One Term Presidency


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On the Issue of One-Term, Constitutionally-Rotated Nigerian Presidency



Mobolaji E. Aluko, Ph.D.  

Monday, November 11, 2002

Table of Contents:



The Demerits of Statutory Rotation, the Merits of Party Rotation

One-Term Presidency

Timing the Suggested Changes

The Larger Questions of Constitutional Reform






There is something that is always puzzling about the Nigerian political scene when it comes to the presentation and consideration of political ideas:  

  1. With regard to presentation, there is always a tendency for a fire-brigade, solve-this-one-problem-only approach, rather than a holistic one. Oftentimes, one problem solved merely generates a whole new set of even more trenchant problems that should have been anticipated.  

  2. Whether the idea is considered worthy or not depends on the identity of the presenter.  Is he young or old?  Is the person male or female?  Is he or she a well-known “mover and shaker”, a person or persons of “timber and caliber” aka the Patriots?  Or more acidly, are the person or persons Yoruba (aka the Afenifere), Igbo (aka the Ohanaeze), Hausa, Fulani or Northern (aka Arewa Consultative Forum) or  Minority (eg United Delta Congress or Middle Belt Forum)?  

  3.   The timing of the presentation is also usually capable of killing the idea at birth, once it is termed that it is an idea with a “hidden agenda”, no matter what its intrinsic merits are.  The presenter is then left to struggle with the diversion of proving that he does not have a hidden agenda, thereby obscuring the central message.  

It is these defects which currently afflict the raging issues of one-term presidency and statutory rotation as they relate to recent loud calls for constitutional reform.  Coming on the heels of an aborted but spirited effort to impeach President Obasanjo in the National Assembly, it is considered, somewhat rightly, that the high pitch of the one-term presidency call at this time is a round-about way to prevent President Obasanjo from going for a second four-year term because of serious disenchantment with him by those who made him king despite serious objections from his people of prideful association.  The high pitch for presidential rotation is also considered by many, particular the Yoruba, as a ploy to ensure that the presidency definitely rotates AWAY from the South-West after the shortest possible time, that is after four years.  Obviously, the beneficiary of such an arrangement would most probably to the South-South or South-East since conventional wisdom is the North is not too keen to “get the presidency back” after such a short time as four years, never mind the political posturing of the Rimis and Buharis.  When we couple those considerations with the South-East zone’s vociferous declamation that it is “Igbo’s turn” to become president, any suggestion in the direction of one-term presidency and rotation from Igbo elements is looked at with serious suspicion.


All of these issues distract from the intrinsic merits or demerits of the demands for single-term presidency and rotation, and therefore they cloud political judgement.  In any case, the two concepts should be decoupled, for reasons to be outlined below.





Let us note that I have qualified my demerits here as being against “statutory rotation”, by which I mean a constitutional provision for zonal rotation of the post of president or any other position for that matter.  I am  for example NOT AGAINST any party that has previously presented a winning presidential candidate REQUIRING that the subsequent candidates should come from another political zone from the previous ones until all the zones have had their turn in winning that position through THAT PARTY.  The merit of that proposition is that it promotes a sense of belonging WITHIN the party.  However, I am VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED to such a party wittingly or unwittingly DICTATING to OTHER PARTIES that those other parties’ candidates MUST statutorily come from these other zones, even if they do not have strong candidates from those zones. 


This is a distinction with a big difference:  the country should have the GREATEST OPPORTUNITY to choose the best candidate from ANY ZONE, even if each party decides to saddle itself with limiting its candidates from PARTICULAR zones.  One only abhors the thought of ALL the parties being constitutionally required to choose from ONE and ONLY ONE zone at any given time.


Let us fix ideas here so that we don’t sound too theoretical.  In post-Abacha, post-Abiola 1999, due to a set of fortuitous circumstances too obvious to repeat here, the two presidential candidates of PDP and the APP/AD coalition were from the South-West.  Thus, the emergence of a president of South-West (Yoruba) stock was inevitable and unique, and those unique circumstances would and should probably never be repeated.  In any case,  it was NOT a constitutional arrangement, but a “private arrangee” by power brokers.  Since 1999, three additional political parties to PDP, AD and PDP,  namely APGA, NDP and UNPP,  have emerged on the Nigerian political scene, with possibly more parties to come now that the Supreme Court has rightly slapped INEC down for being unnecessarily constrictive in its earlier approvals. 


