Buhari, constitutional term limit and democracy

President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, in faraway New York, for the umpteenth time, vowed to entrench a process of free, fair, transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians can elect leaders of their choice.

“I have set the goal that one of the enduring legacies I would like to leave is to entrench a process of free, fair and transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians elect leaders of their choice,” he said.

The President made the vow in the nostalgic farewell speech he delivered to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in his capacity as president of Nigeria.

In his address to the 77th session of the UNGA, the President said that on that occasion, next year, a new face will speak for Nigeria as its president from the podium of the Assembly Hall.

The President used his speech to reiterate his commitment to constitutional term limits and Nigeria’s effort to promote rule of law and democracy in West Africa, citing his country’s support to The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Chad in the process of resolving their political impasse.

On the support for democracy in the sub-region, the President said in The Gambia, Nigeria helped guarantee the first democratic transition since independence and stood by the democratically elected government in Guinea-Bissau when it faced mutiny.

According to the President, following the tragic death of President Idris Deby Itno of Chad on the battlefield, Nigeria joined forces with its neighbours and international partners to stabilise the country and encourage a peaceful transition to democracy.
“We believe in the sanctity of constitutional term limits and we have steadfastly adhered to it in Nigeria,” he said. “We have seen the corrosive impact on values when leaders elsewhere seek to change the rules to stay on in power.”

Of course, the President could not have reflected better on the African political situation. For decades, African politics has been synonymous with presidents overstaying their welcome. The continent is familiar with those termed as the dictators and the strongmen as well as the bids, or actual execution of the third terms and the fourth terms and even more.
In this category, the continent has witnessed people like Paul Biya of Cameroun, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Teodoro Obiang, Denis Sassou Nguesso, late Idriss Deby, Paul Kagame, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, Faure Gnassingbé, e.t.c., among the presidents who are currently overstaying their welcome, removed by force or stayed in office until death overtook them.

Ideally, leaders should not overstay in office. Ideally, too, in Africa, elections should perform, at least, three important democratising functions that should include helping the continent build and sustain effective democratic institutions, providing people with an effective legal tool to constrain and guard the government and minimising impunity.
Above all, just as the President seeks to highlight, elections in Nigeria, and Africa in general, should enhance the ability of people to change their government and bring into public service new and more energetic and effective political leaders.
Of course, for elections to perform these important functions and do so effectively, the elections must be regular, not infrequent, fair, free, competitive, inclusive, transparent and credible.

However, it should be noted that free and frequent elections as a constraint to governmental tyranny are a necessary but not sufficient condition to guarantee and guard liberty.

In fact, while, as the President wishes, elections can help Nigeria consolidate, deepen and entrench democracy, they can also pave the way for selfish leaders to cling to power to the detriment of the people.

Yet, importantly, the President should be praised for highlighting the need to respect term limits for presidents as that can facilitate democratisation. Elections also help citizens build effective democratic institutions and provide a tool for guarding the government through regularly and peacefully replacing recalcitrant and poorly performing political elites and parties.
However, even in the dying days of his administration, the President should make effort to ensure that all groups, including especially those which historically have been marginalized, such as the women and youths, are provided with the wherewithal to participate fully and effectively in next year’s elections. In other words, the Buhari-led administration should make certain that the 2023 elections are adjudged credible, not just by external observers, but also by Nigerians.

Bigger than a billion dollars! Presidential salute for General Marwa

In what is apparently the biggest singular cocaine seizure in the history of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the agency, this week, busted a major warehouse in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State where 1,855 kilogrammes of illicit drugs worth more than $278.2 million, equivalent of about N194.7 billion in street value were seized.
Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated the Chairman of the NDLEA, Brig-General Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd).

The NDLEA had announced the “highest cocaine seizure” worth over 278 million dollars and the arrest of drug barons including a foreigner in a major operation that lasted for two days across different locations in Lagos.

In a telephone call to the Chairman of the anti-narcotics agency from New York where he is attending the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 77), the President said that the news of the recovery gladdens his heart.
“I deeply appreciate the work that you have put into the eradication of the drug menace. It gladdens my heart as I continue to follow the successes achieved under your leadership,” he said. “You have demonstrated over and again that choosing you to lead this fight against wicked merchants of death whose sole aim is to endanger and truncate the future of our youth is a very good choice. Please keep up the good work.”
At a meeting, later, with members of his delegation, the President said that “Buba Marwa is doing well, two tonnes of cocaine, that’s a haul.”

Trafficking of heroin and cocaine has become a serious social problem in Nigeria in the last decade and is second only, as some claim, to politics as the country’s most serious social problem.
During this period, a whole new market involving supplies of raw materials and a distribution network for the finished product has developed to serve the drug industry.

The consequences have been severe as Nigerians travelling abroad are suspected as possible drug couriers and the United States of America has put Nigeria on its list of decertified countries.
The United States is reportedly the single most important consumer of hard drugs that pass through Nigeria with the continuing demand implying that the drug trade will continue to boom.
The Nigerian government has used many legal, social and economic strategies to address the problem but none has effectively addressed its causes.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has experienced some successes in the last few years but, no doubt, the agency is recording its biggest successes now under the leadership of Marwa.
However, as the President and the nation bask in the euphoria of celebrating the arrest of the drugs peddlers and saving youths, especially, from self-destruct, Nigerians should hearken to the plea of Marwa and take ownership of the renewed fight against drugs abuse in the country.
“Use of drugs in Nigeria today is at an epidemic proportion of approximately 15 million, nearly three times global prevalence. No wonder so much criminality everywhere in our land and it is increasing, instead of abating, with such symptoms as kidnapping, insurgency, banditry, rape, and assassinations,” Marwa said recently. “Behind it, all is drug use. Criminals now ask for ransom in drugs and unless we get to the root cause, we will only be scratching the surface, and the criminalities will continue to flourish.”
The UNODC found in 2021 that 14.4 per cent of Nigerians aged between 15 and 63 engage in drug abuse. This figure is almost three times the global drug abuse prevalence rate of 5.5 per cent.

In 2021, the NDLEA found that 40 per cent of youths aged between 18 and 35 were deeply involved in drug abuse. These are potential leaders of tomorrow now caught in the mire of substance abuse. This human cost is most acute in the northern part of the country. In Kano, drug abuse prevalence reportedly sits around 16 per cent in 2021.

Unfortunately, the outlook is a pessimistic one. By 2030, the number of drug users in Africa is expected to increase by 40 per cent, given the continent’s rapidly rising youth population. This means that Nigeria may have to deal with the problems posed by more than 20 million drug users.
Thus, the need to involve all Nigerians in the fight has become more expedient because of the great danger the problem of drug abuse poses to society and the country at large.

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