Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
Burtonsville, MD, USA
Monday, December 26, 2005
A few days ago, a newspaper in Nigeria reported that 30 out of Nigeria's 36 state governors were already "fixing" - allegedly for a variety of politically selfish reasons - to campaign for support of President Obasanjo's third term agenda. Their plan is to get each of their state's members of the National and state assemblies to go along with the required constitutional amendment. The "Odd-Men-Out" six governors reportedly refusing to go along are Bola Tinubu of Lagos State (AD), Orji Kalu of Abia (PDP), Chris Ngige of Anambra (PDP), Boni Haruna of Adamawa (PDP), Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara (ANPP) and Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State (ANPP).
The veracity of the story is difficult to confirm, but my understanding of the notion of "speculative journalism" in Nigeria is that a number of our newspapers put out (or are asked/paid to put out) feelers to gauge the reaction of our citizens, in order to know how to proceed with a particular political endeavor, however outrageous. If there is praise, indifference or mild rebuke for the endeavor, it will likely proceed. If there is strong, even violent rebuke for it, then it may be put in a cooler for a while - preceded with strong statements of denial, sometimes accompanied with swear words and other curses - to be resuscitated at a more auspicious time.
This "30 Governors" story may be in that category - and only time will tell. Nevertheless, the man at the center of the controversy - President Olusegun Obasanjo himself - has a moral obligation to come out CLEARLY without further delay, otherwise the constant comparison with him and General Sani Abacha - which I am sure must annoy him to no end, and in fact must cause him ulcers - will inexorably continue.
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE THIRD TERM AGENDA
Before going on, let me state here clearly that like most people, I believe that UNDER this 1999 Constitution, it is unconstitutional for President Obasanjo to run for or continue in office come 2007. Nevertheless, to the extent that the Constitution allows for amendments, and that nowhere in the Constitution does it DISALLOW the amendment of the section which disallows a two-term president or governor from running for more terms, nowhere is there an ouster clause to that effect, then he is free to seek, campaign for and get such an amendment.
So there is nothing CONSTITUTIONALLY wrong for him to be seeking to amend the Constitution accordingly, even though many people feel that first there is something WRONG morally in someone seeking to amend the constitution to benefit himself so IMMEDIATELY. Secondly, there could be many unhappy unintended consequences that would attend such an imposition, bearing in mind the many political gladiators and sectional interests angling for the position, including those who have been waiting patiently for Obasanjo's eight-year term to expire. Finally, the implied indispensability of a person in a particular office is not good for a developing country, and it sends back bad signals across the national, sub-continental and continental polity about the integrity of our leadership.
WHAT TO DO, MR. PRESIDENT ?
While one track of third-term agenda apostles earnestly asking him to continue beyond 2007 seem to be doing their own thing, another set of persons, including President Obasanjo, has been denying this "vicious rumor." Yet it persists, in the same manner that such rumors persisted in the 1997/1998 time axis during Abacha.
So what five minimum things must President Obasanjo do to squelch these rumors once and for all ?
(1) He must UNEQUIVOCALLY announce to the nation that he is NOT in the running to extend his stay beyond 2007 AND repeatedly state such at EVERY OPPORTUNITY. His upcoming New Year speech is for example a good occasion for such another assurance. Yes, he has denied once, even maybe twice or three times before, but there cannot be enough times. His last public TV outing where he was widely reported to have "evaded" a question from a call-in citizen from Sokoto or so does not inspire confidence in his earlier denials.
(2) He must UNEQUIVOCALLY publicly denounce those who are leading the campaign for his extension, and REPEATEDLY do so at every opportunity. Statements by certain politicians, industrialists, groups etc. urging him to stay on should be IMMEDIATELY confronted by his spokespersons WITHOUT equivocation or obfuscation, that they are against his intentions, even though one admits that those people have the right to make their statements.
(3) More importantly, his party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must provide a TIME-TABLE for presidential primaries, and ACTIVELY invite presidential aspirants to raise their hands up and provide them forums to articulate their positions. The present cloak-and-dagger situation where there is a general feeling that any or all who indicate their willingness to take on the job, eg. Atiku, Orji Kalu, even Marwa, etc. are victimized or looked at with discomfort, does not augur well for the denials.
(4) Again, within his party, he must speak FORTHRIGHTLY concerning the back-and-forth statements about presidential rotation between the South and the North ostensibly agreed back in 1998, which saw him in as President in 1999, and re-ratified in 2002 in preparation for his second term in 2003. The discussions are currently heating up the polity needlessly, fuelled by executive silence on the matter. To this writer, it is a matter of honor and integrity to agree publicly that such an agreement was made - if it was made - but also one of courage to publicly avow or disavow it as palpably undemocratic and subject to re-visitation now that we are headed for 2007.
