A Vote of No Confidence On Third Term


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A Vote of No Confidence On Third term



Geoffrey Ekenna



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 office.

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 four-year terms.

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.



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