Obasanjo and the hidden agenda saga

  By Bayo Oladeji, Senior Correspondent, Lagos

  Constitutional development in Nigeria is
bedevilled with controversies. Therefore, when
the on-going National Political Reform Conference
kicked off amidst rejection and cynicism, the
political pundits were not surprised at all.

  Interestingly, and ironically too, the first
controversial shot was fired from the Presidency
when the Governor Ahmed Makarfi- ed Committee on
Political Reforms began its work before its
inauguration on 7th December ,2004.

  Other committee members included Governor
Olusegun Agagu, Senator Udoma Udoma, Prof Jerry
Gana, Chief Cornelius O. Adebayo, Prof. A D
Yahaya, Prof Okwudiba Nnoli and Prof. Joy Ogwu.

  The secrecy in its take-off sent wrong signals
to those who believed President Olusegun Obasanjo
wants to stay put beyond 2007. Before saying
jack, newspapers and magazines had begun
celebrating the self-succession story unmasking
members of the committee as those working for the
third term project.

  This made the Chairman of the committee,
Makarfi, to raise the alarm and called Mr.
President to inaugurate the panel officially to
correct the wrong impression. And this was done.

  Another salvo was fire when the names of the 400
members of the panel were made known. Those who
were in the forefront of the agitation for the
sovereign national conference opted out. The list
included Chief Anthony Enahoro, Prof Wole Soyinka
and Dr. Bala Usman. All attempts to convince the
trio were futile.

  Along the line was the agitation of the Moslem
community, especially in the North, alleging
marginalisation. The agitators wanted either the
chairman that was allocated to Justice Niki Tobi
or the conference secretary given to Rev. Fr.
Matthew A Kukah. Both are Christians but Kukah, a
minority from the North. (Kaduna).

  The nomination of Alhaji Sule Katagum from
Bauchi State as the deputy chairman did not help
the matter. Not even the elevation of Professor
Is-haq Oloyede to the position of co-secretary

  Still, the conference kicked off and the
inauguration was colourful. All the former heads
of state and president with the exception of
Major General Muhammadu Bauhari (rtd) who is
still aggrieved over the 2003 presidential poll
were in attendance. The leadership of the
National Assembly that denied the conference its
budget also came.

  The delegates were unanimous in hailing the
convener's inaugural address, rejecting though
any no-go-area. Members also called for
referendum. Political watchers were surprised at
the tide of events and some were even asking, "is
this the National Conference that the ruling
class had been long rejecting"?

  The Soyinkas are saying no, promising to
organise the alternative under the aegis of
PRONACO. But to their colleagues, such as Mallam
Shehu Sani and Chief Mike Ozekhome, this is the
conference, the only word that is missing is
"sovereign" and they believed once the report is
subjected to a referendum, the victory has come
and a Daniel has come to judgment.

  The conference then moved to the most sensitive
phase, the committee stage, in which Nigeria was
taken to the theatre for surgical operation. Even
the cynics of the conference participated. They
included Dr. Bala Usman, who released his book on
Nigeria to them while Bamidele Aturu of the
United Action for Democracy (UAD) came as a
resource person. Olisa Agbakoba, who also
accepted to come, couldn't make it for technical

  But like a bolt from the blue, a draft
constitution appeared at the prestigious NICON
HILTON Abuja where the 19 committees are meeting
doing the brainwork. A section of the press went
to the streets "revealing" the hidden agenda of
the presidency to either extend the tenure of the
incumbent by two years or by giving him a fresh
six -year tenure.

  To compound the problem, those representing the
Presidency did not do their home work well at
first. Chief Kanu Agabi, the special adviser to
the President on ethics and good governance, who
wanted to break the news of the draft
constitution's arrival, did it in anonymous
manner, but some newsmen unmasked him. And when a
co-secretary of the confab, Rev. Fr. Matthew H.
Kukah was cornered by the newsmen to confirm the
draft, he said he knew nothing about it.

  With these conflicting signals, the newsmen
again went to town telling the cynical populace
of a mysterious draft constitution that "has no
introduction, no indication as to its authors and
no reference to the date of its publication".

