Obasanjo’s 3rd Term

By Tonnie Iredia

Last week, what became one of the subjects that dominated public discourse across the nation was an old issue which was resurrected by the plan of former senate President Ken Nnamani to launch his book.

The title of the book ‘Standing Strong’ was quite catchy and suggestive. Anyone who had followed the story of an alleged tenure elongation more popularly known as ‘3rd term’ during the Obasanjo presidency could almost immediately, without reading the book, know what it is all about.

This is because some prominent Nigerians had since the Obasanjo years claimed responsibility for scuttling the project. Ken Nnamani was one of such claimants and his claim looked persuasive because he was the presiding chair of the senate which threw out the proposed amendments to the constitution to enable the then president serve a third term which the constitution had determined should not exceed two terms.

Considering the Senior Prefect posture of our successive senate presidents, it is almost impossible to achieve anything in the senate without the consent of the presiding officer. He knows those who are not likely to share his viewpoint and can therefore refuse to allow such persons speak.

Where a session is presided over by the deputy president, the number of those in favour or against a motion, would hardly matter as the day’s chair would claim the side he supports has it. This enormous power of the presiding officer may have influenced belief in the claim by a former senate president that he scuttled the 3rd term project.

A second factor which raised the importance of the Nnamani story was the galaxy of eminent Nigerians who believed in the theme of the book and thus attended the launch thereby giving credence to Nnamani’s triumphant event.

The event even attracted presidential endorsement with President Muhammadu Buhari’s eulogy of the author presented by Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation. In the speech, Buhari praised Nnamani for his role as the 5th Senate President that reportedly brought stability to democracy in Nigeria.  

Political analysts who heard the encomiums poured on Nnamani at the book launch must have anticipated that several opposite narratives would surface the next day and many did come in addition to others that had been provoked by the local politics in Enugu – Nnamani’s state.

What some Enugu politicians have had to say about the former senate president derogates largely from the encomiums poured on him at the book launch. Many of their defamatory comments can obviously not be reproduced here on account of ethics.

They say he is a double dealer who functions as APC in the day time and PDP at night adding that his recent visit to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was a calculated ploy to sell off the struggle by South east indigenes to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of the criticism is reflected in the allegation that he played one group against the other during the 3rd term debates. While the allegations may have been prompted by political differences, we need to remember that in truth, some of those who claimed to have worked against the 3rd term project were part of the initiators of the project, they only moved to the other side after it had failed.

Reports by the media at the time showed that there were two main groups involved in the tenure elongation debate, one supported it while the other was against. At the end of the debate, it was only those that failed that were called names whereas both sides reportedly used the same strategy of buying over different law makers to vote one way or the other.

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At the same time, there is doubt if any of the two groups was motivated by genuine public interest. Those who worked for tenure elongation wanted it for the president so that they too could remain in office. Those who worked against it wanted to take over power and its perquisites.

In addition, 3rd term was not just about the political class, the nation’s business leaders were all in it. Indeed, at the 34th annual general meeting of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) held on November 15, 2005, the leadership of the association campaigned openly in favour of the project believing that continuity would engender political stability which would in turn facilitate Nigeria’s economic development. As is often said for emphasis, the 3rd term matter caused many to cry more than the bereaved.

Tenure elongation was therefore not a project for politicians or the villa caucus, it was a nation-wide movement conscientiously patronized by a large group of well-placed citizen across board. It failed because those who supported it underrated their opponents. While the pro-3rd term were sharing naira, those against were sharing foreign currency.

The deciding factor was therefore money, not love for democracy. In fact, Nigeria is not yet a democracy. As Professor Pat Utomi, political economist and former presidential candidate, argued last week, the practice of democracy is supposed to be people holding government accountable.

But the kind of democracy we run here in Nigeria had been turned upside down to where people fear the government instead of the government fearing the people. Until we can make government fear the people, we don’t have a democracy.” In a democracy, elections are not controlled by security agencies but by the electoral commission; and votes are never more than voters.

Nigerian politicians don’t ever fight for democracy; they only claim to do so. We have two examples to buttress this view point. Scuttling 3rd term as a claim is not different from those who claimed to be the exponents of the doctrine of necessity while trying to resolve the problem caused by the failure of ailing president Umaru Musa Yar’adua to hand-over power to his vice before going for treatment as required by the constitution.

The hype given to the application of the doctrine gave an impression that our legislators invented a strategy for solving an intractable problem. In another part of the world, the legislature would have simply evoked the relevant provisions of the constitution. In its proper meaning, the doctrine refers to a situation where the state is forced to legitimately act in a manner that would normally be illegal.

What would have been illegal in setting up a medical board to determine the fitness of an ailing president as approved by the constitution? Is itnot because we made succession an issue of the doctrine of necessity that we now have a convention in which even state governors leave their duty posts without leaving their deputies in charge.

Our second example comes from the struggle to actualize the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Some of those who later claimed to be pro-June 12 activists, took sides with the military in the annulment of the election, yet some of them were party collation officers at the centre where the results were received showing the true winner.

Apart from that, many ‘democrats’ from the same party as the winner, accepted to serve in the military regime which usurped their party’s victory with some of them claiming to have served with the consent ofthe winner. But Gani Fawehinmi a true democrat turned down the offer to be attorney general and minister of justice.

What this suggests is that our politicians are always claimants in a business where they had little or no input.  No one scuttled the 3rd term project for the sake of democracy. It failed because it was a hindrance to the ambition of the highest bidders.

But if some people insist that they scuttled it in the interest of the public, let them stand strong again this time to ensure that the presidency goes to the South east in line with what many who believe in equity desire.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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