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Published On: Mon, Jun 10th, 2013

Single Term: Presidency Jitters, Moves for Rejection

LAGOS JUNE 10TH (URHOBOTODAY) Indications emerged at the weekend that the presidency, worried by the proposal of the Senate Constitution Review Committee seeking a single term of six years for the president, vice-president, governors and their deputy, is rallying support for its rejection by other stakeholders.
A top presidency official confided in THISDAY that top government officials and close aides of President Goodluck Jonathan were concerned that the proposal, which the Senate sought to take immediate effect after approval by the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the 36 state Houses of Assembly, would preclude the president from running for a second term in office.

It was however learnt that the proposal might not sail through in the House as lawmakers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly were said to have reservations about the issue.
Deputy Senate President and Chairman of Senate Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, while shedding light on the recommendations of the committee as contained in the report submitted to the Senate last Wednesday, had defended the single tenure of six years recommended for the president and governors.
According to him, the decision was taken to avoid a situation where the National Assembly would be accused of conniving with Jonathan, who first mooted the idea, to elongate his tenure.
Sections 136 (1c) and 181 (1c) of the draft bill respectively stipulate that if a president-elect or governor-elect dies before swearing-in, the vice-president-elect or deputy governor-elect shall be sworn in as the president or governor respectively only to serve out the tenure of the deceased, but will not be eligible to stand for subsequent elections.
Also, Section 137 (c) of the draft bill, which seeks to replace the current four-year tenure with a single term of six years, stipulates that anybody holding the office of the president or vice-president before the take-off of the amended constitution, is barred from standing for election for a single tenure of six years.
However, the report was silent on the time of the take-off of the single tenure proposal.
The report stated that recommending a single tenure for heads of executive office was necessary “considering the financial expenses often associated with re-elections and to ensure that the executive heads are freed from distractions so that they can concentrate on public policy issues.
While Section 9(A) in the draft bill outlaws the necessity for president’s signature in the amended constitution, sub-section 3(B) of the section stipulates that the National Assembly can also propose a new constitution.
Fielding questions from reporters last Thursday, Ekweremadu had explained that the committee felt it was better for incumbent heads of the executive to make a sacrifice by leaving the office after a single term of four years than to contest for another tenure of six years and end up spending 10 years in office instead of eight years as envisaged by the constitution.
“You will recall that the president was the first person to call for a single tenure of six-years. When he did so, he was accused of originating the idea because he wanted to elongate his stay in office. So, we don’t want Nigerians to say that we colluded with the president to elongate his stay in office because somebody who ought to spend eight years in office will now spend 10 years. We thought it was better for somebody to make a sacrifice instead of staying in office for 10 years,” Ekweremadu added.
However, it was learnt that the presidency was unhappy that the Senate proposed this as part of the constitution amendment and for it to take effect immediately, if passed.
The source said although Jonathan proposed the six-year single tenure over a year ago, he never expected the Senate to make it affect his chances to seek re-election.
He said the presidency was working to ensure that the single term proposal, which can only take effect with endorsement by the House and ratification by two-thirds of the state assemblies, did not sail through.
It was also learnt that the single term proposal might not get the needed concurrence at the House.
A member of the House leadership said it was unlikely that the lawmakers in the lower chamber would pass the recommendation by the Senate for a single-term limit of six years.
He recalled that their recommendations for amendments to the constitution were based on people sessions in all the 774 local government areas in the country, and the outcome of that exercise showed that the people rejected the proposal.
According to him, “Our report on the constitution review is people-oriented because we wanted to ensure that it is a people’s constitution, so we cannot go and start adopting what was not sanctioned by the people.”
On how the Senate arrived at its own recommendations, the House source said he did know, stating that he could only defend the one done by the lower chamber which was as a result of an exhaustive process that took the House Committee on the Review of the Constitution to all the 774 local councils.
“The Senate committee may have sat down somewhere and come up with their recommendations, but that of the House has the input of the people and is backed by verifiable data,” he said.

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