  However, the draft document is no more anonymous
as the Presidency officially forwarded it to the
Prince Bola Ajibola-led Committee on Judiciary
and Legal Reform which later marked it as
"received but rejected" for coming late after the
March 29 deadline given for the submission of

  But the likes of Chief Ebenezer Babatope and
Alhaji Waziri Mohammed and Chief Ojo Madueke have
been appealing to the committee in vain to
reconsider the document because of its contents.

  In his letter to the chairman of the conference,
Justice Niki Tobi, the leader of the Alliance for
Democracy (AD) in the confab, Alhaji Mohammed
Ibrahim Hassan, spared no word in condemning the
draft and the forces behind it. In fact, he
called for the withdrawal of the likes of Prof
Jerry Gana, Kanu Agabi and Waziri Mohammed for
their roles.

  He unveiled the drafters of the said document to
be the Minister of Justice and the Attorney
General of the Federation, Chief Akinlolu
Olujinmi, SAN; Prof Jerry Gana, Kanu Agabi, Ojo
Maduekwe and Maxwell Gidado.

  It is indeed a relief that this is democracy
that is not in the protective custody of the
military junta. The delegates rejected the
document prepared by the convener of the
conference and yet all Mr. President could say is
"they are free to accept or reject it"!

  However, a critical study of the controversial
draft shows that the government truly wants the
contemporary problems it has encountered in the
operation of the 1999 Constitution. Hence, it
becomes imperative to revisit it to identify the
grey areas.

  Sections 141 (2) and 186(2) extend the tenure of
the President and governors to six years which
run contrary to the provisions of sections 135(2)
and 180(2) of the 1999 Constitution.

  Although President Obasanjo has consistently
denied ever nursing a third term ambition or an
extension of his second term by two years, the
likes of Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe think
contrarily; they all want their mentor to remain
in the office till 2009.

  Their argument stands on a tripod: to kick-start
the six-year tenure with him, to ensure a smooth
take-off to allow him complete the ongoing
reforms and to be able to midwife a proper
hand-over to his successor. But to the people
groaning under the yoke of the inhuman reforms,
that tale should be told to the marines.

  One of the problems Mr. President faces is the
Supreme Court verdict that stops him from
implementing the Human Rights Violations
Investigation Commission popularly called the
Oputa Panel. This lacuna has been addressed in
Section 8(1) which gives the President and
governors power to establish "a tribunal to
inquire into any matter or thing or into the
conduct or affairs of any public officer in
respect of which, in his opinion such inquiry
will be for the public interest".

  In addressing the issue of local government
system, the draft amended constitution repeats
Section 3(6) of the existing constitution, but
this time in Section 6 where it listed 768 local
government areas in Nigeria.

  But the draft complicates the matter by
mandating the National Assembly to prescribe
uniform guidelines for the creation of local
government areas. Section 10 (7) states: "The
National Assembly shall prescribe guidelines for
the creation of local government areas throughout
Nigeria and any local government area created in
breach of such guidelines shall not be recognised
for any purpose whatsoever."

  To the critics of the document, this is an
attempt to nullify the Supreme Court's decision
in Lagos State vs. Federal Government of Nigeria
case. They also wonder what concerns the Federal
Government in the units of the states when the
states remain the federating units.

  However, to Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano,
the Federal Government should provide the
guideline inasmuch as the third tier of the
government comes to the centre to receive

  Another novel idea to some reduces the country
into a unitary state is Section 89(4) that states
as follows: "The Auditor General of the
Federation shall have power to conduct periodic
checks of all states and local governments, all
organs or arms of the government of the
federation in respect of such part of their funds
as are derived from the federation account or any
other public fund of the federation."

  As advised by the Human Rights Violations
Commission otherwise known as Oputa Panel, the
Presidency has descended on the Sharia states by
declaring in Section 1(3) as follows: "If any
other law, customary or religious practice, is
inconsistent with the provisions of this
constitution, the constitution shall prevail, and
that other law, customary or religious practice,
shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be

  To the sharia proponents attending the
conference, the presidency does so "with a view
to rolling back the implementation of sharia in
some states of the federation and generating
unnecessary heat in the polity". They also argued
that the Section 303(2) a-e has reduced the power
of sharia court of a state leaving the
"corresponding provisions governing the
jurisdiction of the Customary Court of Appeal
totally undisturbed".

