There is one Igbo proverb which says, “If you want to eat a toad, you should eat a fat one, so that when you are called a toad eater, you will be proud to answer.” This little proverb if well examined has direct political analogy in our electoral system. How? many may ask. Let me proceed to explain.
Unfortunately, because we more often than not pursue narrow political interest, makes it difficult for us to be objective in our approach to politics.
Observably, there is one aspect of our electoral process which borders many people in this country, particularly those in the south where there is no short supply of aspirants to run for political offices at whatever level. Many see it as a nagging problem, but they prefer to be grudgingly tolerating it to be chagrin of the society.
We hurriedly adopted the American Presidential System without equally adopting its spirit. We did that because on the surface, the American Presidential System is very attractive but its imperatives are not too easy to implement.
For example, in the American Presidential System as in our own, only the President and Governors are constitutionally restricted to only two terms-that is two four years term, no more unless after certain period has elapsed. But for members of the Legislature, Congress, a person can continue to be re-contesting over and over until he is either dead or loses election or rarely get retired. What this means is this. A member of American congress, House of Representatives and the Senate could continue to seek re-elections provided he is re-nominated by his/her party as many times as possible. In this case, an American Senator could be re-elected several times to the Senate or several times to the House of Representatives. However, there is a constitutional provision. Members of the House of Representatives are subject to re-elections every two years. That is, the members of the House of Representatives have only two years term. But one could continue to be elected as many times as he/she is able to win elections. And an American senator stays four years in the senate and is free to re-contest again and again and again as long as his party re-nominates him. Hence, some American senators or House of Representatives members can continue to be either in the Senate or House of Representatives over forty years or even more. Few examples may suffice; Robert Byrd, a democrat from West Virginia served as a senator and also as a member of the House of Representative from January 3 1959 to June 2010. Length of service was 57 years and 176 days. Daniel Inodye, a democrat from Hawaii served as a senator and also a member of the House of Representatives from January 3 1965 to December 17 2012. Length of service was 53 years and 118days.
Furthermore, Carl Hayden, a democrat from Arizona served as a senator and also as a member of the House of Representative. Length of service was 56 years and 319 days. John Dingell, a democrat from Michigan served as a member of the House of Representatives from December 13 1955 to January 3 2015. Length of service was 59 years and 214 days. For Senator Barry Goldwater spent over thirty years in the Senate representing Arizonan and the Republican Party. In fact, there are so many Senators who surpassed that figure. Today, John McCain is still in the Senate even after he had contested and lost the presidency. Similarly, there are number of members of House of Representatives whose memberships have virtually become a recurring political decimal.
Conversely and indeed unfortunate, here in Nigeria particularly in the South where almost everybody wants to go to the Senate, House of Representative or State House of Assembly, such tenure does very often than not lasts more than one term of four years. Because of two main reasons; One, self-imposed zoning- “chop I chop” syndrome. Properly put, “palm oil tastes good, if you lick it you allow me to lick too.” (mmanu akara di uto, onye rara ibe ya arara).
The second reason is due to our political gullibility. Everybody wants to go to the Senate, House of Representative or State Assembly. However, we have not sat down to examine the negative effect of this type of arrangement of asking one who has just gone to House of Assembly, House of Representatives or Senate to do only one term because of local zoning arrangement which has almost turned into our own albatross.
In fact, if we come to think about it, we will find out that such an arrangement of one term representation is too detrimental to the constituency that is concerned because, such an honorable Senator can never secure status which is only ascribed to those who are doing two or more terms.
Many do not know that functional politics is an art which should be learnt and studied well. If a person does only one term, obviously he goes into preventable political oblivion, having not acquired experience or another opportunity to implement the experience he has acquired in his first term. Before long, back in his or her Constituency he is forgotten and banished to inevitable status of “Former Honourable member,” or former Senator.
Let me cite one or two local examples. Rt. Honorable Emeka Ihedioha due to his own political ingenuity and dexterity was able to serve three terms in the House of Representatives. Within these periods, he moved from Whip to Chief Whip and eventually to become Deputy Speaker- a position which gave him the opportunity for greater Constituency service, benefits exposure come 2019. He is going to contest for the Governorship for the second time. And many believe that if he applies the experience he gained in first attempt, he is likely to sail through this time.
Similarly, there is another very apt example of the benefit derivable from a continuous legislative progression. Today, Samuel Anyanwu is a Senator representing Imo East. First, he served two terms as Ikeduru Local Government Chief Executive. Then he was elected into Imo State House of Assembly twice. Owing to his own calculation, he contested and won the Senate Seat. Once elected, he was given the Chairmanship of an active committee. You see what I mean.
Let me make it clearer here. I strongly support zoning principle. But it must be done in such a way that the elected member at any level should be able to do two terms if nothing else to use the first term to familiarize himself/herself with all the contending issues and booboo of traps of a legislative niceties or legislative jingoism and the second term to be able to serve his or her constituency effectively well.
One term representation is retro progressive, a draw back and self inflicted political wound which must be jettisoned to allow two terms. The world is not coming to an end tomorrow. We are too hasty to get to power today, today. It is for this reason that we go to any length to win elections. Look into Ehime-Mbano, Isiala Mbano, Obowo and Ahiazu State Constituencies, where have their former Honourable members gone, what did they achieve? Absolutely not much, because, they were forced to pay the price of self-imposed Local zoning. This arrangement must be reversed to make room for second term Local zoning formula. After all, what goes around must come around. We must try to eschew parochial thinking in our political calculations. That will help a great deal.