Now if the PDP, in its own party constitutional wisdom, demands that its next presidential candidate, whether in 2003 or 2007, should not come from the South-West in order to promote a sense of belonging within the PDP, then it is within its right to stipulate so.  In fact, it is a politically reasonable thing to do.    Even if the AD and APP, despite its failed presidential candidacy in 1999, each also stipulates that its next set of candidates should not come from the South-West for the same reason as stated by the PDP, then it is well within its rights.  But under no circumstances must PDP’s agreement that its own candidate must come from say the South-East mean that APP or AD must adopt a similar measure.  In fact, under this circumstance, PDP can adopt a South-East candidate, AD can adopt a North-Central candidate and APP can adopt a South-South candidate and still promote a sense of belonging within each party.  One presumes that APGA, NDP and UNPP, not having participated in any presidential contest before, would be free to choose from ANY part of the country, including from the South-West if that is where they have the strongest presidential candidate.   The Nigerian people should then be free to choose out of all of these candidates the best one, but only after INTERNAL rotatory (or non-rotatory) principles that suit each party have been applied.


The issue is even more complicated when the possibility of an INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE is factored into the equation.  A statutory provision for rotational presidency would mean that ALL PARTIES, whether 3 or 6 or 15, as well as all independent candidates must come from the currently constitutionally-favored political zone.


That would be an absurd, anti-democratic and untenable proposition across the board.  It is workable ONLY in a one-party totalitarian state, or one in which  you have a party so DOMINANT that having adopted a policy of presidential rotation, then that dominant party’s  persistent winning ways may enable rotation to reach all political zones in time.  However, only those circumstances can GUARANTEE such a situation, and no amount of political engineering in a free-and-fair multi-party democracy should be done to achieve such an aim.


This is why the current clamor by some of the Igbo leadership for an Igbo presidency is absurd political theater.  To the extent that there is NO WAY that ALL 6 (or possibly 11) political parties can adopt Igbo presidential candidates, that clamor is hollow clanging.  It is palpably unwise, and should be discontinued because it hurts the chances of such a desirable eventuality.  If the PDP is considered by the Igbo leadership to be the party MOST likely to present the next president, then they must work for a presidential candidate that will be nominated at the party convention and that will win the presidential contest.  The Igbo should CONCENTRATE on getting the PDP to adopt a candidate of Igbo stock – that is a legitimate ambition – not an “Igbo candidate”,  but they should leave those  who are not members of that party out of their political heat.


Let me restate VERY CLEARLY:  the idea of rotation of positions has NO PLACE in a democratic national constitution.  It is anti-democratic and impractical.  However, if any particular party wishes to adopt it for its own expediency, it should be welcome to do so.  In fact, I encourage it to do so.





Unfortunately, the linkage with rotation of a one-term presidency, whether 4-year, 5-year or 6-year, has clouded the merits of one-term presidency.  Let us face it:  A man who wins two 4-year terms – as Obasanjo is likely to do if indeed he is adopted by the PDP as their next presidential candidate - can be considered mathematically to have had an 8-year, one-term presidency.  What are 8 years in the lifetime of a country – at least until Christ returns?


Little or nothing!


Therefore, in effect, my argument is that what we should indeed be looking for is an arrangement that will be a NECESSARY condition for a quick ROTATION of the presidency around the political zones, but we must admit that it is not a SUFFICIENT condition, nor a GUARANTEE that this will be the case.  A 1-year single term will make will make such a condition quicker to realize than a 4-year term.  So will a 5-year single term over a  6-year term – and so on.  To take absurdity to the limit, a 6-month term will even also be desirable!


Therefore there must be some OBJECTIVE means of choosing between the various terms.


It appears that the aim of avoiding the unwholesome deployment of INCUMBENCY powers is what makes a SINGLE term most desirable, that is, apart from the desire for all the zones to taste presidential (or gubernatorial) power within the shortest possible time.  However, we must realize that it is not the INCUMBENCY of PERSONALITIES that would come into play in such a single-term scenario, but the INCUMBENCY of POLITICAL PARTIES, which could in itself be quite destructive.  Consequently, unless one is convinced that that latter incumbency is less potent in a single-term situation than in a multiple-term situation, one wonders what is to be gained.


So what are my preferences?


My first preference is for a return to a PARLIAMENTARY system, where the leader of the winning party becomes Prime Minister and answers on a daily basis to a Parliament, rather than this expensive PRESIDENTIAL system of ours, which concretizes the dictatorial “father knows best” mentality of our African (or is it Nigerian?) culture, and makes the President to wander far afield from the legislature.  The choice of party leader can then be more easily subjected to rotatory principles WITHIN the party.  While there is value in a fractious country striving to become a nation in having a presidential figure that is voted for by the whole country, the level of political sophistication of the nation may not make it appropriate at a given point in time.  I believe that that is the situation in which Nigeria finds itself at the moment.


