A Vote of No
Confidence On Third term
culled from THE PUNCH, April 7, 2006
The question of whether President Olusegun Obasanjo will stay beyond the
expiration of his term of two four-year tenure in office continues to
reverberate on Nigeria’s political scene. It remains the biggest political
debate in the country today. His cronies and sycophants see it as a good omen
that the “good works” he has started will continue for some years to come. But
majority of Nigerians see it as an unnecessary and undue elongation of tenure as
has become the trade mark of many African Heads of State. Thus, when the Centre
for Legislative Studies, a non-governmental organisation, called on stakeholders
on March 26, at the International Press Centre in Ogba, Lagos to come and look
again at the propriety of the agenda in line with the public hearing of the
National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, it
afforded Nigerians another opportunity to X-ray the issue once more.
The stakeholders, who came from the media, human rights community and politics,
concluded that the third term agenda is an ill wind that will blow nobody any
good and that the public hearing on the constitution amendment was a sham. They
also agreed that the best way to stop the agenda was for Nigerians to reject it.
But how? The Executive Director of the CLS, Mrs. Adeyinka Olarinmoye, who set
the ball rolling, challenged the participants to be open in their discussion as
whatever conclusions reached at the symposium would get more people involved in
the process of lawmaking. This is bearing in mind the fact that the public
hearing held by the Senator Ibrahim Mantu-led committee lacked the ingredients
of a populist enterprise.
She said, “The essence of this gathering as conceived by CLS is to enable
stakeholders to make a constructive review of the recently-held public hearing
with the immediate objective of providing direction to subsequent public
hearings that may be organised by the legislative arm of the government, be it
at the local, state or federal level.”
But when the member representing Oshodi/ Isolo II Federal Constituency, Joseph
Ajata, took the stage, it was clear that the public hearing and its conveners
were headed for hard knocks. The member of the House of Representatives who was
the chairman of the event, took a swipe at his colleagues in the National
Assembly for engaging in outright illegality in their quest to obtain a record
third term for the President. According to him, the chain of illegalities in the
process started with the handpicking of the 80 members of the committee by the
leadership of the House instead of the two houses discussing the issues
separately and later harmonising.
In essence, those who convened the public hearing and the amendment to the
constitution already had an answer they were working on. Ajata said, “This idea
has been on since 2002. Nobody is fighting the amendment, which has been
problematic. But while doing this, one item was brought into it which is the
third term agenda. This is what people are fighting against. The constitution
amendment is the function of the National Assembly and the state assemblies. But
some people were picked, probably handpicked into the committee to look into the
amendment in the National Assembly. The normal thing is for the two houses to
discuss the same issues separately and at the end of it, maybe, they have some
differences and then they will come together to sort out the differences.”
“There is a violation in the National Assembly on this particular thing. The
members that are appointed to look into this from both the House of
Representatives and the Senate are drawn from the six geopolitical areas. This
is not the system. Some people were given one minute or two to speak at the
public hearings. That was a rush. At the end of the day, they were taken to Port
Harcourt. When it finally gets to the National Assembly, you find out that it
has been rubber-stamped already”.
He concluded that the rush was just to pander to the whims of those who
desperately want to secure another term for the president and the governors. He,
however, warned Nigerians not to be shocked if the National Assembly passes the
third term amendment in a rush since the whole exercise has been compromised
with financial inducement. The lawmaker, nevertheless, wanted Nigerians to
challenge the process if the National Assembly passed the amendment on third
term in a rush. He said, “So, at any time it is passed, I think, the people of
this country should rise up and fight it because it is being done for a few
people – the president and the governors who are interested in it. They want to
change what we have in the constitution. If it is to change the constitution to
perpetuate one person in office, I think Nigerians should rise against it.”
Ajata has already had a foretaste of how the music of third term is sounding in
the ears of Nigerians. He was harassed in his constituency by angry youths when
his name erroneously appeared in a newspaper as a member of the Unity Forum, a
group of third term proponents in the House.
