agenda a look at the operationality of the Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi for the project: Nigeria.

After winning the American civil war and freeing slaves, former American President, Abraham Lincoln said ‘I have not yet done what humans will remember that I have lived’. It was not out of over-ambition or desire to stay longer than needed. Research studies show that Lincoln was concerned with post-war challenges, consolidation of war victory, successes, ongoing critical programs and projects and more importantly the rue and anomy that will follow after his exit because blacks and women were not yet allowed to vote for those to lead theme.

Exit of great leaders leave people in tears, apprehensions, fear, anguish, agony and sometimes anomy. While we believe no one is indispensable, the dispensability or indispensability of elected officials in the executive branch should not be determined by term-limits, but the will of the people more so now that Nigerians have the capacity, capability and the heft to remove a leader through the ballot box. The people of Gombe state will continue to rue the day Distinguished Senator Goje handed over power in 2011 because of term-limits. They are however, celebrating the day Gov. Inuwa took over in 2019, the way Nigerians jubilated and are celebrating the day PMB took over in 2015 and the day he was sworn in for the second term in 2019.The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria promotes peace, unity, stability and prosperity but has in-built a TYRANT called ‘TERM – LIMITS’ for the executive branch of government. The feeling and belief that a government will come to an end after the completion of the second term because of term-limits; term-limits has become a major political engine in the constitution that present challenges which include, but not limited to Illiberal democracy, discrimination, tyranny, a political disease called “second termist”, dynastification of politics, inbreed leadership, disenfranchisement, defeatism, lethargy, corruption, under development, limited objective spaces and tensions.

Like zoning, term-limits is undemocratic and discriminatory in that certain group of people occupying certain offices have a ceiling over their capacities, capabilities and ambitions. Citizens on the other hand are denied the choice of credible candidates and continuation of good governance. Term-limits encourage leadership in-breeding and building political dynasties as opposed to establishing and building democratic institutions and executing sustainable development projects. Matriarchy and patriarchy can set in. For example, in a South American country, two wives of a President became successors one after the other after their husband’s exit. Performing governors are forced to migrate to the senate when they are very much more needed in their respective states’ government houses. A political disease called “Second Termitist” has been traced to term limits. Coined by Richard Neustadt et al, they posit that second term has a problem of hubris. Because they know they are going after the second term, some leaders over rate their own power and begin to think about their place in history and are tempted to overreach, become arrogant, inaccessible, corrupt, over borrow and embark on glory-seeking white elephant projects. On the part of the citizens, people become overzealous, over ambitious and use all efforts to succeed the outgoing government. Studies have shown that over 70% of financial and economic crimes allegedly committed by government officials take place in their terminal second term. Since independence, all elected governments in Nigeria had serious disruptive and sometime survival threatening events in their second terms. Ending insurgency, revamping the economy and fighting corruption were PMB’s signature tune before the 2015 elections. As a successful leader, PMB remains a role model. But Just after PMB’s declaration not to seek election for a third term, we now have an outbreak of a sentiment that has become an epidemic: “Amotekun”, “Shege-Ka- Pasa”, “Amutuduk”, “Bakassi Boys”. Boko Haram attacks and bombings, banditry, kidnapping and herder/farmer clashes are resurging. Suspicions are directed at overzealous and ambitious politicians deploying any means to succeed the PMB’s regime and his governors. Without term-limits ,such menaces will not have resurfaced.

The argument put forward by supporters of term limits is that the leader may metamorphose into a dictator and frustrate the opposition even when he is not performing. History and recent development have shown that Nigerians have the capacity, capability and above all the heft to remove a leader through the ballot box. The citizens of Borno, Gombe, Kano, Adamawa, Bauchi, Lagos states removed their respective governors after serving for a term only.  The APC  defeated an incumbent government. A Nigerian attempted a third term project but was denied. Some incumbent governors attempted to go to the senate and failed because the heft in their respective constituents stopped them. Elected legislators that have no term limits have been voted out by their people. The question that arises from these analyses is ‘Why retain the retrogressive, undemocratic and discriminatory term limits when Nigerians have the heft to remove their leaders at all levels when they deem fit?’ Nigeria cannot allow a dictator in office. Political maturity, voter education, electronic voting and experience have removed the fears and suspicions that lead to the provision of term-limits. Our leaders’ sensitivity to the yearnings of the people has rendered the term-limits redundant. Furthermore, some out of political maturity have declined to contest when they feel they have fulfilled their promises to the people. Of recent, a former governor and serving minister declared that he will not contest any election for any office again. Term-limits come close to an insult on the intelligence of over 200million Nigerians. Countries like India, South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Iran, Russia, Egypt, England were transformed to enviable development status by leaders that were not constrained by term-limits, and none is a dynasty.

With new challenges emerging, Nigerians and the entire black race wonder who will generate and build confidence in Nigerians and enjoy followership to take them to where they ought to, the way PMB is doing. Whatever succession plan we may have, we must be mindful of the emerging challenges, sustainability of relative peace in the North East, Niger Delta, fight against banditry, kidnappings, robberies, herders/farmers clashes, corruption, revamping the economy and provision of power and energy and security to Nigerians. Choice of a leader and continuation of good governance or removal of a bad leader should be left to the people who governance is meant for, not to the tyranny of term-limits. PMB’s brilliance in hope management and keeping hope alive was demonstrated by the manner and style he made his declaration. For those threatening and praying for PMB to finish the second term quickly and retire at Daura, the declaration is good riddance and that keeps their hopes alive. For those whose hearts are thumping and praying for his continuance in government, hope is also kept alive because he said, “Whatever the circumstances” not “However”, “Whoever”, “Where ever” and “Whenever”. On both sides, hope is being kept alive.

Ayuba Buba Kinafa is a management consultant in Gombe


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