By Banji Ojewale
SOME compatriots say we wouldn’t know the real man we have as our president until the chickens come home to roost in 2023.
In that year, would President Muhammadu Buhari have removed the veil to succumb to the current sacrilegious clamour to go for a fatal tenure extension? Would he have given in to calls to trash the Constitution so he can walk on the slippery ground euphemistically termed third term?
Would he be the Buhari of the wailers? Or of the hailers? In 2023, is Buhari going to remain the man we’ve always known as our beloved president? Or a stranger foisted on us? Would he be the bride we didn’t pay a price for? Would the husband discover he’d been shortchanged at the point where only God would be the Unseen and Silent Onlooker? Would there be a supplanter at work?
I disagree that time will answer these posers. We don’t have to wait for 2023. We have the answers already. All we need to do is to be careful not to consume script on offer that would consume us in return. So what are we being given to satisfy our curiosities on Buhari’s third term theories?
The president says it’s a ‘hellish’ idea to suggest he’d go for a third round. He won’t fall for it, he says. His words: “…You should read the Constitution because I am not going to make a mistake. Besides the age, I am not going to contest for third term because I will go by the Constitution. The Constitution says two terms. I’m going to be frank here because I won’t be needing anybody’s vote.”
Can he be believed not to renege on a contract with himself? With the Constitution? With the country? And with God when he swore on the Holy Book? Can Buhari confront the coming army of praise-singers and call them to order? Will he indeed go the whole hog in the interest of the nation and brand them enemies of the state? That’s what they are, haters of the peace and order we enjoy in the comfort of a document that has guaranteed seamless seasonal transitions these past two decades of our democratic experience.
A member of his governing All Progressives Congress, APC, has turned to the law court to remove the key constraints to tenure elongation for Buhari, namely the relevant sections in the 1999 Constitution as amended. National Assembly member Charles Enya has filed a suit at a Federal High Court in Abakaliki, Ebonyi, seeking the amendment of the Constitution to enable Buhari go for an extended mandate.
He wants an “order of the court nullifying and setting aside Sections 137(1)(b) 182(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended).” These are the sacrosanct provisions that deny a two-term president or governor from a third. He wants the defendants in the suit, Attorney-General of the federation and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami and the National Assembly, “to delete and expunge Sections 137(1)(b) and 182(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended)”.
This ranking member of his own party is actually daring the president. On whose side will Buhari be when it has to do with choosing between those who want to disrupt the peace of the land by breaching the Constitution and his own avowed decision to uphold that sacred document? He is calling Buhari to a duel over the soul of Nigeria. The nation’s soul hangs on what honour we give the grundnorm that holds us together for now, regardless of the tenuous grip of its threads. If, therefore, the president has pooh-poohed another term after 2023, he would be sending the wrong signals if he fails to move in indignation against those asking him to deny himself. He must deal with them with heavier sledge than he has the El-Zakzakys and Nnamdi Kanus.
A contrary body language would breed discontent, suspicions and less sublime comments from the populace. We’ve recorded a few already. Rights activist and senior lawyer, Femi Falana says that from the subtext he reads, “some forces within the nation’s political landscape are preparing the grounds to launch a third term campaign ahead of the 2023 Presidential race.” He says “those behind the moves have activated the process by a deliberate attempt to oppress the media and whittle their influence and other perceived obstacles…Our country has gone to the dogs.”
Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, has questioned Buhari for his “inconsistency” on the third term debate. Its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, has looked back to the recent past of the president, and his verdict is that he can’t be trusted to keep his word. He declared on behalf of Afenifere: “We have not forgotten that General Buhari told this country in 2011 that he would do only one term if he became President. He is now on a second term…We have seen this fire before for this smoke not to be strange to us…(We) call on Nigerians to be vigilant and thwart any attempt to take Nigeria for a ride once again.”
It’s grave when citizens don’t trust their leaders. Both parties would never be on the same page. It would be the riot of the language of Babel all over again between them. Why aren’t most of our people believing Buhari when he says third term is not part of what he’s thinking of after 2023? Why can’t we believe that, as former secretary to his government, Bababchir Lawal, has assuredly told us, Buhari has an irrevocable appointment with his cows in Daura, his village in Katsina, at the end of his eight-year tenure in Abuja?
The problem is with a succession of Nigerian leaders and governments that have failed in delivering their own end of the social contract. We vote them into office and expect them to serve us with commonly owned state resources. But they grow into blood-sucking leeches. Now, parasites and their prey don’t speak the language of trust and peace. The leech must forsake its habit of destroying its host. First, our leaders must abandon their preying inclinations in office. They have fleeced the people for too long. Then let Buhari leave a lasting legacy on the vexed matter of tenured elective office. Let him begin a campaign for a constitutional amendment that allows only one term of five years in office for the president, governor, their vices and lawmakers.
Supreme Court judgement: Nigeria needs robust opposition, Buhari tells PDP(Opens in a new browser tab)
These are the noble and enduring legacies that the Buhari Administration-and its successors-should pursue to return both the governed and the government to where we were before Babel brought the destructive leeches into the system.