But if the picture he painted of the illegality is scary, that of the Chairman,
Media and Publicity Sub-committee of the Advanced Congress of Democrats, Alhaji
Lai Mohammed, was more alarming. He warned governors who are currently basking
in the euphoria of possibly having another four years added to their tenure to
beware. The same committee that is recommending an extension of tenure for them
has also recommended the removal of the immunity clause in section 308 of the
constitution, which shields them from civil or criminal prosecution while in
At a time the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, led by Nuhu Ribadu, said
it had compiled files on no fewer than 24 governors who have wrongly used their
office to enrich themselves, Mohammed rightly concluded that not many of the
governors will be free to enjoy the benefit of the Mantu committee when the
amendment comes into being. Since the President has both the carrot and the
stick, with EFCC under his control, the tendency is that many of the governors
may have had a premature optimism.
But he said, “With this new development, the millions of Nigerians already
groaning under the yoke of oppression, hunger, massive poverty and
marginalisation under the current administration will have to bear this
condition for the next 12 years. It also means that the current abuse of our
democracy and rule of law and the destruction of the rule of law and executive
lawlessness will be the order of the day for the next 12 years.” By Mohammed’s
calculation, therefore, if the process sails through, the current occupiers of
the public offices may stay until 2019.
He added that the whole process of constitution amendment was illegal,
fraudulent and unconstitutional. This, he said, was based on the provisions of
the constitution itself that the “proposal for an amendment shall only be
accepted if it receives the blessing of two-third majority of each of the houses
of the National Assembly and approved by at least 24 of the houses of assembly
in the country.”
The ACD chieftain said, “Therefore, the Mantu-led constitution amendment
committee acted in contravention of the same constitution the members swore to
uphold. The conduct of the committee not only amounts to an attempt to
criminally undermine the constitution but also an attempt to realise the third
term agenda through the back door.” He added that the process that required the
presentation of a bill and a proposal before the House was not followed.
But indeed, nobody is actually opposed to the need for constitution amendment.
The rush and the third term issue make it suspect and contentious. Again, should
those who supervised the constitution amendment be the immediate beneficiaries?
The President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos State chapter, Wahab Oba,
said no. He argued that much as the amendment is a desirable venture, it will be
wrong for the current administration to be the beneficiaries since they were
sworn in on the 1999 Constitution that only allowed them a maximum of two
He said, “No one is disputing the fact that there are areas in the constitution
that need to be amended, but most Nigerians believe, and rightly too, that those
who must carry out the amendment must not be the beneficiaries of the amendment.
“Whatever anybody has in mind to do for this country, a period of eight years is
enough for him to do it. More so, the process which is being executed looks like
a script that has been prepared and is being foisted on Nigerians. It is not
wanted at this time.
But the Chairman of the National Conscience Party, Mr. Segun Sango, has an
entirely differently view. He believes Nigerians should look deeper at ways of
reducing the grinding poverty and hardship that have become the lot of the
citizens. That, in his view, is the way to avert the emergence of dictators and
mini-despots in the system.
Taking a tour through education, poverty and the political system, Sango said
the country had come back to where it was before the former Premier of the old
Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, intervened with his free
education programme. This, according to him, is evident in the current
proliferation of private schools, ranging from the nursery to the university. He
cited these as issues that needed to be addressed to enable Nigerians have the
strength to resist any attempt at perpetuating oneself in office. He regretted
that Nigerian leaders today have been so far removed from the people that they
are oblivious of their sufferings.
His view was upheld by another human rights activist, Mrs Ngozi Iwere, who
described the President as an autocrat. She pointed out that the third term
issue was real but added that what was being done was the same path towed by the
cronies of Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and the late Sani Abacha for
their desired bid to overstay in office.
For the Editor of The Punch, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene, there is the need for
Nigerians to fashion out a practical way of rejecting any government they are no
longer at home with. He does not believe that mere pontificating and bravado
talks are enough to show the level of disdain Nigerians have for wrong
processes. While not advocating a violent process to chase the government out,
Ishiekwene wants Nigerians to work out a way of expressing their tiredness of
any government that does not meet their aspiration.
By and large, however, what came out of the symposium was an overwhelming
rejection of the third term agenda, its proponents and whatever it stands for.