My second preference is for a single 6-year-term, six-person PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL, in which one person per political zone is elected into the council, and each serves for one year  as “President of the Federation and Chairman of the Council.”    This way, we kill two obvious birds with one stone.  The downside of having zonal champions to be presidents for one year each in turn cannot be avoided – after all, despite his best efforts to the contrary, Obasanjo is still considered a zonal champion!  Who else can beat his attempts at distancing himself from his people of prideful association?


My third preference is more comprehensive:     

  1. a single 6-year term, one-person Presidency, with the possibility of return for one non-successive term; 

  2. four-year, three-term limits for House of Representatives and state assemblies;

  3. six-year, two-term limits for the Senate; 

  4. five-year,  one-term limits for Governors, with the possibility of return for one non-successive term; and

  5. three-year, three-term limits for councilors. 

All single-term positions should also have practical and viable RECALL clauses (to prevent complacency.      I made the suggestions for pragmatic reasons that were amplified in an article that I wrote as far back as June 2001 – not in the heat of impeachment fever - which I reproduce in part below.





MONDAY QUARTERBACKING - Staggering Our Electoral Process

June 18, 2001




Between December 1998 and February 1999, over 10,000 local government councilors and chairmen, over 500 state assemblymen, 36 state governors, 360 National House of Representatives members, 109 National Senators and 1 National President/VP ticket were elected nationwide into offices in Nigeria. They were all sworn in between May 29 and June 4, 1999.              


Here is the clincher: except for the local government councilors, whose terms might be up in the Year 2002, - notice the word "might", used advisedly because there are still court battles going on over this particular issue - all these elected representatives have four-year terms, which means that they will ALL be up for re-nomination by the end of the Year 2002 and due for re-election in the Year 2003. 


For any country, that situation is a tall political order, and an administrative nightmare to have so many elected officials engaged actively in political campaigns all at the same time. Governance will virtually be at a stand-still as all of them go from one campaign site to another, and as their opponents try to take their jobs from them.        


Furthermore, theoretically, all the representatives can lose their seats in one fell swoop, leading to a new "learning process" excuse all over again!  With the way and manner in which they have behaved so far, some would feel that they all deserve to lose their seats.


Why and how did it come to this? One can only imagine that those who devised the election laws in our country under which these officials contested were not forwarding-looking enough to discern this imminent danger, while the "onlookers" were too keen to "release" the military back into their barracks and hence wished to go on with the elections. In any case, since no one saw the military-imposed 1999 Constitution until two weeks before the May 29 hand-over to civilians - that is after the last set of elections (for the presidency) of February 27 -  some of us "onlookers" could be forgiven.                                                                                                                               


On the whole, the 1998/1999 election process engineered by General Abdusalami Abubakar was a monumentally rushed job, and its effects may yet bite us if we don't make many mid-stream corrections. The same is to be said for the 1999 Constitution itself – that is  another essay by itself.


The Suggested New Sequencing


Now that the milk has been spilt, though, what do we do? How has this issue been tackled elsewhere?                                                                                                                      


In the United States which runs a similar presidential and representative system such as ours, it has been resolved through a method of differences in terms of office of the President (4 years; two-term limit) and Senate (6 years; no term limit) and the House (4 years; no term limit), as well as STAGGERING within the Senate (one-third re-elected every two years.)                                   


The argument for a longer term in the US Senate (and older-age entry level than the House of Representatives) made eloquently in the “Federalist Papers” No. 62 of the United States was that its members represented larger constituencies and required a longer time to master such constituencies and legislations, and that it made for a more stable and sober senate compared with the more rapidly changing House.  


There is great wisdom in this American system, written into its Constitution RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING by its Founding Fathers. Elements of that wisdom should be commended - with appropriate modifications - to the Nigerian system just for that: its wisdom.                                                                           


The question though is that how can this now be done - FAIRLY if at all - given that nothing like this was done back in 1999? Will there not be howls of changing the rules in the middle of the game?  Obviously, whatever we do now requires constitutional and electoral law reforms - but let us ignore those minor technical details of MECHANISM for now and discuss the REFORMS needed themselves.                  


The first is to change the Presidential term RIGHT NOW to 6 years, beginning with the incumbent president Obasanjo, and specify that he serve one term only and leave us peacefully in the Year 2005. While I have reason to believe that this particular proposal is already in the offing for different political reasons other than this danger of large-scale simultaneous changes in office - I don't believe that president Obasanjo is looking happily forward to a re- election bid - I am in support of a one-term, six-year presidency in Nigeria (with a possibility of a maximum of non-successive two terms) to defuse this issue of hogging an office.


