Forces That Killed Third Term


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Forces That Killed Third Term - The Untold Story




Taiwo Adisa




culled from TRIBUNE, May 21, 2006



Though it has been said that the third term project was not a well-thought-out one, following its mode of emergence on the political turf, it became apparent at the time it fell flat on the floors of the two chambers of the National Assembly that almost everything about the execution of the agenda was also faulty.

In the beginning
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been described in some quarters as a loose arrangement of politicians whose focus is simply to capture power. Though that is not the ultimate business of political parties, it is an integral aspect of the objectives of political parties. But unlike a party that had its eyes firmly on power, the PDP betrayed a faulty stratagem and chicken heartedness in the pursuit of that agenda. This is because there are existing cracks in its house and the cracks are getting wider by the day.

A major cause of the failure of the third term agenda was the faulty foundation upon which the plot was laid. Those who originated the idea were said to have boasted to high heavens that it would get the legislative nod even with no clear statement of commitment from Aso Rock. To them, the agenda would be made ready and waiting on the shelve for President Olusegun Obasanjo as soon as it got to the floors of the National Assembly.

Presidency tacticians were working on that note of assurance from the time the agenda was adopted till very late into its execution. At a point, a team of media consultants was said to have met with the national chairman of the PDP, Senator Ahmadu Ali, to intimate him of the need to enlist the media in the project, but Ali was said to have bluntly told the consultants that the party did not need the media in executing the agenda at hand.The Chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee (JCRC), Senator Ibrahim Mantu was described as the arrowhead of the proponents of the agenda, who believed that it could be easily pulled through in the National Assembly. Early this year, when a group of legislators, who were members of the defunct JCRC, visited the Presidential Villa, they were said to have sounded the note of warning that the National Assembly should not be seen as an easy meat, but the Presidency stood by the belief that it had a magician in Mantu.

With that belief, not much of homework could be done. Thus, one could count on one’s fingers the number of those who directly heard the words relating to tenure elongation plot from the President. There was no recruitment drive and there was no time to analyse who could do what. Even Chief Tony Anenih, who is seen as the key figure to fix any difficult political equation for this administration, was not in the know as the agenda took shape. He had to rely on reading the body language of the president, something which not many are good at. That situation was responsible for some governors who were seen as core loyalists of the President, singing discordant tunes on the agenda. Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State, his Enugu State counterpart, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani and even Governor Donald Duke of Cross Rivers had been credited with statements in the media that were believed to be unpalatable to the cause of the agenda at some points due to the adoption of what was described as ‘the more you look the less you see’ approach.

The fact that the project was made to rest on a non-politician, who is only a close aide of the president, is another factor that was responsible for its demise. On paper, Prof. Jerry Gana is the Political Adviser to the president, but it was clear that his office was bypassed in the conception and execution of the project. In essence, there was no discernible blueprint, which should have itemized the steps to be taken at some points and the envisaged challenges.

The fact that the agenda rested on a faulty foundation brought some other challenges. There was distrust among the executors as some were trying to show off their closeness to Mr. President, in view of their insider knowledge of the agenda. Those who believed that they were sufficiently close to the president to have the privileged information directly from his mouth were disappointed that the confirmation that Baba was gunning for third term kept coming from third parties. Some developed a sense of rejection and simply moved into the opposition camp, while others who felt attached to the president enough only tagged along. In tagging along, however, it was obvious that they could only give half-hearted commitment to a project they knew little or nothing about.

In the heat of the campaign, a legislator, who could be regarded as a high ranking member in the pro-third term camp, told the Sunday Tribune that he had decided neither to be in the forefront nor stay behind in the execution of the project. “The fact is that anything can happen and no one was sure that we really had the number and if it did happen that this project failed, it could create a lot of problem for the party and one had to leave his options open,” the legislator had said.

What was apparent from the comment was the lack of conviction from even the inner core of the proponents of the failed agenda. When there was no clear-cut conviction that the agenda was expedient and plausible that was bound to breed half-hearted commitment, especially where tactics was involved. It was not surprising therefore that the project, notwithstanding the assurances that the Presidency would eventually deploy its arsenal, suffered tactical blunders.

Besides, the project appeared like a spur of the moment thing. It wasn’t well prepared for and that was responsible for certain decisions that were taken but which proved fatal for the project at the end of the day. For instance, it had been noted that there were no clear and wide consultations in the choice of Ahmadu Ali as the National Chairman of the PDP. While Chief Anenih was said to have preferred the former governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Shaaba Lafiaji, whom he saw as a politician, who could meander decisively on the political turf, the Presidency woke up one day and foisted Ali on the party. Some leaders of the party believed that if Chief Audu Ogbeh had to be replaced, the replacement had to be an experienced politician. Sources said that some party leaders were to later exploit the division between Obasanjo and Anenih over the choice of Ogbeh’s successor as a tool to reduce Anenih’s influence before the president. It was gathered that the politicians planted a story of disloyalty and lack of commitment to the administration against Anenih before the president, culminating in the open confrontation between the man popularly regarded as the Leader and the president.