(5) Most importantly, the Independent National Elections Committee (INEC) under Prof. Maurice Iwu should now provide a CLEAR time-table for the all the state and national elections that NECESSARILY must end by April 2007, and set guideline deadlines for party primaries. At this time, so much emphasis is being put on its new electronic voting system - as if that was our problem in (say) the 2003 elections, when in fact unsanitary voter rolls, rushed candidacies (resulting in some non-candidates being elected), selective intimidation by security forces (army and police) on election days and outright forgeries of election results (some confirmed by the Supreme Court) etc. were the matters in full view.
There are those who have a gut feeling that President Obasanjo's reticence so far is merely a political ploy to delay as long as possible so as to identify and then spring an acceptable successor (to himself), who will continue his many economic and social policies. Nevertheless, in the absence of ALL of the five steps outlined above being done by the end of the first quarter of 2006, very few people will be convinced otherwise about President Obasanjo's real 2007 intentions.
President Obasanjo's long-standing reputation has ridden first on the fact that he gave up military power in 1979 to a civilian regime, and secondly that he has exhibited significant if sometimes patchy democratic credentials since then, including while being a civilian president since 1999. In 1998, soon after he was released from Abacha's gulag, he first publicly indicated in August that he would not be running for the presidency, only for him to become a candidate two months later, and then win a presidential contest in April 1999. A man, of course, has every right to change his mind, particularly when not fettered by constitutional and/or moral shackles, but at this time in preparation for 2007, Obasanjo's integrity and reputation are currently on the line.
He should leave those particular shackles in place this time around.
Gani Fawehinmi Writes an Open Letter to President Obasanjo over Rumors of Third-Term Agenda
December 27, 2005
Dear President Olusegun Obasanjo:
In view of the importance of 2006, which will determine 2007, I have decided to send to you this Open New Year Message. I have never sent you any seasonal greetings before.
And this is not one.
Since the course of this nation will be determined in all its ramifications by your third term bid, it is necessary to send this
message which is stated below [about] "The Obasanjo third term bid":
"Do not disturb the polity."
"Do not lay a dangerous precedent."
"Do not tempt God."
"Do not ignore the feelings of the people as they are against your bid."
The agony, the anguish, the pain and the pang of crushing poverty, which your six years in office had brought on the majority of
Nigerians show no sign of abating.
On Monday, October 1, 1979, you voluntarily handed over power when you were a young 42-year old military dictator to a democratically elected president. On Saturday, October 1, 1999, you became a civilian president and swore to uphold the constitution, which prescribes a two-term presidency and no more.
On Thursday, October 1, 2003, at the beginning of your second term in office as president, you swore to uphold the same constitution, which prescribes a two-term presidency. Is there any destructive evil lurking somewhere that is preventing you from easily leaving
office as an old man of 70 on the 29th May, 2007?
In 1979, you proved that a military dictator could hand over power to a democracy. Why should it be difficult in 2007 for you as
a "democratically elected President" to hand over power to another democratically elected President if you genuinely believe in
Mr. President, since third-term bid controversy erupted, the Nigerian society has been divided, highly polarised, particularly
along dangerous ethnic and tribal cleavages which virtually now colour every governmental thought, policy, programme and nuances.
Mr. President, you ought to know if you are sincere to yourself that Nigeria is different in every respect from Gabon where Omar
Bongo has lorded it over the Gabonese since 1967, from Uganda where Yoweri Museveni has blinded Ugandans since 1986, from Egypt where Hosni Mubarak has ingloriously sat tight since 1981. And that is African Union (AU) you lead as the Chairman.
The internationally revered Nelson Mandela warned you against it and your propagandists abused him that he was senile. President
George Bush of the United States of America, the current President in his second term, warned you against it but your publicists railed against hint, saying that the Americans cannot teach you democracy, despite the fact that you begged them for debt relief. And you
continually plead with them for investment in our country.
Mr. President, in your capacity as Chairman of the Commonwealth of Nations, you should be aware of the record of the Commonwealth against sit tight presidents. What is it that is bugging you to sit tight at 70 in 2007?
In 1995, you were found guilty of planning a phantom coup by the late General Sani Abacha. We pleaded with General Abacha not to
execute you and others because we believed you were innocent. You served three years in prison. God rescued you despite your ailment.
You left the prison to become an "elected President" in controversial circumstances. After the first term, you continued as
President in the second term.
What is it that is bugging you to remain in office at the old age of 70 in 2007? Do not do it. Do not extend your time.
It is incontrovertible that any third term bid by you is psychologically, spiritually, physically, emotionally and in every respect a suicide mission driven by perverted ambition even when it is so glaring that it is unattainable in the Nigeria of today. It is not too late for you to change your perilous course.
A national broadcast on the 1st of January 2006 that you will hand over government as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 29th of May, 2007 will bring down the negative temperature of the country and bring the country back from the brink of looming
catastrophe or calamity.
Mr. President, if you fail to hearken unto this seasonal message, you have yourself or your soul to blame; or do you want to make it a
case of those the gods want to destroy, they first make mad; and in your own case they first make obstinate, truculently obstinate?
Wishing you a God-fearing, sane and humble 2006.
Gani Fawehinmi (SAN)