By Rotimi Fasan
SPECULATIONS are increasing that President Muhammadu Buhari might be interested in running for a third term as president. Femi Falana, the human rights campaigner and lawyer, may not be the lone voice in the wilderness calling attention to this.
He has of late been one of the more vociferous voices shouting in the hearing of Nigerians that recent happenings in the country point in the direction of tenure extension by President Buhari.
The attack against press freedom and serial violations of court orders are some of the events Falana has identified as signs of a ‘third term’ agenda by an increasingly authoritarian administration. The belief is that an emasculated press and silencing of opposition elements are necessary precursors and requirements precedent to the illegal act of tenure elongation.
The much-lamented “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill”, the so-called social media bill that is now confirmed to be a clone of a Singaporean legislation that was passed earlier this year, is the culmination of the series of attacks against free expression by the Buhari administration and their supporters.
The bill which has passed second reading is the handiwork of the All Progressives Congress senator, Sani Musa, representing Niger East Senatorial District at the National Assembly. Sponsored against the backdrop of repeated complaints about so-called hate speech and fake news by the Buhari administration, the bill which has a ring of Decree 4 under the Muhammadu Buhari junta of 1984 prescribes capital punishment for violators.
With a complicit National Assembly that is under the control of the APC, it would be childishly irresponsible of Nigerians to assume such a bill will not pass – in spite of a feeble attempt by the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate to distance itself from it last week.
That the bill passed second reading even after the Senate disclaimer should be enough warning to Nigerians to be vigilant. After months of shying from the fact, Alhaji Lawan came close to admitting the obvious that his is a Senate that is out to rubber stamp executive bills and decisions when he more or less said recently that the Senate need not worry about scrutinising any request once it is coming from Buhari. For Lawan, Buhari is something of an angel in human form and, therefore, cannot be wrong.
Thus, the clamour for tenure extension that has been muted in the wake of the series of medical holidays Buhari embarked on for most of his first term in office has assumed more prominence in recent times. Such was the loudness of the coordinated campaign to have the president stay beyond his constitutional two terms in office that Buhari could no longer pretend not to hear.
He took one of the earliest available opportunities after his latest holiday in the United Kingdom to address the issue. It was at a National Executive Committee meeting of the APC. Buhari told this gathering and the rest of Nigerians that he would not dare to stay beyond his second term in office. Aside the fact that the constitution does not allow it, Buhari said he would be too old to go for another term after 2023.
Even if this could be said to be enough to douse the tension created by the rumoured third term agenda of the President, why are Nigerians not keen to accept this clear statement of integrity? Probably because it sounds so familiar. This was the exact same reason Buhari offered for why he would not go for a second term in office in 2015. Then he said he would be a one-term president. The same thing Goodluck Jonathan purportedly agreed to before he decided to run against Buhari in 2015 and lost. Buhari’s excuse was more or less the same excuse offered by Olusegun Obasanjo before the tune apparently changed in 2006.
The fact that no Nigerian president (with the singular exception of Umar Yar’Adua who for obvious reasons of ill health could not conclude even his first term) has not been trailed by rumours of tenure extension since the country’s return to civil rule, should tell us that we are in very familiar territory.
Even without recalling our experience under the military, Buhari will be doing nothing new should he walk back his words on not seeking a third term. And he could well do this. All he needs to say thereafter is that Nigerians, represented by his “people” want him to stay. Surrounded already by so many family members in government, nobody could be more family-oriented than Buhari.
Yet, this is not a matter to be left solely in the hands of Buhari. Nor should it be left to his good judgment or much-talked about integrity. If these qualities did not stop him from reneging on his word not to seek a second term, there is no guarantee that they would stop him from extending his tenure. Nelson Mandela was in the same age bracket as Kamuzu Banda.
But while Banda chose to die in office Mandela was happy with just a term in spite of his sacrifice for South Africa. But Muhammadu Buhari is not Nelson Mandela. Nor does he possess the generosity or grace of the man. Otherwise, the likes of Sambo Dasuki would not be spending the entire period of the Buhari presidency in jail as Omoyele Sowore and Bakare might yet do to their cost.
True, Nigerians resisted alleged previous attempts at tenure elongation, prominently during the Obasanjo presidency. But that was a different time and season. Buhari now does not have an ambitious or powerful and politically-savvy vice president like Atiku Abubakar. Nor was the Obasanjo era National Assembly as compliant as the ninth National Assembly under Buhari.
The question of amending the constitution to accommodate the desire of those seeking a third term would be a simple one under a leadership that is eager to execute every bidding of the president. All the legislators need to legitimise the illegal act of tenure extension is to have people willing to nudge them in the desired direction and give their action a veneer of legality.
In the case of Buhari, we might be there already as Nigerians can see from the likes of Charles Enya, the Organising Secretary of the 2019 Buhari Campaigns and APC Representative from Ebonyi State. This man, a legislator that should be protective of the constitution, has gone to court to enforce what he calls the President’s right not to suffer discrimination by the law. For Enya, it amounts to discrimination that a Nigerian president unlike legislators are limited to two terms in office.
Muhammadu Buhari can go beyond mere words and show his commitment to the rule of law and legality by ensuring Charles Enya comes nowhere close to him hereafter.