Third term or smokescreen?
By Ebere Onwudiwe
Professor Onwudiwe is with Central State Univesrity,
Wilberforce, Ohio, United States.
EVERY sign appears to support the story that President Olusegun
Obasanjo is planning a third term. But this may be one case where the
fire may be no where near the smoke. One signal is the calculated
calmness with which the president is treating the near universal
commotion over his purported third term ambition. His equanimity may
be part of a plan. But what is the plan?
A second indication is that notwithstanding his public denials
(and he has said he will return to the farm on more than one
occasion) there is an unambiguous attempt by presidential hawks to
amend the constitution to permit the president a third term after
2007. And then, there is the hounding of Vice President Atiku
Abubakar by the president's men resolved to force him out of the
ruling PDP. But again this is no proof that Obasanjo is seeking a
third term. If Atiku is hounded into resignation, what stops Obasanjo
from appointing a new VP to whom he can hand over? In fact, there are
more cogent arguments on the other side of the row. Given a
combination of his personality and intelligence, pragmatism and
nationalism, one might think that a third term would be the last
thing on the man's mind.
First, a man who enjoys playing at the global level as much as
the president does knows better than to tarnish his international
image as a premier African statesman. He will not like to be grouped
with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, whose notorious changing of
his country's constitution by hook and crook to secure a third term
has earned international distrust and cynicism. It is not true as the
rumour mills claim that London and Washington will not mind an
Obasanjo third term. It is true that "Africa Confidential" the
authoritative British publication has recently made claims to the
effect that London and the Washington may look the other way were
Obasanjo to seek a third term. But I am not persuaded. To support the
purchase of a third term by its hawkish managers said to be offering
huge bribes to some dishonourable members of the National Assembly,
is to undermine the course of peace and democracy in West Africa. The
strategic thinkers of the United Kingdom and the United States know
that this cannot be in their national interests.
Obasanjo will not want another term for another reason.
Obasanjo is a strong believer in one Nigeria. He knows that the
struggle which a pig-headed unconstitutional grab of power would
spawn could shred the fabric of Nigeria's unity with resultant chaos
in West Africa where Nigeria has sunk over $14 billion in the last
decade for the course of peace. So, you ask, why has Obasanjo, a
student and a close friend of America not followed in the footsteps
of another civil war general who made the clearest statement about
his political intentions? After the American Civil War, William
Sherman who became Commanding General of the Army became popular with
a coterie of Republican power brokers who tried their level best to
persuade him to run for president. The general put a memorable stop
to it with the following direct statement: "If nominated I will not
run. If elected I will not serve." Why is our own former civil war
general unable to be similarly unequivocal about the current third
My answer is why should he? Is President Obasanjo American?
Every country has its own political temper and expectations.
The president will be categorical at his chosen place and time. But
since he is keeping all of us waiting, let me guess his speech and
circumstance the day he will end the third-term palaver. "Members of
our great party, my fellow countrymen; I thank the Almighty God for
my selection by our great party to continue to lead this great
country of ours through the next four years. By all account, our
grand party turned out in great numbers to participate in this free,
fair and transparent selection of myself and my good friend, my
running mate for the party ticket. We thank the almighty God for His
infinite love for our party."
"I am once again very humbled to be our party's choice to lead
this great country to achieve its destiny of peace, unity, prosperity
and democracy. But as you know, my administration has sought to
champion this aspiration not only for our people, but also for our
more unfortunate neighbours in this long-suffering sub-region of our
continent. In Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia, we have spent
billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian lives to ensure the
grounding of peace and the rule of law. In Togo, we intervened
resolutely to ensure that the constitutional process was not derailed
by hawkish sycophants loyal to the Eyadema family. These are
principled positions in favour of peace and the rule of law. We must
continue these in our own country not only because charity begins at
home, but most importantly, our international reputation as the
beacon of hope and the indispensable African state requires it. For
this reason, I will not accept the nomination of our beloved party to
be its candidate for the presidency of Nigeria.
"As I said in my inaugural address to the nation in 1999, our
beloved country 'is wonderfully endowed by the Almighty with human
resources.' Therefore, I think that no single Nigerian including
myself is indispensable. This is why I am happy to announce my full
support for the Vice President elect, Governor Abdullahi Adamu of the
great state of Nasarawa to be the touch bearer of our great party."
Of course, the president may make this kind of historic speech
long before the PDP nomination. But that assumes Atiku's resignation
and, I do not see that coming anytime soon. The third term
smokescreen will continue to heat up the polity a bit longer than
Nigerians care for.
Guardian, Wednesday, December 28, 2005