By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Gbenga Oke
HIS attire when we found him that afternoon reflected the sharp division he brought on this country six years ago.
Senator Hosea Ehinlawo, who represented the Ondo South Senatorial District for eight years between 2003 and 2011 that penultimate Thursday was dressed in a white flowing shirt upon a black pair of trousers – graphic depiction of the sharp contrast the man once forced upon the nation.
After eight years in the Senate, Ehinlawo is today remembered for his famous or infamous proposal for a third term for former President Olusegun Obasanjo than for any other thing.
At the peak of the third term debate six years ago, virtually every Nigerian had a position. It was a proposal that dramatically set the nation’s leading political gladiators at odds with one another.
Not surprisingly, the failed proposal has been denied by virtually all its proponents. So it was a welcome relief when Senator Ehinlawo admitted his association with the infamous proposition. “I want to confess to you as an elder statesman that I will not deny that I brought up the motion, which was supported by the majority of the members of that committee,” Ehinlawo said.
He was a member of the sub-committee on the executive, which was a branch of the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Constitution headed by Senator Ibrahim Mantu. The main committee had been split into a number of sub-committees each devoted to articulating proposed amendments on the various chapters of the 1999 Constitution.
Ehinlanwo belonged to the sub-committee on the executive, which was to consider proposals relating to the executive branch of government across the three tiers. The sub-committee was headed by Senator Omar Hambagda, who ironically has been blamed for throwing up the proposal on account of his leadership of that sub-committee.
Giving details on why he brought forward the proposals, the former Senator said: “I was looking at the experience of government at that time and I said if we give him (Obasanjo) another term he might be able to take this country to sail across all these bottle necks, headaches and incoherent leadership. That was my thought then.
“But then we tried as much as possible at the level of the committee for that amendment and we had it through. At that time, I felt with the experience of the incumbent leadership, it might be able to perfect and put Nigeria on a very strong threshold of history.
Threshold of history
At the level of the committee, it went through and that is why I said it is not me, because somebody might have an idea but that idea if is not carried out or supported, it would have been thrown into the wind. “But it was supported at the subcommittee level; it was also supported at the main committee level. We also brought it to the plenary, it was at the plenary that it was thrown out, it was no longer my baby.”
Asked if it was originally his baby, he said, “it was the baby of members of the sub-committee and then later the baby of the larger committee.”
We would not let him live in denial as we pressed further asking him “but you agreed it was first your baby?”, a question he finally replied in the affirmative.
“Yes, I brought it up.” But Senator Ehinlanwo denies that President Olusegun Obasanjo had any influence on him on the issue saying he exercised his membership of the National Assembly at that time to propose the amendment. “I believe he (Obasanjo) is wrongly accused because he didn’t know about that. I believe he did not know because he did not reach me. Nobody came to me. It was my idea that was developed in the committee.”
Ehinlanwo gave a rundown on how the third term proposal came about. In his words: “Then, they were suggesting a five year term; some people suggested a single term of six years, so that was how it came out. Then some people supported two terms of four years, then I said I supported the person who brought the idea of two terms of four years for the President; it just came within my own volition.
“I said I will prefer a four years in two terms for president and governors and then, that four years term this time around will allow the first President (Obasanjo) to take the third term.
The reason behind this was because it was difficult when he came in, he was able to bring the country together and he was able to put so many things on board for this country to develop and experience is the best teacher. If you are just bringing in another amateur, we might also be confronted with many other problems. So I suggested we give him a third term.”
“The moment I brought it up, we now had three motions: two five year terms; one single six year term and two terms of four years so that we can change with every four years. I supported that with the proviso that for the whole situation not to go hay wire, this person who has been able to run it for two terms of four years each, let us give him the opportunity and advantage of running for the third four year term so that democracy can be stabilized in Nigeria. So that was my argument.”
“In that sub-committee, majority voted in favour of my own suggestion, the nine-man committee voted for my idea. I thought at that time, many people saw my argument and supported it.
And from the sub-committee now, it went to the larger committee and it was also supported. It was at the plenary when it came to the Senate floor that some members opposed it.”
It was inconceivable that we would not ask the third term architect about the controversial N50 million largesse that was allegedly used to push the proposal. How much did he get for it? For him at the level of the sub-committee it was all an intellectual exercise. “I think at that time when we were at the sub-committee, the issue of money was not there.” So, how did the money then come in, he was asked?
“I don’t know how the money came in,” he said as he claimed ignorance of the role of money in the campaign for third term. Asked directly if it was possible for the person, who conceived the proposal not to have benefited from the largesse, he said: “No, they did not approach me.”
Ehinlanwo nevertheless, is not too uncomfortable having in his own words missed out from the third term booty. These days, he manages his 72 -room Clintonia Hotel in the Apo section of Abuja and shares reminiscences of his political life with old friends over drinks. He would not be soon forgotten by history.