The President was said to have accused Anenih of frustrating the strategies and encouraging some of those opposed to the idea. He was also said to have failed to sever the cord linking him with Vice President Atiku Abubakar, such that snippets of information were flying to the number two man through his boys. Although, Chief Anenih was said to have denied this, he hurriedly made an arrangement to travel to the United States of America, taking along with him his former aide, who is a member of the House of Representatives. Though, Chief Anenih’s ally, Chief Samson Ekhabafe denied any rift between the ‘Leader’ and the president, the opposition insisted that the trip was kept out of the knowledge of the president. Opposition camp also insisted that the fact that Chief Anenih travelled in the heat of the third term war with a member of the House of Representatives, who should be coordinating, meant that a lot was going wrong with the execution of the agenda. But the ‘Leader’ returned to the country barely a week after the trip to the United States. Whatever it was the ‘Leader’ came back to meet a faltering project being coordinated by inept commanders. He could hardly salvage the situation as the opposition had gained a lot of ground, following the display of undue complacency by the project coordinators.

Another step said to have been taken by the Presidency, which eventually proved fatal, was the removal of President Obasanjo’s trusted friend, Chief Adolphus Wabara, as President of the Senate in April 2005. Wabara joined opponents of the agenda who saw to its demise on Tuesday. He gave a moving speech, which his successor, Chief Ken Nnamani, praised. In removing Wabara, the Presidency courted the ire of the Senators, who decided to vote against the Presidency’s candidate while electing his successor, thus considerably whittling down Aso Rock’s influence in the legislature. That step proved crucial during the debates, as Nnamani and the Speaker of the House of Representatives resisted the pressures from the Villa to modify the rules. It was believed that friendly presiding officers might have achieved different results.
Dual-faced third term advocates

In this class were governors and other officials who paid lip service to the agenda. They went to Aso Rock to pledge full commitment to the project only to come out and empower some opponents of the agenda. In some instances, some of such officials empowered both pro and anti-third terms advocates and encouraged them to hold rallies in their areas of jurisdiction. There was the case of a governor of one of the Southern states who was said to have donated N2billion to the cause only to covertly encourage those opposed to the tenure elongation plot to carry on. The story is akin to an analogy of two types of PDP given by a Presidency aide recently. He said there was one PDP that people carried about as identity and that there was another PDP, which was the true PDP, which the people carried in their hearts. According to him, the PDP that people carried in their hearts was the genuine one.

Sources confirmed that what was responsible for this on the part of some governors and other officials was the fact that some of them had open baggages which they believed the Presidency could exploit to get at them. So, even when they were convinced that the project might not be that beneficial to the country, they paid lip service to it till it eventually crashed.

Besides, some of those who acted Janus did so as a result of the fear that it might be difficult to trust the president, as he might ditch them after getting the third term ticket and then expose them to the vagaries of the anti-corruption agencies which would have been more empowered through the removal of the immunity clause via the Constitution Amendment Bill 2006.This conduct became a common occurrence and the practice was to be copied by the legislators.

Following the heat generated by the plot to suspend the Deputy Senate President, who was also the chairman of JCRC, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, on sundry allegations bordering on corruption, by Senators opposed to the third term agenda, who moved a motion that eventually led to a division and tied vote at 39 Senators apiece, proponents of the agenda got the message that all was not well in the Senate and that the ‘magician’ might be losing his hold on his constituents. They thus began frenzied moves to salvage the remainder of the project. It dawned on them that the Senate and the House of Representatives could not just be taken for a ride, thus the decision to invent what the opposition had called bribe-for-third-term vote. Many Senators and members of the House of Representatives were said to have been enlisted shortly before the commencement of the debates on the general principles of the Constitution Amendment bill 2006, which contained the controversial third term clause. At a point, the proponents said they had 75 Senators and 260 members in the lower chamber. But there was nothing to confirm that when the debates were flagged off, as the opposition maintained a wide margin lead in the House of Representatives and had more than the required one-third in the Senate. Although the proponents actually reached out and had the number of the said legislators on their paper, most of those spoken to could not publicly identify with the project because their constituents were opposed to it. The live telecast of the debates too did not help matters, as some of those who had been enlisted by the pro-third term advocates spoke against the agenda on the floor, while some remained silent on the issue. Senator David Mark was believed to be alluding to this situation when he made his contribution on the floor of the Senate and accused some of his colleagues of being pro-third term at night and anti-third term at daytime.

It was a problem the third term proponents were still finding solutions to when the bubble finally burst on May 16, the day the Senate stopped the bill from passing the Second Reading. The House of Representatives attempted a face saving device by inventing a six-year single term tenure clause in the amendment bill. This was, however, not to be, as the House jettisoned further reading of the bill on May 17, following the development in the Senate, which they reasoned, would have meant that the continuous reading of the bill on the floor of the lower house would amount to an academic exercise. Section 9 of the 1999 constitution, which empowers the National Assembly to alter sections of the Constitution, requires a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the National Assembly and that of the state Houses of Assembly.

The proponents were planning to have the rules of voting modified; to create room for secret balloting that would hide the identity of the voters such that the identity of those who had spoken against the bill but who would have voted in favour, would be concealed.

They were planning to bring some motions to the floors of the chambers to accommodate that a day after the debates would have ended in the Senate. That perhaps led to the oversight on the part of the proponents of the agenda in the Senate to read the rules of the Senate thoroughly. The anti-third term Senators did and by invoking Order 70(C) of the Senate Rules, they compelled the Senate to determine by voice vote, whether the bill should be read for the second time after the conclusion of the debates. They were also able to muster the required vote and carried the day, thus consigning the Constitution Amendment Bill 2006 into the refusebin of history.



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