News / Africa

Nigerians Debate Plan to Limit Leaders to Single Term in Office

A truck with an election campaign banner depicting Nigeria's incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday, April 13, 2011.
A truck with an election campaign banner depicting Nigeria's incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday, April 13, 2011.
Anne Look

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's proposal to elect presidents and state governors to a single, longer term has sparked debate and considerable backlash. Nigeria's president and 36 state governors can currently be elected for a maximum of two four-year terms.

President Jonathan would like to change that.  He is proposing instead a constitutional amendment that would limit executives to a single, six-year term.

Proponents of the measure argue that it will reduce election-related spending and unrest in Nigeria, where violent, rigged votes have been the norm since the country moved from military to civilian rule in 1999.

Mr. Jonathan's proposal comes just months after a series of volatile nationwide elections in April, including his own, during which hundreds were killed and thousands displaced by violence.

Supporters of the measure also argue that a one-term limit will keep politicians focused on good governance and not just on getting re-elected.

However, opponents of the reform say there is no such thing as a quick fix for Nigeria's problems. A one-term limit, they say, will not make elections cheaper or less contentious overnight, and will not force otherwise corrupt and ineffective politicians to shape up.

Ovie Joseph, an executive member of the ruling People's Democratic Party in the Delta region, says a one-term limit could actually encourage bad behavior from elected officials, while reducing the accountability of having to run for re-election.

"It is still going to give room to much mispractices in the system and misappropriations of funds. One, six-year tenure is not the best because if you have the mind that this is the only time I'm going to spend and I will go away, you will do everything to enrich yourself, think of only yourself and your immediate family," Joseph said.

Critics also worry that the initiative could be a ploy for Mr. Jonathan to extend his term in office.  Mr. Jonathan, however, has pledged to serve only one term and says the reform would not go into effect until 2015, meaning it would not benefit him.

In the meantime, the specifics of the proposed single-term reform bill remain unclear, and debate continues.

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