  The draft constitution modifies Section 309 of
the 1999 Constitution in its Section 327, which
states that, "subject to the provisions of this
Constitution, no civil proceedings shall be
instituted or continued against a person holding
the office of president, governor or deputy -
governor during his tenure of office".

  If adopted, there is no more constitutional
immunity against any criminal breaches of the law
by the President or any of the Governors. The
Presidency and some of its agencies have been
trying to arraign some state governors in vain
because of the immunity clause of section 308 of
the 1999 Constitution.

  Section 70(h) disqualifies any one that, "within
a period of 10 years before the date of an
election he has been indicted for embezzlement or
fraud by a judicial commission of inquiry or a
tribunal of inquiry act, a tribunal set up under
the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, a Tribunal of
Inquiry law or any other law of the federation"
from contesting any election. To some people, the
language used here puts the victims at a
disadvantage, unlike how the 1999 Constitution
states it in section 66(1)(h).

  The North feels uncomfortable with the provision
of 168(3) which to its delegates, nullifies the
Supreme Court verdict on the onshore/off shore
case when it states: "for the purpose of this
section, the 200 metre water depth isobaths
contiguous to a state of the federation shall be
deemed to be part of the state for the purpose of
computing the revenue accruing to the federation
account from the state."

  Section 168(4) states: "accordingly, for the
purpose of the application of the principle of
derivation, it shall be immaterial whether the
revenue accruing to the federation account from
the state is derived from natural resources
located onshore or offshore".

  If approved, henceforth, the impeachment of
either the president or the governor by the
legislature shall now be handled by the
constitutional court where the chief executives
can appeal to.

  But from the look of things, the executive has
lost out as both Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah and Prof
Is-haq Oloyede, the co-secretaries of the
conference at a press conference descended
heavily on Prof Jerry Gana short of calling him a
liar for presenting the draft constitution which
did not originate from the Clement Ebri Panel as
promised by Mr President in his inaugural address.

  Some delegates are even calling for the
withdrawal of the President's men - Gana, Kanu
Agabi, Greg Mbadiwe and Waziri Mohammed for their
roles. The Secretariat has told them "we have no
power to do so". But the agitators are even
threatening to withdraw if the men surface at the
plenary session.


  Nigerians in Diaspora ask for extension of Obasanjo's tenure

  By Ben Duru, Correspondent, Owerri

  A group of Nigerian industrialists based in the
United States of America and Europe have said
that it is only the administration of President
Olusegun Obasanjo that can muster the will to
battle corruption to its logical conclusion.

  To this end, they have canvassed that the ruling
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), should amend the
party constitution to allow him run for another
four year-term after which a fresh candidate
would be allowed to mount the saddle.

  Prince Osita Oparaugo said eight years is not
enough to combat the corruption scourge which has
eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation and
that it behoves on Nigerians to appreciate the
extent of rot and the amount of work left to be

  He insisted that if it were a normal situation
where everything is working accordingly, no one
would make such appeal saying it was because
these are uncanny times and that to do battle
with the high and mighty connected onto the
corruption train, the country needs someone with
the ability to carry on the war.

  Oparaugo, who is a Dutch based Nigerian
industrialist, maintained that with what they
have seen in other countries, it is better for
Nigeria to allow an administration that has so
far shown good faith to carry on insofar as the
war against corruption is achievable.

  He said that it is possible that the next
president may not have the will or the clout to
battle corruption and that it would mean that the
country would return to square one adding that
those who are clamouring for the extension of
tenure are not doing so based on greed.

