Just very few ideas invoke more emotions to supporters of Nigerian democracy than the idea of a third term in office being flaunted by a President of the country. Although, the present president has stated that the constitution restricts him from contesting for a third term, some groups have stated that Nigerians should not totally believe that.
The drama that followed the third term cries of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo is enough to scare any president from nursing such ambition. On today’s edition #ThrowbackThursday, odunews.com takes you back to some of the intrigues and the behind-the-scenes that made waves during the ‘third term saga of President Olusegun Obasanjo’
On today’s edition, odunews.com compiled works, talks and even thoughts of political analysts, politicians, foreign observers and others that were active players during the ‘2007 Third Term Brouhaha.’
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
Irrespective of how ridiculous this might sound, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has never agreed that he had a third term ambition then. Speaking at the launch of his autobiography, My Watch, at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, Lagos, Obasanjo explained that he was not the architect of the campaign for the unconstitutional attempt to run for a record third term in office. Who then are the architects? An article by Ademola Adegbamigbe titled “Third Term Takes Shape” published on February 16, 2006 narrates how the third term bid kick-started.
“President Obasanjo and his foot soldiers are bent on achieving their objective through some stratagems. The state governors are being arm twisted into supporting the plan; some national legislators are currently being used; Aso Rock, the seat of power, has appointed national coordinators and strategic committees for the project.
The constitutional amendment is another matter. There is also the one-party state idea which guides all goings-on in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has, given its formidable war chest and access to the instruments of force, dwarfed other political parties. All doubting ‘Thomases’ have now been converted into believing that, in spite of President Obasanjo’s past denials and the arguments of his son, Gbenga, that he is an old man who wants to retire to his country home, the Nigerian President’s tenure elongation plan is on course. All but one of the South-West governors actually gave vent to this on Saturday 3 February at the June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. That was during President Obasanjo’s visit to the state, which was marking the 30th anniversary of its creation. Governor Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State set the ball rolling, singing in Yoruba: Ani baba kan, baba ara to moyi omo… ko fi wa sere (we have a father who values his children…He does not joke with us).
Not to be outdone by others, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti, jumped forward, rotated and bent double before the President, singing: Awon to n’yomi lenu baba, Yo won lenu o, Awon to n’poro emi mi baba Poro emi won o! (Baba, please deal with my enemies who make life a hell on earth for me). In appreciation, the President covered Fayose with his agbada in a fatherly manner. It was when an itinerant poet stepped in that a hidden agenda was revealed. He itemized all the achievements of Mr. President, arguing that he should be persuaded to continue the good work. Then the choice band took its cue from there, chanting se eyin fowo si third term (do you support third term?). Shouts of ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ enveloped the arena.
At that point, the President claimed that he was caught unawares. If a section of political analysts considered what happened in Ogun State that day as happenstance, the orchestrated support that the Governors’ Forum gave the idea would knock the shoes off the feet of doubters. On Monday, 30 January, the Governors’ Forum held a 4-hour meeting in Abuja, under the leadership of Obong Victor Attah, the Akwa Ibom Chief Executive. He admonished that a total review of the 1999 Constitution must take place without let or hindrance. “The National Assembly should,” the Governor, suggested, “expedite action on the commencement of public hearing so that the exercise would be completed within the life of this administration.”
MORE ON THE GOVERNORS ROLES
“A source confided in TheNEWS: “The governors were rather more forthcoming in taking a stand on the proposed amendment of the constitution. Though we all unanimously agreed that amendment of the constitution is desirable, efforts by some of us to convince some governors that their insistence on the amendment being completed in the life of this administration was not in the best interest of the country were generally rebuffed. This gave room for us to believe that a pre-meeting agreement had been reached by some people who needed the amendment for their selfish interest.
Another confidant told this magazine that some of the state chief executives warned against amending the proposed 102 clauses, especially the extension of the federal and state executives’ tenure, immunity clause removal, conceding local government control to the federal government and the scrapping of the Independent Electoral Commission in the Electoral Act by the National Assembly.”
Why did the governors feel concerned about the National Assembly’s apparent pussyfooting on amendment of the constitution? The reason is that the National Assembly, which had notoriety for going for the highest bidder, surprised political bookmakers by its stand on the matter. On 1 February 2006, the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution argued that it was unethical for the panel to adopt the sub-committee’s report on constitution amendment. That was based on the ideas put forward by Wunmi Bewaji, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) leader in the House of Representatives and Senator Kanti Bello.
