THIRD TERM SYNDROME - PRESIDENT OBASANJO KNOWS BETTER....
Samuel Obukwelu, Sr.
Nigeria has produced leaders who know how to play the game of politics. However, the incumbent President of the country, Olusegun Obasanjo, takes the pride of place. General Gbadamosi Babangida was called Maradona because he told each individual what that individual wanted to hear, even though he, Babangida, might do something quite contrary to his utterances. On the other hand, President Obasanjo does not promise heaven and earth to Nigerians. In fact, President Obasanjo can be said to be a man of very few words, Unfortunately, whenever he speaks, you will discover that being tactful is not his forte. He is very blunt and brutal in stating facts, which in my opinion is the best way to talk to Nigerians. The worst thing one can do, is to promise a child a fish, only to hand him a snake. If President Obasanjo promises you that he is going to deal with you, how does that statement affect your behavior? Certainly, you will develop eyes all over your body. The English call it, "Being on your guard."
Since President Obasanjo does not talk very much, he has employed the services of Messrs Fani-Kayode, Greg Mbadiwe and Ojo Maduekwe. These individuals are tacticians, articulate, opinion shakers, vocal and counter punchers. When Mr. Mbadiwe initially mentioned the possibility of a third term for President Obasanjo, some intellectuals and political know-all dismissed him as the utterance of a political neophyte, talking through his anus. As time passed, a good number of PDP members have joined the choir. The most surprising is the speed with which PDP governors from the South are joining the bandwagon in support of a "Third Term" for President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Governors from the South-East, South-South and South-West held meetings at Enugu and Lagos and issued communiques among which was that they would work towards ensuring that the next President of Nigeria would be from either South-East or South-South. Since President Obasanjo hails from South-West, the decision by the Southern Governors was an indirect rejection of a "Third Term" for President Obasanjo. However, less than two months after those meetings, over eighty percent of these same governors have made a hundred and eighty degree turn and, they are now in full support for a "Third Term" for President Obasanjo. What has brought about this change of heart on the part of the Southern Governors? Some political pundits have offered the following reasons.
1. They do not want to fall like former Governor of Bayelsa state, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha.
2. Most of the Southern Governors believe that if they stick to "Third Term" for President Obasanjo, it is a trump card which they have while negotiating with the Northern group. Since the birth of Nigeria as an independent nation in 1960, the Presidency has rested in
Northern Nigeria ninety percent of the time. Even if the Northerners do not want a continuation of Obasanjo as the President, they may not object to somebody else from either South-East that has tasted the leadership of the country for only a few months, or South-South which has not produced any Nigerian Leader.
This indicates that the these Southern Governors' support for a "Third Term" is not strictly for President Obasanjo. Their strategy is to ensure that the Presidency remains in the South.
What baffles everyone is that the President does not say a word about this "Third Term" issue, either in public or PRIVATE. I specifically capitalized "Private" because if he were to be flippant in private it would have been heard all over the airwaves and print media. As at now, nobody can say that the President is for, or against a quest for a Third Term. The foundation for moral leadership is the Truth. Nigerians are all ears to hear the truth from their President on the Third Term issue. President Obasanjo has elevated the level of diplomacy to a different height. According to the language of the urban America : "Hear Nothing, Say Nothing and, Do Nothing!" President Obasanjo seems to be winning the war of words without saying a word. Everyone who is somebody in Nigerian political arena is having sleepless nights about the so-called President's "obsession" for a Third Term, yet the President has not uttered a word of desirability for a third term. Mr. Fani-Kayode, the President's spokesman, and Mr. Frank Nweke, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, have made it abundantly clear that the President is not interested in any Third Term. However, the ardent desire of Nigerians is to hear their "Master's Voice" on this issue.
Mr. Greg Mbadiwe was the first person to write on constitutional amendment and, a possibility of extension of the incumbent President's current term. Since then, Ojo Maduekwe, Ibrahim Mantu and Jerry Gana have joined the chorus.
Would it have been nice if President Obasanjo made any comments regarding the Third Term issue? Certainly Yes! Has he committed any crimes by keeping quiet? Absolutely No! The Nigerian constitution guarantees every Nigerian citizen freedom of speech. Mbadiwe, Maduekwe, Nweke, Mantu and Gana are, therefore, availing themselves of this privilege.
Nobody knows what President Obasanjo has in mind. Every Nigerian is entitled to his or her opinion and, since I am a Nigerian, I am, therefore, entitled to exercise my constitutional rights. If I had President Obasanjo's direct phone number I would like to call him and, tell him exactly what I feel about this "Third Term" syndrome. You want to hear what I will tell Mr. President? What a heck! Here it is!
"Your excellency, Mr President, I am Samuel Obukwelu and, I am extremely sorry to be calling so late. I am a fellow Nigerian and there is a very important issue I would like to bring to your attention. I have chosen this time because I do not want our discussion to be interrupted by your aids trooping in and out of your office. Without wasting time, Sir, the issue is the Third Term for you. Since the issue surfaced about a year ago, you have not made any comments. If you do not want to make any comments during our discussion, you are welcome. I do understand. Your Excellency, if you are, in any way, contemplating succeeding yourself in 2007, it will be advisable if you re-reads Reuben Abati's commentary, "Third Term. He Won't Do It." in the Guardian Newspaper of Sunday, July 31, 2005. I have reproduced, below, some very salient points from that write up. Thank you for giving me a few of your very valuable time."
