Thursday, July 28, 2011

I won’t stay in office beyond 2015, Jonathan insists

President faults opposition to single tenure
PDP holds convention January 25
AT two separate fora yesterday in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan said he had no intention to stay in the Presidential Villa beyond May 29, 2015.
Jonathan point blank, said insinuations that his single term proposal was to further his grip on power were misplaced. He told Nigerians flying the kite to desist from it.
At the 56th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja, the President disclosed that consultations were still going on though no number of years had been reached.
Earlier yesterday, Jonathan through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had said he was pressing on with his plan for the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution for a single term for the President and governors of the 36 states of the federation with effect from 2015.
He said the bill to actualise the new initiative would be presented to the National Assembly before the end of August.
Jonathan, who also responded to the opposition’s strident criticism of his proposal on the issue, accused them of trying to deny him the right of freedom of speech and thought on how best to drive governance towards better service delivery in Nigeria.
Jonathan pointed out that there was no way he could embark on such exercise without consulting critical stakeholders such as the state governors and the lawmakers.
‘’There is a brief comment I want to make about this so-called single tenure, I wouldn’t have to love to but probably it is becoming so topical in the papers. In fact, today, most of the papers carried the story and once things happen that way, people take it in different directions. Since we are meeting here as a NEC of the party, it is only proper to clarify some issues so that it will not be misunderstood.
“Indeed, I asked some a few people whether a single tenure is a better option than a double tenure. Before I take any decision I ask people but that is not the end of the consultation. It is a major change. So, before I can send such a bill to the National Assembly, I will consult the governors because any constitutional amendment involves the states and if they are not on the same page with you, there is no way such amendment can easily sail through. So, I have not even discussed it with the governors. Though as individuals, probably, I have mentioned it to one or two along the discussion, if it crosses that area. Even the leadership of the party and the National Assembly, I might have mentioned to one or two persons, but not a formal group consultation. So, I have not done that level of consultation.
“Why should the story come up? Of course, because I asked one or two persons about this and I felt it was a good idea. So, the issue leaked out to the press and instead of talking about the issue of whether it is a single tenure or we continue with the two tenure, people  are now rather pinning it to extension, elongation of tenure. And people were holding meeting. When we got to know that they were holding meeting, we said no, no., clarify this; Nobody should hold meeting about elongation of tenure. It has nothing to do with elongation of tenure. The tenure of Jonathan Goodluck ends in 2015. That is the provision of the constitution. So, it has nothing to do with that,’’ he said.
Jonathan recalled that the idea of tinkering with the tenure of Presidency came up during the adminsitration of the late President Umaru Musa YarÁdua when he raised an inter-party committee on the matter and the panel, which he chaired bought the idea of a single tenure.
‘’But the clarification that came out also rather compounded the situation, and how did this thing come about? Some of you will remember that in 2008/2009, when we came on board and at the end of the elections, the feeling that that the elections were poorly done was so dramatised that both within and outside the country, people felt that the elections were not properly conducted. I used to feel personally insulted whenever I travelled out to hold meetings, it came to create issues as if it was a stolen mandate. I used to tell people around me that I would make sure that no Nigerian President or Vice President gets insulted. So, if I have opportunity to oversee elections, the elections must be credible so that people will accept us anywhere,”
Jonathan noted that because of these challenges, the late President set up the Justice Uwais Committee to look into the electoral reforms and others. “He (Yar’Adua) also called the parties to come together and form a team so that all the parties could submit a common position. He also asked as the vice president then to chair the inter-party committee to submit a common memorandum to the Justice Uwais committee. I chaired that and we invited all the political parties. All the parties that formed government participated but only the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) did not attend and we spent almost three weeks or a month. The report is there.”
Jonathan said one of the things the panel discussed and accepted was a single term option to reduce some acrimonies. “One is not saying that that I am the ultimate but if you look at the evolution of the political system, the two-tenure is the ultimate, considering that some countries having single tenure, after some time, go for the double tenure. So, it is like evolutionary process. But the feeling is that because of a lot of agitations and so on, probably, in another period, we can go to that, probably to make it more effective for people to concentrate and so on. There were a number of reasons given, I will not bore your ears. But that was how this issue of single term came up. So, it not my idea, that was conceptualised after winning election. No. It has been there. All the memos that were submitted by the parties contain that. And indeed, I started asking certain people some questions and so, the information leaked out to the press and they are trying to make issue about it. But I assure the party that that major constitutional amendment can not go the National Assembly except Mr. President consults the leadership of the party. And the leadership of the National Assembly and consult with the governors. It has nothing to do with the four-year presidency that Nigerians have given to us. We just want to clarify that and I think I need to mention that it is not my idea of the committee that I chaired. Those of us, who were in the committee, we debated the matter for almost one day. We believe it is the best option, still for it to go for constitutional amendment, consultation has to be done widely,’’ he declared.
