Atiku and the fallacy of single term presidency
Recently, the former Vice-President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, tested the political waters through the Chairman of Daar Communications, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, concerning a supposed one-term presidency. Dr. Dokpesi was reported to have advised the South-East Zone to allow Atiku to run for a single term from 2023 to 2027 and that if Atiku should renege on this promise, he (Dokpesi) would walk naked on the streets. This is not the first time we have heard this from the former Vice-President. In 2018, Atiku himself swore to the people of Nigeria to serve in office for only four years if elected into office, promising to sign any document to that effect, not to pursue a second term. At that time in 2018, what prompted Atiku’s solemn declaration was the concern raised about his eligibility in respect of age and also how his presidency may disrupt the zoning arrangement in Nigerian politics.
Atiku celebrated his 75th birthday in November, 2021 and if elected as President of Nigeria in 2023, he would be 81 years old at the end of his first tenure and 85 years old at the end of the second tenure. So, it became natural for people to wonder if the Not Too Young To Rule policy would ever work. Then again, Atiku is from the North, the same political zone with the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, the latter who is set to complete his second four year tenure in 2023. By Nigeria’s unwritten political arrangement, the president should naturally come from the South in 2023, which an Atiku presidency may throw overboard, should he win election in 2023, with a new opportunity for another four years thereafter. In an attempt to address these obvious political liabilities, Atiku was reported to have expressed his readiness to abandon his second term ticket, if elected into office as president.
A fallacy is said to be a false or mistaken idea, by which people are often deluded but cannot hold, when subjected to proper scrutiny. The idea of Atiku foregoing his second term option for president in 2027 is false and can thus not be taken seriously. First, it is illegal. If Atiku is qualified now to contest for president under section 131 of the 1999, he will surely be qualified to contest again in 2027 and one million voluntary undertakings to waive that right will not hold water in law. Under and by virtue of section 137 (1) (b) of the Constitution, “a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President, if he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections.” The simple interpretation to this provision is that Atiku cannot be disqualified from vying for the office of president for a second term, under any guise whatsoever. Thus, the carrot of a supposed vow to waive this option cannot stand in the face of the Constitution.
The Constitution of Nigeria is the organic law of the land and its provisions cannot be waived, undermined or compromised in any political arrangement, as being proposed by Atiku. Section 1 (1) of the Constitution is very clear in this regard, when it states that: “this Constitution is Supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Atiku as a “person,” is already captured under section 1 (1) above and he cannot undertake to sign himself out of the provisions of the Constitution. That can only be for politicians, but certainly not the law courts, when faced with the task of enforcing and upholding the Constitution.
Section 1 (1) says clearly that the provisions of the Constitution “shall have binding force”! These words were carefully chosen by the framers of the Constitution. “Shall” is a word of command, “binding” connotes an imposed obligation from which one cannot be exempted or excused and “force” suggests a sense of compulsion for total surrender, even against one’s own will. So, when a law “shall have binding force”, it is not one that a politician should throw around like his party’s manifesto.
Second, the office of the president for which Atiku is contesting and promising to run for only a single tenure, is a creation of the Constitution, under section 130 thereof. That being the case, only the Constitution itself can determine what happens to and how long a person can stay or contest election into that office. It is not the office of chairman of Peoples’ Democratic Party or even Managing Director of a company. You cannot seek to control what you did not create. This is why the Constitution itself has taken its time to make itself ungovernable and unimpeachable, by stating in its section 1 (3), that: “if any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.”
Now let us for the sake of argument assume that such an agreement not to vie for a second term in office is voluntarily or compulsorily signed by Atiku, it cannot be worth more than the piece of paper upon which it is written. If Atiku is able to secure his first term in office through such an illegal agreement indeed, then you can well guess what would follow towards the end of his tenure in office. Solidarity visits upon solidarity visits, from all our so-called “well meaning” Nigerians, who will be swearing on their heads that Nigeria will collapse if Atiku is not allowed to finish his “good works” for Nigeria. Then royal fathers will follow, with women groups, okada riders and even beggars. And you can be sure that the National Assembly will pass a motion for Atiku to seek a second term in office. The sentiments will be too much to contain. On top of it all, some portfolio Non-Governmental Organisations, the faceless Civil Society Organisations and itinerant human rights activists, will storm the courts, seeking to invalidate such illegal agreements and to secure a court order to compel Atiku to run. And I cannot ever imagine my beloved North ever agreeing to forfeit a shot at the prime spot. So, let us perish the thought of an agreement for a single term presidency, but rather run on the merits of programmes and policies. This is not a vote against Atiku in any way at all. Far from it.
I believe that Atiku is qualified to seek election into the office of president of Nigeria on the merits, such that there is no need to resort to this worn out method of currying votes from the electorates through phantom promises that are not rooted in law. His fate in the coming elections should be based purely on his personality, his previous record in office, his new agenda for Nigeria and the integrity of the platform upon which he is standing to secure his mandate. Atiku should address his mind to Nigerians and what matters most to us in durable infrastructure, eradicating all corrupt practices, transparency in governance and above all, Restructuring and fiscal federalism. All these must be addressed in very concrete terms with supporting documents to which Atiku can be held liable. Let Atiku address the issue of the economic prosperity of Nigeria, and how he wants to turn it around better than Dubai, such that in another five years from now, no aspiring candidate would have to travel that far, to plan his campaign strategy, and be contributing to the economic prosperity of foreign nations, because of an election that is to take place in Nigeria.
In the wake up to the PDP presidential primary election, Atiku was all over Nigeria, promising restructuring, but after he won the primary election, he has been dead silent on it. This is at the heart of Nigeria, whether we will embrace restructuring in its true form or continue to dance around the theatre of implosion that is staring Nigeria in the face. Yes, we have all read his policy document, full of ideals but lacking in enforcement. We read better policy documents from Buhari and the All Progressive Congress in 2015 and we listened to promises of how the Naira will beat the Dollar, how Boko Haram will become a thing of the past because a war General was going to be in charge to lead the attack against the insurgents by himself, little knowing that he would spend the better part of his tenure in various hospitals abroad. We cannot have that again, where a candidate and his party openly canvassed for votes based on policy documents circulated massively to all Nigerians and upon attaining power, he and his party would turn around to openly deny and reject the said document, even when it is still on the official website of the latter, even as of today.
There is no need for Atiku to seek to turn around the Constitution to undertake the illegality of one-term agreement, no need at all. In 2018, the logic behind Atiku’s one term vow then was to displace Buhari in 2019 and complete the North’s eight year-tenure. Without any doubt, Buhari’s re-election in 2019 automatically nullified Atiku’s ambition, whichever way one looks at it. Or how does one preach faith in the unity of Nigeria and yet he does not believe in the capacity of other sections to lead the country? If it is true that one of the factors going for Atiku is that he is detrabilized, then he should be the one at the forefront of the campaign for power shift to the South, being the reasonable expectation of the majority of our people for equity, justice and fairness. Whereas I may not doubt the ability of the former Vice-President to lead Nigeria and turn things around, there are also one million Atikus from the South-East, South-South and the South-West, who can do the same and even do it better. That is when the sermon of unity and progress will make any meaning.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).