  "Other Nigerians in the United States and Europe
have met and have formed a Non-Governmental
Organisation ( NGO) known as the Obasanjo Unity
Group", he said adding: "Its aim is to propagate
the extension of Obasanjo's tenure. As you can
see, I am just coming in from America. I held
talks with other Nigerian industrialists and we
have come to the conclusion that the man who can
really give corruption a good fight is President


Extension of tenure campaign in focus

Emmanuel Owette

The impression created by successive Nigerian
leaders in the pursuit of their policy programmes
and actions, has forced Nigerians to hold them in
distrust and suspicion. Our leaders' penchant for
double - speak is so much that you cannot hold
them by their words, not to talk of expecting
them to keep faith with signed agreements (you
can ask the NLC president or even the ASUU

In fact, this is how the phrase "hidden agenda"
crept into the nation's political lexicon and,
has refused to go away from the sub-conscious of
the citizenry, even with the exit of the
dictators in military uniform.

Here, it has to be observed that this penchant
for double - speak and the accompanying 'hidden
agenda' suspicion, is mostly associated with the
rulers in military uniform. Name them: Gen.
Yakubu Gowon, promised a hand-over to elected
civilians in 1975, but reneged, as he could not
imagine letting go of political power.

  As for Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, he had no choice
but to complete the transition programme started
by his boss (the late Gen. Murtala Mohammed), as
he was not sure of the possible reaction of the
Nothern elements in the military, in the event of
any manipulation to stay on in power.

  Gen. Mohammadu Buhari could not be placed, not
only because he had no transition programme, but
also because his regime was cut short in a palace

Then came Gen. Ibrahim Babangida whose transition
programme, was noted more for the constant
shifting of the goal post - that even when he
became a 'maradona', the "hand of God" was not of
much assistance to him, to score the 'hidden
goal' he was aiming at. He stepped aside.

  Next, came (the late) Gen. Sani Abacha whose
initial position was that his stay would be a
brief one, as according to him, his interest was
to clear the political impasse (created by his
predecessor) and quickly hand over. But soon, the
dark-goggled General, started to act differently
as his focus now was on self-succession, goaded
by most of the people who today parade themselves
as our political leaders.

  And as for Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, it was
clear that the situation on ground could not
allow him to play any self-succession pranks. The
only thing he made sure was that the nation's
foreign reserve that reportedly stood at nearly
£8 billion then, was 'eaten' down to a little
above £3 billion within a period of less than one
year in office!

Now, with the inception of this democracy (with a
clear and unambiguous constitutional provision,
with regard to term of office), every reasonable
person felt that the issue of "hidden agenda"
(and the crisis it occasions) would no longer
find mention in the nation's political discourse.
But as we sauntered along this largely
macadamized democratic path, the nation was
awoken to the allegation that, behind certain
actions of President Olusegun Obasanjo, was a
'hidden agenda' lurking somewhere.

  However, while some people (including my humble
self) were wondering how any sane person would
think of getting involved in any hidden agenda
project that would clearly run against the rule
of law and constitutional stipulation (as to
tenure), the Wada Nas' of this world, were ready
to swear by the Holy Quran, that Mr. President
had a hidden agenda to stay beyond 2007. In fact,
it was Alhaji Nas himself who first blew the lid
open that Baba had a secret committee working for
him on how to prolong his tenure. But after a
staccato of denials, the Presidency owned up to
the existence of such a committee - but that it
was actually set up to work out an agenda for a
national confab that was yet to be convoked at
the time!

Even when the confab was eventually set up, both
the facts of the initial opposition by the
presidency to any form of conference and the
method adopted in convoking same, heightened the
suspicion of the critical elements in the
society, that the confab has a 'hidden agenda'
-an allegation that informed the civil
opposition's non-participation in the ongoing

  And shortly after the commencement of the
Confab, Nigerians started having reports that
tended to accord the apparition of 'hidden
agenda' some form of reality. First, we heard
that the President parleyed with the South-West
delegates at his Ota farm, where he reportedly
asked them to, among other things, support a
five-year single tenure (in a Presidential
system) with him to kick-start it. However, we
learnt that the meeting ended in a hot exchange
of words between the Owu chieftain and the
delegates, as the latter asked whether that was
why he brought them to Abuja, to shame and
rubbish their names before Nigerians.