The reaction of Mantu’s committee jolted Aso Rock so much that, for now, it has shifted focus from the National Assembly, momentarily, to the 36 governors, making use of the age-old stick-and-carrot tactic. For Attah, the hostilities he suffered from the Federal Government during his war on resource control, and on-shore offshore dichotomy, has become history. No longer will Akwa Ibom’s monthly allocation be reduced on account of the dichotomy.
According to Dimgba Igwe of The Sun, “The historic meeting took place after Attah had accompanied the President to some international junket in Davos, Switzerland, where the benighted Attah had the benefit of proximity to power and probably in such rare close quarters, went through his own Pauline equivalent of Damascus experience. He saw the light and came to the inevitable conclusion that it is hard to kick against the pricks.” To many watchers of Attah’s politics, “all the talk about South-South presidency and dictatorship has fizzled out.” Aso Rock’s stick also swirled and landed on Governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) went after his Special Adviser on Political Affairs and Local Government Matters, Mr. Sam Ejiofor as well as his Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Peter Mba. Mr. Chidi Nwatu, Chairman, Nkwanu West Local Government is also being investigated. His ‘sin’ was that he allowed the Southern Leaders’ Conference in Enugu to be hijacked by anti-third term storm troopers who, with the rowdiness of wolves in a pack, were shouting for a South-South presidential candidate in 2007. But the Enugu Governor appears to have changed gear, becoming the first state executive to openly campaign for OBJ’s third term. Nnamani’s logic was that God, in his wisdom, placed Obasanjo “in positions of history, right from the point of the time of hostilities of 1967 to 1970 and the terminus of the Murtala Muhammed administration.’’
Apart from citing the humane manner the President ended the Nigeria-Biafra hostilities, Nnamani said his first administration, in the 1970s, witnessed a lot of expansion in the country’s economic and infrastructural bases, universities, colleges of education, the seaports, shipping lines, the Nigeria Airways, the Enugu-Port Harcourt as well as Enugu-Onitsha expressways.
The Enugu Governor argued further that Obasanjo’s second coming made possible the removal of Nigeria’s pariah status, attracting of global investments, privatization, the $18 billion debt relief, telecommunications and energy sector deregulation, and a dynamic foreign policy. “So if the constitution is amended and a situation arises where the PDP offers President Obasanjo nomination, he accepts and runs, I believe he is a good product,”
Nnamani said, arguing that if the constitution is amended under a democratic setting, sit-tight syndrome does not arise. Nnamani addressed a press conference in Lagos on 7 February, and declared that his support for constitutional amendment to enable President Obasanjo have one more term had nothing to do with the probe of his aides by EFCC officials.
He claimed that his support for Mr. President started eight years ago. “Right from that day in 1998 when the President landed at the Enugu airport to the embrace of Chief JSP Nwokolo, an old friend of the President and myself, the relationship between the President and me has always been that of a father and of a son… I have always lived up to his billing as a frontline supporter of the President.”
To further give teeth to the third term agenda, Aso Rock has set up a team of national coordinators, otherwise called the strategic committee on third term agenda. Chief Tony Anenih, popularly called ‘Mr. Fix it’, will coordinate the Southeast and South-South, cultivating state and federal legislators as well as traditional rulers for the project. Governor Agagu is to perform the same task in the Southwest. Governors Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa and Mohammed Makarfi of Kaduna will coordinate the third term efforts in the North Central, Northeast and Northwest.
OBASANJO’S BODY LANGUAGE AND WHAT ANALYSTS SAY
President Obasanjo allegedly suggested that Nigeria should adopt a one-party system because it is in consonance with a possible and logical outcome of our political development. “All I am saying is that we give nature and history a gentle push in the right direction. This appears to be the only procedural mechanism through which we can transcend the divisive and centrifugal forces tearing us apart and diverting our attention from the more monumental task of integration and nation building. For it is within such a purview that ultimate unity is always to be hoped for, the subordination of sectional opinions to the criteria of rationality.”
General Obasanjo maintained that in some countries, their one-party state has been responsible for the enduring political and governmental continuity they are enjoying. Although Obasanjo sees the danger in the party becoming the state and vice versa, and “the personification of the party by the party leader which has produced life presidents,” he has not been practising what he preaches, given the way he has hijacked the PDP machinery for selfish reasons.