The one-term limit increases the speed with which different persons from different political zones in Nigeria can vie for the presidency. Mind you, one is opposed to any kind of MECHANICAL ROTATION of the office of the president, but there is something to be said for opening up the field without concerns about an unfair use of the power of incumbency.


The term of Federal House of Representatives should be left at its present four years, but only half of the incumbents should be up for re-election in the Year 2003, while the other half should be automatically extended till the Year 2005 when they will come up for re-election for four more years.


The term of the National Senate should be extended from the present 4 years to 6 years. However, one-third of the incumbents should contest for re-election for six years in the Year 2003, another third should be automatically extended and be up for re-election in the Year 2005 while the rest should have an automatic extension till the year 2007 when they will be eligible for re-election. Each group would be re-electable for six more years afterwards.


In the states, the governors should have maximum of a 5-year term (thus, present governors should be extended for one more year), while the state assemblies should also begin their four-year terms staggered in a manner similar to that prescribed above for the National House of Representatives.


The local governments should have a three-year term, beginning immediately, with the next election in the Year 2002. This will enable local governments to have elections mainly in off-years, but sometimes along with the other officers that are up for re-election.


This arrangement will also mean that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and their state counterparts SIEC will be perpetually busy each year with elections, rather going off to slumber every three or four years.


Deciding who contests, who is deferred


So how do we decide TODAY those presently elected officials who will be extended by zero, two or four years?


First, we must note that ALL the officials would have served the three or four years for which they originally signed up for in the Year 1999, so no howls of unfairness would be legitimate as a result of these preferential choices for extension.   After all, being in office is not a birthright.


Secondly, to complete the fairness, it will be necessary to balance these preferential choices first BY geographical location and THEN by PARTY.


For the Federal House of Representatives, to decide those who will be extended for a further two years, we choose half of the constituencies from each state arbitrarily FROM A HAT, in congruence (as much as possible) with that half being the elected officials from each party, PROVIDED those extended in a given state are not more than half from any one party.  An easy way to do this is to separate the constituencies by parties, and then choose from a hat half of each to be replaced.


For the Senate, for those who will be extended for a further two years and for four years, we choose one of the constituencies from each state, in congruence (as much as possible) with that one-third being of the elected officials from each party, PROVIDED those extended in a given political zone are not more than third from any one party. Since there are three senators per state, it should not be too difficult to choose one each who should run in 2003, in 2005 and in 2007.   If all seats are held by the same party or by 3 different parties, we choose arbitrarily.  If two are held by one party and one by another, we choose one of the two held by the one party, and arbitrarily select from the other two.


The same kind of considerations should be done in the State assemblies and local government councils.


As a concession to the leadership, the constituencies of the incumbent leadership of the Houses and Senate (Speakers and Deputy Speakers, Senate President and Deputy President) and Assemblies should be extended for two more years where possible.


After all extensions have been fulfilled, no further geographical or party considerations are to be made: the constituencies have re-election contests conducted based on when their time comes up.


The important thing to note here is that the process described above should be done TRANSPARENTLY. I would recommend an open lottery be done within the restrictions outlined above, so that EVERYONE understands that no discriminatory TARGETTING of particular officials or parties are being carried out. For example, where party numbers cannot be split, those seats should be left alone and extended for no more than two years.






Finally, although, like Chief Anthony Enahoro, I prefer a parliamentary system, however, if our presidential system is to be retained, then it should be modified in such a manner that the president is REQUIRED by the Constitution to appear before the National Assembly ONCE A MONTH to answer questions put before him or her.    He should appear in person at least two-thirds of the time, and may designate his Vice-President or some other person to appear on his behalf at other times.  This would go some way to prevent an itinerant president from gallivanting all over the world and ignoring the parliament, something he cannot avoid where he a member of parliament himself.





A crucial aspect of the changes suggested is the question of when they should take effect.    I first made several of the suggestions back in June 2001 when the issue of extending the councilors terms from 3 years to 4 years had not faced a legal test and subsequent dismissal by the Supreme Court.  That ruling gave some pause to my suggestions.  Nevertheless, nothing by the Supreme Court stated that a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT cannot effect such a change.  The Supreme Court ruling merely stated that a mere Act of Parliament or Executive fiat – or a nocturnal collusionary forgery of a document by both arms of government - cannot make that change PRIOR to a constitutional amendment.                                                           


The claim that it is unfair to the incumbents to change the rules in the middle of the game cannot hold water here.  If a constitutional amendment is effected, since the president was elected for a four-year term in 1999, by the suggestions here, he would be “rewarded” with an extension by 2 years.  In effect, this amounts to a shortened “no-election” mandate renewal with a shortened second term.   If he wishes, the incumbent may refuse such an extension, and then his vice-president or a caretaker president can be “selected” in his place for those two years.  That scenario should also be anticipated in the amended Constitution and provided for.  The present incumbent president is then FREE to run again after two years and rule for six years if he wins, since the amended Constitution would allow a non-consecutive term.  The same holds for all the other offices.  