  Again, there was this report that the Presidency
dispatched some aides, is it to Cameroun, to
study how that country's ruler succeeded in
perpetuating himself in office and, may be, come
home and advise accordingly! And soon, the
president was reported as having told the world,
in far away Germany, that he was under immense
pressure to continue in office beyond 2007. While
this pronouncement was still causing some ripples
at home, Nigerians woke up to yet another
surprise - the smuggling of a 'mystery" draft
constitution into a few hands in the confab
chambers, a fact the president has just accepted,
that he was privy to (after the initial denial by
the Fani-Kayodes of this traumatized nation, that
the presidency had nothing to do with the said
anonymous document).

Well, that this document is causing some
controversy across the nation's political
landscape, is not because the presidency (like
any other Nigerian or interest group) has no
right to articulate its views on a catholicity of
issues, and submit same to the Confab for
consideration, nor that it was submitted out of
time, but that the six-year single tenure
contained therein, should be kick-started by His
Excellency, as is being presently championed by
the Greg Mbadiwes, Jerry Ganas, Kanu Agabis (and
which campaign some delegates have reportedly

  According to these foot-soldiers, this would
entail "just" adding two more years to the
president's current 4-year last lap to enable him
complete the "good works" he has started (i.e his
reforms) which of course, include the swelling of
the unemployment market with 60,000 civil
servants, soon to be sent home.

  Now, while it may be comforting that the
Judiciary Committee of the confab has reportedly
rejected the "dummy" document for reasons of
being submitted out of time, we still feel that
the snake is merely scotched but not killed. This
is because Baba's foot-soldiers have reportedly
sworn to re-introduce this document at the confab
plenary session and infiltrate the ranks of the
delegates, to ensure that the controversial two
(more) years, is secured for His Imperial Majesty.

  In fact, it is seemingly more comforting, that
the president has said (in his last the
Presidency Explains programme) that he is going
in 2007. But with due respect, it is our
contention that his Excellency should not hold it
against Nigerians, if they are not in a hurry to
believe him and, go to sleep with their two eyes
closed. We say this because Nigerians have not
forgotten the scenario during the regimes of
Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha - that
while the dictators were denying any
self-succession plot, massive public resources
and security apparatus were freely deployed for
the use of their footsoldiers. Even, President
Obasanjo can bear witness to this.

  In other words, yes the President has said that
he is going in 2007, while he has equally told
the world in Germany that he is under pressure to
continue in office. This is a contradiction. But
while it may not be appropriate to suggest that
His Excellency goes back to Germany to correct
whatever impression he might have created in the
minds of the civilized democratic world regarding
his going in 2007 or not, the only decisive step
he should take, to elicit the trust of Nigerians
(that they should for once hold him by his
words), is to publicly disown these
extension-of-tenure campaigners, recall them from
the ongoing confab and, send them packing from
whatever positions they are holding in his

You see, the masses of this country have had
enough in the hands of these politicians (90 per
cent of whom, somebody has said, are Abacha men)
who are bent on dragging this nation into
political liquidation, only to jet out to join
their families in foreign lands, Now, let us ask
ourselves some questions.

Why can't anything positive and worthy of praise
and emulation, ever come from this country? In
fact, why are some people (for personal gains)
ever bent in ensuring that this country remains
in a perpetual odium and ridicule before the
civilized world? Are we not the people who
insisted (just yesterday) that the rule of law
and constitutional stipulation, be followed in
the leadership succession in Togo?

I think that these tenure-extension apostles and
whoever they are working for, should be told that
it is offensive to constitutionality and
democratic practice, to think that the tenure of
any person elected by the electorate for a
constitutionally-fixed tenure (at the time of the
election) can be extended by any person or
authority, even in the name of constitutional
amendment. It is clear that it is only under a
national emergency situation, that the tenure of
the president can be extended, as provided for
under sect. 305 of the 1999 Constitution, and no

  The contention here is that the leg on which the
Nigerian polity is standing today, is so wobbly
that any additional weight or confusion placed on
it, such as the present campaign for extension of
tenure, is capable of forcing it to cave in and
with it, the corporate existence of this country
will be extinguished. Caution, is the word.

Barr Emmanuel Owette, of F.A. Onuzulike & Co., Chambers wrote from Owerri.