"To date, there is no Nigerian leader who has toyed with the idea of staying
beyond his welcome who did not leave the office either in disgrace or
unceremoniously. When former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon
began to quibble about his promise to vacate office as Nigeria's military
Head of State in the early 70s, he was eased out by his own officers in a
military coup which was widely supported by the Nigerian people. When
in 1993, former President Ibrahim Babangida started playing games with
the political transition programme, including the annulment of a free and
fair election, he was hounded out of office as Nigeria's Head of State.
General Sani Abacha also wanted to defy the Nigerian people and
make democratic rule impossible, but God also removed him. Today, his
name evokes instant and ready objections. Only two leaders in Nigerian
history, although as military leaders, have been able to leave office with
their heads in the sky, and that is because they facilitated a return to civilian
rule within the shortest possible time. And these two are General Olusegun
Obasanjo, now President and General Abdusalami Abubakar. In 1979,
General Obasanjo faithfully handed over power to the politicians and it
is on this singular act, at a time when Africa was notorious for its vicious
military rulers that the foundation of Obasanjo's reputation and relevance
rests. When he acted in this seemingly atypical fashion, Obasanjo drew
international attention to himself and gained a moral stature far in excess
of what he should ordinarily have been entitled to.
There are two deductions from these bits of Nigerian political history. The
first is that any attempt by President Obasanjo to stay in office beyond May
2007, will be fiercely resisted by civil society and other political forces. The
threats now being issued by certain groups in society should not be taken as
mere, idle threats. The struggle between 1993 and 1999 taught us one lesson
which is that the struggle for democracy and against tyranny is ideological and
economic, collective and individualistic, with definite advantages. Those who
seized the platform at that time have been relatively idle since 1999; if they are
provoked, the level of capacity that they will mobilise and display will be
astonishing. If anyone is tempting Obasanjo to ride the tiger of public anger,
all he needs to do is to re-read the stories of Babangida and Sani Abacha.
The second point is that Obasanjo himself is fully aware of his place in history.
He is in fact a man who loves history and would always want to be on the good
side of it. When he left office in 1979, the international community opened its
doors to him. He was made a member of the Group of Eminent persons, he
got involved in the dismantling of apartheid and nuclear armament projects,
he helped to conceptualise and design the development process in Africa, in
a word, he became a moral symbol, a kind of example which the West wanted
to identify with. While other former military rulers hid their heads in shame,
Obasanjo travelled around the world. He became an outspoken critic of military
high-handedness. No other Nigerian, with perhaps the later exception of Wole
Soyinka as Nobel Laureate, enjoyed the same influence and international
Significantly, Obasanjo was appointed to the boards of such bodies as the
Ford Foundation and the Transparency International. He also set up a successful
think-tank on leadership called the Africa Leadership Forum which supported
discussions of research into democracy, development and good governance
processes. When Obasanjo leaves office in 2007, he may not exactly need the
likes of Greg Mbadiwe, that fellow who says "there is no vacancy in Aso Villa",
he should have enough to occupy him at the Africa Leadership Forum, the Obasanjo
Library in Abeokuta and his Ota Farms. He can pick up his international connections
and continue with his former career in retirement as an international statesman.
That was one aspect of his life which he used to enjoy very much."
The above commentary by Mr. Abati may be prophetic, if President Obasanjo does not listen. However, from the little I have known of the President, he has built Nigeria to such a level that he will be the last person to tear it down.
The supreme law of any democratic country is her constitution. In Nigeria, the Legislature makes the laws while the Judiciary interprets the laws. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution stipulates the procedure for a constitutional amendment and, the Legislature has a right to state the effective date of the amendment/s. This will eliminate the frivolous argument that if a presidential term increases from four years to five years, then the incumbent president serves two extra years, or he will be allowed to stand for election again in 2007. If the constitution states that each President will serve a maximum of two or three terms, it does not matter how many years make a term, the elected President will serve a maximum of two or three terms. If the Legislature states the effective date of the constitutional amendment, good governance behooves the citizenry to abide by that date, as long as the amendments are approved by at least two thirds of all the states in the Federation.
President Obasanjo has carved his name in gold in the political spectrum of Nigeria. First, for being the only Nigerian who has been the President of his country two times, as a military President (1976-1979) and, a civilian President (1999 to date). Secondly, he is the first Nigerian President who willingly handed over the reins of government to a civilian administration headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. President Obasanjo's administration has made it crystal clear that it is not going to tolerate corruption in government, either at the federal or state level. Nigeria is pretty difficult to govern. If you fight corruption, some Nigerians will interpret your action that you are dealing with the political opponents. If you do not do anything while the treasury of the government is being looted, you will be called an accomplice and a weak leader. Do it, you are damned, and don't do it, you are equally damned.
No matter what the legislature recommends on constitutional amendment, Nigerians must realize
that our democracy is still very fragile and, we must do everything possible to protect it. It will be foolhardiness to listen to only the voices of doom. Some governors are now being prosecuted for embezzlement, some ministers have lost their jobs for incompetence. Recently, the Inspector General of Police was prosecuted and jailed. This would be unheard of a few years back. These were individuals who threw their weights around and, bullied their fellow Nigerians with impunity. President Obasanjo's sustained fight against corruption and incompetence is a positive sign of progress. Most importantly, I can now call my elderly mother in Awka, Anambra State, from any where in the world and have mother-son conversation. Who says that Nigeria is not making progress? Nation building is akin to building a house, one block upon the other. President Obasanjo is working tirelessly to erase from the Nigerian psyche the mentality that when one gets a political appointment or elected into a political office, it is a passport to enriching oneself. It is on the basis of these achievements which President Olusegun Obasanjo has made, that some of us who believe that he will play a very significant role in continental or world political scene, are appealing to him to leave the Presidency of Nigeria while the ovation is very loud. However, the decision is his to make.