The presidency yesterday asked opposition politicians to desist from name-calling and being abusive over President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal to limit presidents and governors to a single, six-year term.
Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, who spoke during the weekly briefing with journalists at the state house, said he expects the opposition to come up with superior suggestions or logic instead of resorting to name calling.
Mr Abati said he found it curious that people were commenting with so much rigour on a bill that they had not yet seen, saying the debate would be more useful when that bill was prepared and sent to the national assembly and everyone had the document and could see the details.
“If you look at the reaction by the opposition, one thing that seems to come out of that is the impression that they seem to be giving that the president as a Nigerian does not have the right to free speech,” he said.
“A leader has every right to express his vision to say this is where I want the country to go; this is what I think is in the best interest of Nigeria, given our current level of political development. The third point to note is that this is a democracy and the statement that has been made by Mr President is not in any way a military order; it is just a proposal.
“The fact that it is not a military order means the proposal does not have an immediate effect; the decision at the end of the day will be that of the Nigerian people. Everyone knows that such a proposal will have to go through due process and the president is a man who has said again and again that he will not do anything that is against the rule of law.”
The presidential spokesperson said the proposal will first go through the executive council of the federation, where it will be debated and if the executive council feels that there was merit to it, then a bill would be prepared and forwarded to the national assembly.
No grounds for abuse
“What I find again, in some of the reactions of the opposition, is that some of the reactions have been patently abusive or if you like insulting; it’s been suffused with a lot of name calling. I think that politicians have a right to be partisan because it is the nature of politicians to be partisan. However where national interest is involved, a certain level of objectivity is important and people should subordinate their partisan interest to the national interest,” he said.
“That statement was a two-page statement and it provides a basis for the recommendation that is made therein. Which is that, elections in this country tend to be a life and death struggle; people go into office and the only thing they focus on is to get a second term by all means and hence governance suffers. And again the cost of electioneering in the country is very huge, a lot of money is expended during primaries, during elections. Just getting to political office becomes on a four-year basis almost a consuming desperate passion.”
He also noted that many of the security challenges the country faces are tied to desperation for power, noting that some politicians have already started preparing for the next election.
“They are putting together private armies together, they are recruiting able bodied men, political enforcers with the hope that when it is the next election these are the people who will force the issues for them and these are the arguments stated in part in this document,” he said.
“What one will expect is that the beauty of the opposition in any country, is for the opposition to weigh what has been proposed and to come up with superior logic if it has. I have not seen an attempt on the part of the opposition to make an attempt to engage the president at the level of ideas. What I have seen is a deliberate attempt to put a label on the proposal and say it is tenure elongation. Why it is so, they have not explained.”
He, however pointed out that the debate around the announcement of the proposal is healthy for a country like Nigeria.
When asked if the president will also be a beneficiary, Mr Abati said the president has stated in clear terms that he is not considering a second tenure.
“I believe what it means in clear terms is that the president will not be a beneficiary. In other words, the president in 2015 is not going to come and benefit if the amendment sails through, because if he tries to do that, then those who are saying this is an attempt at tenure elongation will have been vindicated,” he said.
“He is fully aware of the concern of Nigerians and he is resolute in upholding that statement that he will not be a beneficiary. But you see, it is early days yet with regards to that. We have to wait until that proposal becomes a bill. I think the statement he made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is that he will not seek a second term in office, but now that this issue has come up afresh I will get you the answers you are looking for,” he said, amidst laughter from the journalists.
Mr Abati said he believed that the president had consulted widely with governors and other political leaders before making his intensions known to the public on the issue.
“If Nigerians do not want such an amendment, fine. It will be the decision of the Nigerian people. But anyone of us, president, citizen or whoever is free to make a suggestion to contribute to national debate, without acrimony and name-calling,” he said