The President appealed to PDP faithful not to be worried by the misunderstanding over the matter, stressing that he did not mention six years as reported.
‘’Though some of the statements are quite insulting but of course, it is the kind of politics we play. So, I will tell PDP members not to join issues with people. Just clarify so that people will understand, and I just need to mention this so that people will know exactly the evolution of this so-called single tenure. I did not mention that six years. I don’t know where the six years came in. One thing I said was that the cost of election is too high on government. The money we spend on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)] , and of course, the security, if you aggregate it for a country that has a lot of challenges about our road infrastructure, we can’t even fund it. The amount of money we spend every year conducting elections is so much that there is the need to even widen the gap. The six-year I was even saying that for parliamentary election. Multiple tenures are practised all over the world, so nobody will pin them down but I even said even the four years, the frequency,  and I know I said it because some time  when, I remember as a vice president, the initial period when I used to attend meeting with other presidents, most African counties feel that the four-year thing is too short. They used to tell me, you people in Nigeria are rich, you think you are as developed as the United States of America, so you just went and copied the US model. Those are the areas we are looking at but Mr. President cannot send that to the National Assembly when I have not even consulted the people that will present the bill. So, you should not be bothered about that, some people will play politics with it but the truth will come out,’’ he said.
At the meeting, the PDP Acting National Chairman, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, said the new leadership of the party would enforce discipline noting that members of party, who left the party during the last election but have returned would be treated as new members. ‘’Erstwhile members that deserted our party during the electioneering period and seek to return to the party after elections will henceforth queue up in their constituencies regardless of their previously held positions,’’ he said.
He said the incident in the House of Representatives where members of the party defied the PDP’s instruction on the candidates to be elected as members of the Body of Principal Officers and elected their own candidates was strange but the party had forgiven them for the remorse they had shown.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, said at a press conference that the national convention of the party had been scheduled for February next year. He added that the meeting ratified the appointment of Baraje as the acting national chairman.
Similarly, NEC also approved the appointment of Dr. Musa Babayo, erstwhile Deputy National Secretary as Acting National Secretary in view of the vacancy created by the elevation of Baraje. They shall, along with the remaining members of the National Working Committee (NWC) oversee the affairs of the party until the tenure of the current executive committee runs out in March, 2012.
“NEC also considered dates and guidelines for party congresses and national convention of our arty which shall elect officers for the party at all levels. This is in line with provisions of the PDP Constitution which prescribes a four-year tenure for elected executives at all levels,’’ he declared.
After exhaustive debate, the following timetable was approved by NEC: Ward Congresses  - 7th January, 2012.
• LGA Congresses - 14th January, 2012
• State Congresses - 21st January, 2012
• Zonal Congresses - 4th February, 2012
• National Convention - 25th February, 2012
The handing over to the new NEC shall be between 27th February and 8th of March, 2012.
He added that NEC nominated a team of 21 persons to review the party’s constitution  ‘’NEC also approved the constitution of a 21-member committee to propose amendments for the PDP Constitution to align it with provision of the Electoral Act and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The committee shall be chaired by the National Legal Adviser with members drawn from the Executive, National Assembly, Governors Forum, State Chairmen, Youths and Women representatives and National Secretariat.
The Guardian learnt that the Senate President David Mark, advised the party to review the membership register before the congresses and convention to properly capture the membership.
The meeting was not attended by governors of South East extraction. Abati, who restated that President Jonathan “will not be a beneficiary” of the bill if it is enacted into law, said it is difficult to fathom how the issue of single term for the Executive branch is “a distraction” as the proposal has not stopped governance.
He described most of the reactions as “patently abusive; or if you like, insulting. It’s been suffused with a lot of name-calling.”
The presidential aide added again that “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.”
Abati further said that “if you look at the reaction by the opposition, one thing that seems to come out is the impression that they seem to be giving that the President, as a Nigerian, does not have the right to free speech. The President, as every other individual under the Constitution, has that right to the freedom of expression. And I think the proposal that he has made ought to be seen primarily in that context. Second, as a leader and as a citizen and as a man who is the leader of Nigeria at the moment, he 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.
“What that means therefore is that this proposal will still first go through the Executive Council of the Federation. It will be debated at that level, it will be discussed, it will be examined and if the Council feels that there is merit in it, then a bill will be prepared and forwarded to the National Assembly.
“And then the National Assembly will debate it, the Nigerian people will debate and the decision at the end of the day will be that of Nigerians. What I find again in some of the reactions of the opposition is that
some of them 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

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