Obasanjo knows too well that to perpetuate himself in power he must stifle the polity in such a way that only the ruling PDP thrives. It is, therefore, not surprising that the federal government allegedly used the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deepen the schism in the opposition parties. “President Obasanjo appointed Professor Maurice Iwu as INEC National Chairman to kill the opposition parties in order to drift the nation into a one-party state and to prepare the ground for the take-off of Obasanjo’s life presidency. That is why INEC has plunged the main opposition parties – ANPP, AD and APGA – into crisis,”
Chekwas Okorie, APGA pioneer Chairman told TheNEWS. Besides, to shrink the emasculation of the political space, the President has been building his own political structure within the top PDP hierarchy. From a political neophyte in 1998 with neither political clout nor structure of his own to run for the presidency, Obasanjo has finally hijacked the party from its founders. He did this by installing Ali as Chairman on 2 March 2005. This was after he had ordered armed men to force Chief Audu Ogbeh, then National Chairman, to resign. To ensure that the party’s Board of Trustees was in his firm grip, he ‘democratically’ planted his master strategist, Tony Anenih, as head of the BOT, even though the position was not zoned to the South-South.
The consensus in Aso Villa now is that, having turned the PDP into his lapdog; the President’s third term dream is a fait accompli. But the third term project may not be a walkover for the President, given the division among state governors and opposition by the international community. An indication that not all the governors support the plan emerged last Wednesday when they met at the Wadata Plaza, Abuja. Ali had summoned the governors to a meeting that began on Monday 6 February. He reportedly rolled out reasons why the PDP was drumming up support for Obasanjo’s tenure extension. And to the chagrin of his guests, the PDP helmsman brought out a pre-written communiqué endorsing the sit-tight agenda.
But 18 governors out of the 28 in attendance shunned Ali, bringing the confabulation to a stalemate. Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his Delta State counterpart were sighted at the reception of Wadata Plaza seething with anger. “We have resolved not to support third term because it is criminal and antithetical to the tenets of democracy. Is Obasanjo the only Nigerian? What have the people benefited from his years of misrule?” Kalu queried.
Obasanjo’s plan may be stymied by signals coming from South Africa, Britain and the United States. Recently, when the South African National Civics Organization, a wing of the African National Congress (ANC), which supports President Thabo Mbeki, advised the party to take advantage of its majority in the national legislature to amend the constitution so that Mbeki could have an elongated tenure, the South African President declined. Mbeki said on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) TV: “For a long time, the ANC has taken a stand not to alter the constitution, even with two thirds majority support in government.”
According to a report published by Business Day of South Africa, “Mbeki has staked his presidency on his leadership of the continent and has been vocal against African Presidents holding on to power for too long.” While Britain’s position on the matter was rather diplomatic, the United States came out smoking.
On 2 February, the US Intelligence boss, Jon Negroponte, told a US select committee on National Intelligence that the most important election on the African horizon would be held in the spring of 2007 in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and largest oil producer. Negroponte warned that the election had the potential to reinforce a democratic trend away from military rule or could lead to major disruptions in a nation suffering frequent ethno-religious violence, criminal activities and rampant corruption.
“Speculation that President Obasanjo will try to change the constitution so he can seek a third term,” as Negroponte maintained, “is raising political tension and if proven true, threatens to unleash major turmoil and conflict. Such chaos in Nigeria could lead to disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows and instability elsewhere in West Africa.”
THE ROLE OF THE OPPOSITION PARTIES IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Despite all the efforts of the Third Term coalition, the promoters were unsure that they already had the needed two-thirds majority in the two chambers to pass the amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, those opposed to the project had to step up their activities in the National Assembly. The Northwest zone, for one, which perhaps has the largest number of anti-third term legislators, were advised to devise new methods of ensuring that their representatives reject the fraud. Other zones and interest groups and political parties, such as the ANPP and AD, also ensured that their representatives vote against the amendment. While they were at that, the oppositions were advise to start a move to impeach Mantu, who helped in supervising the fraud. Senator Sule Yari Gabdi of the ANPP has already disclosed a plan that is at advanced stage to kick out Mantu. If the move to remove Mantu were given much impetus, it should divert attention and delay the amendment while the anti-amendment forces consolidated their gains.
LATER REACTIONS FROM ACTIVE PLAYERS DURING THE THIRD TERM BID
Senator Ibrahim Mantu (Plateau Centre )
Senator Ibrahim Mantu was regarded as Obasanjo’s henchman and has been on the blackbook whenever the topic of Obasanjo’s third term bid comes up. Speaking on his alleged role as the mastermind of the third term’s bid, the ex-deputy senate president said:
I don’t know if you know what is called principle of separation of power. Obasanjo was the president, the head of the executive. I was at the legislative arm of government and there was totally a difference between what one could do in the executive arm and what one could do in the legislative arm. Members of the legislative arm of government were like watchdogs for executive actions, so, I cannot see any favour Obasanjo could do for me. Or could you suggest what favour Obasanjo might have done for me to advocate his tenure elongation? Many of you press people are the ones that created these things. I am challenging you and your colleagues to show me where and when I actually advocated the third term. Nobody has been able to prove it.
