Thursday, January 4, 2018 12:37 pm
President Olusegun Obasanjo perfects strategies to elongate his tenure
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
The drama now has all the trappings of a reversal of roles in its comic and serious dimensions. When General Ibrahim Babangida, IBB for short, was military President, riding roughshod over his subjects, manipulating politicians like a puppeteer and adopting all the tricks in the book to sit tight in office, Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general tending his fowls and pigs in his Ota farm, was a pain in his neck.
In a speech he could have delivered at IBB’s aborted Council of States meeting in November 1992, Obasanjo advised IBB not to ‘‘mistake the silence of Nigerians for weakness and the sycophancy of the greedy and opportunistic people who parade the corridors of power as representatives of the people’s true feelings.’’ In his words: “Nigeria needs peace and stability. It is too fragile to face another commotion. In God’s good name, drag it not into one. This is the time for you to have some honourable exit.” But how time and people change!
The same Obasanjo, a beneficiary of the political crises beginning from the annulled 1993 election, is pursuing the same IBB script of how to remain in power eternally. Currently, President Obasanjo and his foot soldiers are bent on achieving their objective through some stratagems. The state governors are being arm twisted into supporting the plan; some national legislators are currently being used; Aso Rock, the seat of power, has appointed national coordinators and strategic committees for the project. The constitutional amendment is another matter. There is also the one-party state idea which guides all goings-on in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has, given its formidable war chest and access to the instruments of force, dwarfed other political parties.
All doubting ‘Thomases’ have now been converted into believing that, in spite of President Obasanjo’s past denials and the arguments of his son, Gbenga, that he is an old man who wants to retire to his country home, the Nigerian President’s tenure elongation plan is on course. All but one of the South-West governors actually gave vent to this on Saturday 3 February at the June 12 Cultural Centre, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. That was during President Obasanjo’s visit to the state, which was marking the 30th anniversary of its creation. Governor Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State set the ball rolling, singing in Yoruba: Ani baba kan, baba ara to moyi omo… ko fi wa sere (we have a father who values his children…He does not joke with us).
Not to be outdone by others, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti, jumped forward, rotated and bent double before the President, singing: Awon to n’yomi lenu baba, Yo won lenu o, Awon to n’poro emi mi baba Poro emi won o! (Baba, please deal with my enemies who make life a hell on earth for me). In appreciation, the President covered Fayose with his agbada in a fatherly manner. It was when an itinerant poet stepped in that a hidden agenda was revealed. He itemized all the achievements of Mr. President, arguing that he should be persuaded to continue the good work. Then the choice band took its cue from there, chanting se eyin fowo si third term (do you support third term?). Shouts of ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ enveloped the arena. At that point, the President claimed that he was caught unawares. If a section of political analysts considered what happened in Ogun State that day as happenstance, the orchestrated support that the Governors’ Forum gave the idea would knock the shoes off the feet of doubters. On Monday, 30 January, the Governors’ Forum held a 4-hour meeting in Abuja, under the leadership of Obong Victor Attah, the Akwa Ibom Chief Executive. He admonished that a total review of the 1999 Constitution must take place without let or hindrance. “The National Assembly should,” the Governor, suggested, “expedite action on the commencement of public hearing so that the exercise would be completed within the life of this administration.”
A source confided in TheNEWS: “The governors were rather more forthcoming in taking a stand on the proposed amendment of the constitution. Though we all unanimously agreed that amendment of the constitution is desirable, efforts by some of us to convince some governors that their insistence on the amendment being completed in the life of this administration was not in the best interest of the country were generally rebuffed. This gave room for us to believe that a pre-meeting agreement had been reached by some people who needed the amendment for their selfish interest.” Another confidant told this magazine that some of the state chief executives warned against amending the proposed 102 clauses, especially the extension of the federal and state executives’ tenure, immunity clause removal, conceding local government control to the federal government and the scrapping of the Independent Electoral Commission in the Electoral Act by the National Assembly.”
Why did the governors feel concerned about the National Assembly’s apparent pussyfooting on amendment of the constitution? The reason is that the National Assembly, which had notoriety for going for the highest bidder, surprised political bookmakers by its stand on the matter. On 1 February 2006, the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution argued that it was unethical for the panel to adopt the sub-committee’s report on constitution amendment. That was based on the ideas put forward by Wunmi Bewaji, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) leader in the House of Representatives and Senator Kanti Bello. The reaction of Mantu’s committee jolted Aso Rock so much that, for now, it has shifted focus from the National Assembly, momentarily, to the 36 governors, making use of the age-old stick-and-carrot tactic. For Attah, the hostilities he suffered from the Federal Government during his war on resource control, and on-shore offshore dichotomy, has become history. No longer will Akwa Ibom’s monthly allocation be reduced on account of the dichotomy.
According to Dimgba Igwe of The Sun, “The historic meeting took place after Attah had accompanied the President to some international junket in Davos, Switzerland, where the benighted Attah had the benefit of proximity to power and probably in such rare close quarters, went through his own Pauline equivalent of Damascus experience. He saw the light and came to the inevitable conclusion that it is hard to kick against the pricks.” To many watchers of Attah’s politics, “all the talk about South-South presidency and dictatorship has fizzled out.” Aso Rock’s stick also swirled and landed on Governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) went after his Special Adviser on Political Affairs and Local Government Matters, Mr. Sam Ejiofor as well as his Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Peter Mba. Mr. Chidi Nwatu, Chairman, Nkwanu West Local Government is also being investigated. His ‘sin’ was that he allowed the Southern Leaders’ Conference in Enugu to be hijacked by anti-third term storm troopers who, with the rowdiness of wolves in a pack, were shouting for a South-South presidential candidate in 2007. But the Enugu Governor appears to have changed gear, becoming the first state executive to openly campaign for OBJ’s third term. Nnamani’s logic was that God, in his wisdom, placed Obasanjo “in positions of history, right from the point of the time of hostilities of 1967 to 1970 and the terminus of the Murtala Muhammed administration.’’ Apart from citing the humane manner the President ended the Nigeria-Biafra hostilities, Nnamani said his first administration, in the 1970s, witnessed a lot of expansion in the country’s economic and infrastructural bases, universities, colleges of education, the seaports, shipping lines, the Nigeria Airways, the Enugu-Port Harcourt as well as Enugu-Onitsha expressways.
