Final thoughts on ‘penile elongation’

Hopefully, I have gotten your attention with the title :). The term ‘penile elongation’ is a cheeky way of describing the single tenure bill. You may now proceed to read.

Following the angry backlash from most quarters that greeted news of a bill on single tenure that would be sent to the legislature, there followed, first a distancing: ‘it was not my idea!’ said the President, then an appeal for decorum from opponents of the proposed bill. The first response led to a ‘National Not my Idea Day’ being declared among Nigeria’s twitter community: a parody of what was seen as an odd response from the Presidency. How can a statement on the President’s official facebook account, signed by his Special Adviser Reuben Abati, and the first bill sent in his administration, not be his idea? You tell me.

The barrage of criticism which greeted the announcement must have surprised the Presidency, and it led to appeals for an end to the ‘name-calling’, in order to debate the pros and cons of the bill. That is part of the problem: A look at all the topics that have dominated the headlines for several weeks now have little or nothing to do with the actual running of the country: minimum wage, ministerial appointments, Islamic banking, and now this single tenure bill.

Through it all, you have to wonder: is there any real governance going on? This piece by Tolu Ogunlesi two and a half years ago seems almost prophetic. Nigeria is currently distracted, talking about everything except what it should be talking about. It is a drawback of democracy: every idea must be debated, whether it makes sense or not, further slowing an already slow process.

Nevertheless, it does bear repeating the reasons why a single tenure is illogical. The President has taken pains to say he would not benefit from the legislation, yet that does not improve the case for it one bit. It does not also explain why, if indeed he will not benefit, he is talking about it all the time.

The desire for a second term is what motivates elected officials to work. Most of them do their best work in the first four years, then cool off in the second term. A single term would take away this incentive, and if a corrupt and/or incompetent President, Governor or legislator is elected (as many of them politicians still are) it would be looting galore throughout the single tenure. This is probably one of the reasons an analysis of term-limits the world over shows only a handful of countries that operate a single term. The electorate must retain the right to remove non-performing public officers, especially given our history and current reality of poor leadership. In the April general elections, the people of Oyo and Imo states exercised this right to the fullest. Imagine if they had to put up with such governors for 5 or even 6 years?

Reducing the cost of elections is also not a cogent reason to introduce a single tenure. There are other costs crippling Nigeria elsewhere, chief of which is the fact that 73% of our budget goes to recurrent expenditure. Add to that the bloated cabinets at every level. The amount of money given to INEC was largely due to the short time they had to organise, but the real killer is the fact that incumbents use state funds to prosecute re-election campaigns. As we speak, many ministeries are yet to fulfill their obligations to contractors, as a result of huge expenditure before and during the April elections. Campaign finance laws and an expansion of EFCC powers to enforce them, should go a long way to reduce such abuses.

The FOI bill should also be a tool by civil society to shed light on the use of public funds for elections. By 2015, it is not too much to hope that the use of the bill will be perfected.

What the focus of the President (and everyone else, for that matter) should be is campaign finance law that will be enforced. A single tenure for elected officials is not a solution, and no amount of good intentions will make it so.

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