The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, has advocated a single-term presidency of five or six years for Nigeria and other African countries to deepen democracy and good governance.
Mr. Ekweremadu spoke while delivering a lecture entitled: ‘Constitutionalism and the Challenges of Leadership in Africa: an Evaluation of Tested Models’ on Tuesday.
The event was organised by the Centre for Media and Peace Initiatives, a New York-based international NGO to mark its 10th anniversary.
“A more modest proposal seeks not the abandonment of the presidential system per se but the re-designing of term limits for political chief executives.
“This is in order to reduce the acrimonious conflict, divisiveness and instability arising from partisan or factional competition for executive offices in the federation.
“I support the proposals to transform the current tenure of two four-year terms into a single term of five or six years.
“Among other advertised benefits, single terms would avoid the distractions, manipulations and divisiveness of re-election campaigns while facilitating a more rapid circulation or rotation of power among the various groups”.
According to him, a single term of four years is also less costly as it will reduce the cost of conducting general elections every four years.
Mr. Ekweremadu urged Nigeria and other African countries to learn from the failures and successes of older democracies, particularly, the Latin American democracies.
He noted that many of the Latin Americas transited from autocratic regimes to democracies, discovering that the politics of succession, including incumbents’ penchant for self-perpetuation, was overheating the system.
As a solution, they adopted the single term presidency until such a time their respective democracies matured and stabilised, he said.
“It is for this reason that the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, which I chair, felt, in 2014, that a single term would serve the ends of our current democracy.
“Unfortunately, the recommendation failed because ethnic suspicions and parochial interests prevented reasonable and good faith evaluation of our worthy proposal,” he said.
Mr. Ekweremadu also suggested a rotational presidency among the ethnic groups or geographical zones, saying it might prove reassuring to ethnic groups and promote loyalty to the nation.
According to him, rotational presidency will reassure every constituent part that power will come their way at a given interval.
“Therefore, it may well be time to re-visit the idea of rotational presidency that was first muted in Nigeria by late military Head of State Sani Abacha.”
He suggested a modification of the present presidential system to curtail presidential excesses, and importantly, create greater overlap and affinity between the executive and the legislative arms of government.
“To this end, a hybrid of both the presidential and parliamentary systems will go a long way in keeping the presidency in check, while also reaping the benefits inherent in presidential system.”
He advocated such modification as the introduction of `Question Time’ in the parliament to hold the ministers consistently accountable and the replacement of impeachment with a procedure for vote of no-confidence, among others.
He called for measures to check imperial presidency in Africa and the excesses of many leaders who are allegedly tyrannical and abusive as the military and civilian despots they criticised and replaced.
Mr. Ekweremadu also said that Nigeria is better as a united country and should not be dismembered.
There have been agitations, particularly by a separatist group, IPOB, that a sovereign country of Biafra made up of ethic Igbos be excised from Nigeria.
Although Mr. Ekweremadu is Igbo, he rejected such calls.
He said, “Nigeria does not require to be fragmented at this time. There is joy in being together. There is benefit in being together.
“There is advantage that is conferred on us as a country by our large population. What we need is giving everybody a sense of belonging and ensuring good governance.”
Mr. Ekweremadu, however, stressed the need for the country to be restructured from the current over-concentration of power at the centre, which was non-responsive to the citizenry.
“The central government that once appeared necessary and beneficent has compromised, even jeopardised its standing by perceived highhandedness, unfair treatment of some ethnic groups and abuse of power.
“The powerful central government has made citizens vulnerable to bureaucratic manipulation and control and left them powerless, and reminded them at every turn that the promise of self-government has been eroded.
“Nigeria, and indeed African constitutions, should espouse federalism characterised by weak centres and strong federating units.
“Currently, Nigeria has a very powerful centre, hence the need for devolution of powers.”
Mr. Ekweremadu stressed that a restructured Nigeria would be in the best interest of everyone as each geo-political zone would maximise its potentialities.
“If we start this process, it will assure the agitators that there is hope for a better Nigeria.
“We must continue to assure that the best way to go is restructuring, not dismemberment of the country.”
According to him, no argument that is both coherent and respectable can be made to support the continued emasculation of the component states by the centre.
“For example, the North will be a net exporter of solar energy and agricultural products while the West will be the hub of banking and information technology.
“The East will be the hub of industrial manufacturing and scientific innovations while the Middle Belt will be the hub of solid minerals development and tourism.
“The South-South will be the oil and gas hub as well as shipping. When this happens, there will be less pressure on the federal government.
“The zones will be the centres of development, the rush to Abuja will cease and the country will be able to realise its potential,” he said.
Mr. Ekweremadu called for a new constitution in Nigeria to replace the military-imposed document as had been done by Kenya, Zimbabwe and Brazil.
He said while most African constitutions provided only for amendments, not replacements, existing constitutions could be amended to make provisions for new constitutions and referendums.
Godswill Akpabio, in his remarks, stressed the need to ensure the implementation of some of the suggestions raised by Ekweremadu in his lecture to ensure a better Nigeria and Africa, by extension.
“We will go back with you and work to implement some of these recommendations because Nigeria must lead in Africa,” Mr. Akpabio, the Senate Minority Leader, said.
Bala Na’Allah, the Deputy Majority Leader, lauded Mr. Ekweremadu for the richness of the lecture and pledged that the 8th Senate would work to engender good governance through citizens-centred legislations.
The Nigerian Ambassador/Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Samson Itegboje, said Nigeria had come a long way but was a work in progress and would overcome its current challenges.
“We have the democratic structures; Nigeria is a country that now runs on the constitution, no constitution is permanent; it is a work in progress. What we need is re-engineering.”
Earlier, Uchenna Ekwo, the President of the Centre, said it had fostered more critical journalism devoted to peace building and holding practitioners accountable.
“We are building a media system that supports peace, dialogue, non-violence and democracy,” Mr. Ekwo said.
The representative of the Permanent Observer of AU to the UN, Omer Mohamed, said Africa should be allowed to adopt a version of democracy peculiar to the continent.
Mr. Mohamed, who is also the Permanent Representative of Sudan to the UN, said Africa had had its peculiar challenge and particularly expressed regret over the sectarian crises in many parts of the continent.
The event was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, business leaders, media practitioners, civil society leaders, academics and Africans in the diaspora.