With respect to the election cycle, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) recently proposed a one-term, 5-year presidency, with the current regime being extended by one year, but with the new regime beginning in October 2004.  This amounts to a one-time, five-and-a-half-year extension.


I hereby re-visit my counter-suggestion, as adumbrated in the same earlier June 2001 article:




Adjusting the election cycle



The 1999 hand-over to civilian rule was on May 29, making it a mid-year event. This is a peculiar situation for the following reason:                                                                                                    


Year 1: May 29, 1999 - May 28, 2000 - first ("green") year in office

Year 2: May 29, 2000 - May 28, 2001 - second ("settling-down") year

Year 3: May 29, 2001 - May 28, 2002 - third (“re-election nomination”) year

Year 4: May 28, 2002 - May 29, 2003 - fourth (“election”) year                                                  


Thus we see that in fact the nomination and election ("electioneering") years span through three years (2001, 2002 and 2003)  out of a 4-year term, while the entire process spans through five years: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003! We can see some of those posturings already occurring in Nigeria, with many governors declaring their readiness for re-election, and questions being asked of the president as to his pleasure for re-election. This mid-year change-over also affects the budget cycle, with the possibility of a new executive and legislature having to tamper with a budget in mid-year.                                                                                                                       


I propose that in any election year, ALL nominations and primaries be held over two months (May, June), campaigns for two-and-half  months (July, August, mid-September), and all elections from mid-September to the end of October,  thereby shortening the election process tremendously. The new executives can therefore have two full months (November, December) to plan their budgets and the old executive can  make hand-over preparations to  the incoming government, so that the latter’s  full budget cycle can begin in the first January of its  first year of election.  








If you were to ask me, the most important constitutional issues facing Nigeria at the moment are really not whether to have a single-term or multiple-term presidency, or whether we should have rotatory presidency or not.  Rather, they are: 


  1. The National Question – what does it REALLY mean to be a Nigerian ANYWHERE in the geopolitical space called Nigeria, and whether we should merely take our colonial definition of Nigeria for granted;  

  2. True Federalism – if we are a Federal Republic of Nigeria, what are the Federating Units, and what is their “federal” relationship to a currently over-awing center?  For example, can the states be considered the federating units, or is some other super-state structure (eg political zones or regions) a more efficient structure?  

  3. Resource Control – to be truly federal is for the federating units to be “economically viable” to a large extent.  Thus who RESIDUALLY controls the air, water and land, and the wealth thereof?  Is it the federating unit or the center?  

  4. Electoral reform – how can party formation and financing, candidates identification  and comparison, electoral voting, counting and announcing be done such  that credible candidates can offer themselves up, worthy elected officials can emerge, and lousy incumbent candidates can be thrown out without the fear of using their ill-gotten money to perpetuate themselves in power? 

  5. Presidential versus parliamentary system.                                                                                                            

These should be coupled with the more practical concerns of:  

  1. Security for life, limb and property;  

  2. infrastructural needs (power, water and roads);  

  3. food security;  

  4. education;  

  5. employment.  

The strong coupling between these two sets of issues cannot be minimized, since the level of government at which latter set of concerns should be addressed depends on the economic wherewithal of the various levels.  It is here that demands such as state control of police; devolution/privatization of NEPA etc.; local government control of education and agriculture, etc. come into play, as would be facilitated by the emergence of a truly economically federal Nigeria.





In the ongoing debates of constitutional review by the National Assembly and the Presidency, these important questions appear to have been skipped entirely.   Rather, too much emphasis has been given to discussions of single-term discussions, rotatory presidency because of the expediency of the moment.   Furthermore, the National Assembly members and the Executive are so busy accusing each other of “chopping” our money that they are too distracted to face our real problems, a lament given vent to recently  by none other than Audu Ogbeh, chairman of the ruling PDP. 


With their interest in returning to parliament despite our best efforts at throwing them out, that distraction might not change quickly, until and unless ntil they are faced head-on with a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). 


I fear that we will continue to wander in the political wilderness in our country for a long time to come without such an SNC.        


A word is enough for the wise!



Dr. Mobolaji E. Aluko is Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering at Howard University.  He is currently on sabbatical leave in Nigeria.



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