The House of Representatives yesterday rejected a move to amend the nation’s constitution to pave the way for a single term of six years for the president and governors and multiple terms of six years for national and state assemblies members. John Dyegh (APC: Benue) who sponsored the bill had sought the alteration of sections 64 (1), 64 (2), 105 (2), 135 (2), 137 (1), 180 (1) and 180 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended at the plenary presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase. But the bill was flatly rejected by the lawmakers after deliberation.
Leading the debate on the general principles of the bill, Dyegh argued that an elongated tenure offers a promising long-time solution to the avoidable loss of limbs, lives, and sources of living attributable to conflicts arising from re-election processes. He further argued that a six-year consecutive tenure for legislators would not only deepen democracy, but it would also save the country the high turnover of legislators which, according to him, constitutes loss of experience and institutional knowledge.
“You will agree with me that the present four years plus four years’ tenure of eight years is not helping matters, it is taking us backward. Practically speaking, the occupier of the seat spends only two years in the first tenure and the remaining two fighting reelection which in Nigeria is many times more expensive than the first election and mostly dependent on lean resources of the state allegedly.
“In the second tenure, he spends two and a half years working on the remaining one and a half years preparing his exit/soft landing and installation of a successor. So, the total time spent on actual work for the state is not more than four and a half years of the eight years.
“The six-year single term will afford the president or governor to he more focused, more dedicated and the usual do-or-die battles for reelections will be eliminated, no lives will be lost, the money will be saved, we shall experience better development.
“If we must deepen our democracy, we must reduce ‘wars’ that occur during the reelection of presidents and governors by supporting a single term of six years.”To further buttress his argument, Dyegh said: “This is as opposed to the civil service practice where a fresh graduate rises through the ranks, using over 30 years to become a director or permanent secretary and as a custodian/bundle of knowledge of all that pertains to the service.
“In the judiciary, a law graduate rises from a magistrates’ court through the ranks to be a high court judge or supreme court justice and as such, the judiciary is very rich in terms of experience and institutional knowledge. Judges can very easily make references to cases dating over 30 years. This is totally lacking in our legislature.
“The first time I was elected in 2011 into this hallowed chamber, this House recorded over 200 of us as new members. Similarly, this happened in 2015 when I was elected the second time, over 200 members never returned. A similar thing happened in 2019, where again over 200 members lost the bid to return.
“This is totally unwise if we must move forward as a nation. There are many constituencies where members serve only one term and are asked to go back which means to this institution that there is no experience, no institutional knowledge.“In the United States of America and other climes, most constituencies have multiple terms and you can see their level of democracy, their level of debate on the floor. The legislature is like wine, the older the better because you cannot master the process of lawmaking and oversight in just four years.
“Therefore, since we cannot force our constituents to keep representatives here for more than a term and the legislature is losing experience, we must do something by increasing the length of a term from four years to six years.”In his contribution, Sagius Ogui said he was in support of the bill because it would “save our democracy”, considering the huge amount the executive always spends while seeking a second term in office.
But his position was not convincing to Yusuf Gadji who argued that the country’s democracy does not require a six-year single term for the executive, stressing that the Electoral Act should rather be strengthened. Olumide Osoba who spoke in the same vein said that what the country needed was electoral reform and not tenure extension, just as the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, said that the immunity clause for governors and president should be removed.
“Why we are having all these issues is because of immunity. We should remove the immunity clause for the governors and the president to allow accountability.”
Also yesterday, the lawmakers took far-reaching decisions on other national issues, including directing the committee on labour, employment, and productivity to investigate the activities of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, especially in relation to the expenditure of N2.3 billion by the management, and report back in four weeks for further legislative action.
The resolution followed the adoption of a motion moved by Francis Ejiroghene Waive during the plenary. The lawmaker made reference to a newspaper report alleging a fraud of N2.3 billion allegedly committed by the management of the NSITF through some spending without the authorization of the board.
Specifically, the report alleged that the management awarded multi-million naira contracts for the construction of office complexes of the fund in 12 states, in addition to approving millions of naira as duty tour allowances for trips, in contravention of a recent directive from the presidency banning such trips in order to reduce wastage.
The House queried the authorities of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) for allegedly misapplying N1.2 billion.
When the issue came before the Wole Oke-led Committee on Public Accounts, officials of the NRC failed to offer a convincing explanation on the missing monies.
The committee probe was based on an audit query raised by the office of the accountant general of the federation between the 2013 and 2014 financial years.
Consequently, the committee stepped down the presentations of Mrs. O Osunmade and Alhaji A Niyi who represented the corporation at the sitting for “misrepresentation of facts before the parliament”.Oke said: “These documents before this committee cannot stand the test of time What these officials are telling this committee are different entirely from what is contained in the documents the corporation submitted to us.
“We will have to step down their matter for the misrepresentation of facts. Consequently, a sub-committee will be set up to look into the financial books and the activities of the corporation for accountability.”
The lawmakers also yesterday threatened to drag the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to court for accusing them of stealing monies meant for constituency projects over the years. Adopting a motion sponsored by Dyegh under matters of urgent national importance at the plenary, the House challenged the ICPC to prove the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt or be prepared to face the consequences in court. The lower chamber mandated its committee on ICPC to probe into the issue and report back for further legislative action.