I was the Deputy Senate President of the Federal Republic at that time and part of my responsibility was to chair the constitution review committee. Therefore, the issue of third term elongation fell within our purview. We were trying to look at the provisions of the constitution and, of course, amend them. I was doing my job as the chairman of the National Assembly constitution review committee and was in charge of the decision that had to do with Obasanjo. So, everybody thought I was the mastermind of the whole third term bid, not minding the fact that I actually inherited that job from another Deputy Senate President. I was not the first chairman of constitution review committee. I met Senator Abubakar Haruna there. He was the chairman of the National Assembly constitution review committee.
I took over his responsibility and that was as a result of what I was doing. But because of the pressure on those who were anxious and eager to take over power from Obasanjo, they bought into that and twisted everything. I want you or any other person to give me a concrete fact of what I did which showed that I was actually the mastermind of the third term bid, apart from the role I played as the chairman of the committee.
Ex Senator, Bala Na’Allah
Responding to Obasnajo’s claim during the eight Assembly that all the lawmakers are rogues, the former lawmaker from Kebbi state said:
For the records, I was the only member from Kebbi State, who did not find it worthy at that time to collect the sum of N50m as an inducement to subvert the constitution and provide a constitutional framework for the third term ambition of (then) President Obasanjo.
Hon. Aminu Bello Masari – Ex- Speaker of the House of Representatives (2003-2007)
He claimed he joined forces with former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, to mobilise members of the 5th National Assembly to kill the third term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007.
Speaking with a team of The Sun editors, Masari said the reluctance of Obasanjo to leave office, after two terms of eight years, led a super power nation to lobby Nnamani and him to reject the 2007 flawed presidential election, with an offer to support them to emerge as interim President and Vice President respectively.
According to him,
we started a journey from 2003 to 2007. Immediately after 2007 election, Ken Nnamani and myself, and some few others started meeting. PDP was so pervasive in the polity that it failed to reform. I know the role we played – not only about stopping the third term, but also to sustain the 2007 election, as bad as it was.
I think Senator Ken Nnamani and myself deserve some recognition, as we not only killed the third term, but also saved the 2007 election. An international election monitoring team led by a senior official from a super power nation invited us to a meeting, with Ken Nnamani, some senators, and myself and told us there was no election in 2007. Indeed, the 2007 elections were flawed, and really there was no election. And I said, ‘yes there was no election.’ And they said, ‘why shouldn’t you move against the present government.’ They said we should use our chamber to make a declaration that there was no election. I said we would not do that because the constitution has not given us power to do that.
I told them that we had stopped third term and if we took that road, the President could simply declare a state of emergency. On the 29th of May 2007 our mandate, as legislature, would expire; the President would be the only one the constitution has given the right to remain in office to conduct a fresh election. I said we had exercised our own power to kill the third term, but if Nigerians could organise themselves, the whole nation can call on the National Assembly and give us extra constitutional powers, which I knew was impossible to do.
So we really rejected that idea; even a motion was suggested that we should call for another election; but we said we would not do that, because we knew the consequences of condemning the election; it would throw the country into chaos. Those in government were not people who were friendly to us. But we made the sacrifice because of the nation. We knew that only God would protect us from them. We took that decision so that we didn’t throw the country into confusion. In fact, we even refused to table the matter at the House to debate it, whether there was an election or no election.’
Orji Uzor Kalu
According to the former governor, the late Mandela played a key role which saw Obasanjo drop the idea of amending the Nigerian Constitution to enable him contest for a third term.
Senator Kalu while giving a speech on “The Mandela I Know”, at the 10th commemoration of “Nelson Mandela Day” in Abuja said:
I recall my personal interactions with him (Mandela), especially during our national struggle to force President Olusegun Obasanjo to drop his plan to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and secure an extension of his tenure.
“Disturbed by the details, Mandela placed a call to President Olusegun Obasanjo and told him in clear terms that whatever his plans were, it was neither desirable for Africa”, he said.
“That intervention, proved strategic to the leadership question in Nigeria at the time, leading to elections in 2007
Whether it was late-Nelson Mandela that really convinced Obasanjo to drop his alleged third term bid, the clamour by Nigerians, local and foreign observers or even Obasnajo’s claim that he never had any third term ambition, the fact remains that indeed 2007 was a good turning point for Nigeria’s democracy. If the third term bid had materialised, maybe Nigeria would be in a state of nothingness. All in all, Democracy won!