The Enugu Governor argued further that Obasanjo’s second coming made possible the removal of Nigeria’s pariah status, attracting of global investments, privatization, the $18 billion debt relief, telecommunications and energy sector deregulation, and a dynamic foreign policy. “So if the constitution is amended and a situation arises where the PDP offers President Obasanjo nomination, he accepts and runs, I believe he is a good product,” Nnamani said, arguing that if the constitution is amended under a democratic setting, sit-tight syndrome does not arise. Nnamani addressed a press conference in Lagos on 7 February, and declared that his support for constitutional amendment to enable President Obasanjo have one more term had nothing to do with the probe of his aides by EFCC officials. He claimed that his support for Mr. President started eight years ago. “Right from that day in 1998 when the President landed at the Enugu airport to the embrace of Chief JSP Nwokolo, an old friend of the President and myself, the relationship between the President and me has always been that of a father and of a son… I have always lived up to his billing as a frontline supporter of the President.”
To further give teeth to the third term agenda, Aso Rock has set up a team of national coordinators, otherwise called the strategic committee on third term agenda. Chief Tony Anenih, popularly called ‘Mr. Fix it’, will coordinate the Southeast and South-South, cultivating state and federal legislators as well as traditional rulers for the project. Governor Agagu is to perform the same task in the Southwest. Governors Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa and Mohammed Makarfi of Kaduna will coordinate the third term efforts in the North Central, Northeast and Northwest.
Meanwhile, a group, the National Unity Forum of the House of Representatives, met and declared its support for the elongation of Obasanjo’s term. David Idoko, a member of the House, heads it. “One of our primary duties is to go with the constitution. In our Nigeria today, so many issues are begging for amendment. There is nothing wrong if we want to amend the constitution to allow for the continuation of good governance.”
Members of the National Unity Forum ·
David Idoko · Halim Ochuko Agoda · Anthony Madwatte · Independence Chidoziem Ogunewe · Patience Ogbodo · Chuma Nzeribe · Leo Okuwe Ogor · Hadi Sirika · Nkechi Nwogu · Minimar Iquo – Inyang · Mercy Almona – Isei · Aliyu Wadada · Bobbo Gurin Nuhu · Mao Ohoobunwa · Binta Garba Koji · Almakura Muhammed · Chiniyerem Macebuh · Joseph Jayeola Ajatta · Patricia Udokwu · Yemi Arokodare · Ezekiel Anaka · Mustapha Lekan · Clever Ikisikpo · George Sekibo · Duro Faseyi · Suraju Danbatta · Bako Zaria · Okam Alex · Napoleon Gbinijie · Pascal Adigwe · Joel Ikenya Danlamin · Damian Ozurumba · Nwogu Chidi · Martins Oke · Ogbuef Ozongba Chi · Kayode Amosun · Tunde Akogun · Bernard Udoh · Essien Udoh · George Ozodinobi · Fatai Buhari · King Abdulaziz · Ado Dogo · Jeff Ojinika · Philip Aduda · Boulous India maowei · Ehiogie West Idahosa · Sani Shabau · Aliyu Omeiza Saiki · Adul Gaba Sawa
Like what obtained in Mobutu Sese Seko’s old Zaire and Gnassingbe Eyadema’s Togo, another aspect of President Obasanjo’s tenure-elongation plan is to turn Nigeria into a one-party state. Indeed, he argued in an essay, entitled “The New Order: The Party System,” published first by Newswatch on 27 February 1989 and culled by the late Abidina Coomassie in his documentary source book, Democracy and Political Opportunism In Nigeria, that, in 1979, his regime refrained from decreeing a one-party state or two-party system for Nigeria for three reasons. First, was that it would have meant tampering with the constitutional draft submitted by the Constituent Assembly. Second, a two-party system “would likely have ended in a geographical division, exacerbating one of our most persistent tensions, the North-South dichotomy, super-imposed on religious divisions and intolerance.” His third reason was that a one -party arrangement should “come through evolution and not through legislation.’
The President, therefore, suggested that Nigeria should adopt a one-party system because it is in consonance with a possible and logical outcome of our political development. “All I am saying is that we give nature and history a gentle push in the right direction. This appears to be the only procedural mechanism through which we can transcend the divisive and centrifugal forces tearing us apart and diverting our attention from the more monumental task of integration and nation building. For it is within such a purview that ultimate unity is always to be hoped for, the subordination of sectional opinions to the criteria of rationality.” General Obasanjo maintained that in some countries, their one-party state has been responsible for the enduring political and governmental continuity they are enjoying. Although Obasanjo sees the danger in the party becoming the state and vice versa, and “the personification of the party by the party leader which has produced life presidents,” he has not been practising what he preaches, given the way he has hijacked the PDP machinery for selfish reasons. Obasanjo knows too well that to perpetuate himself in power he must stifle the polity in such a way that only the ruling PDP thrives.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the federal government allegedly used the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deepen the schism in the opposition parties. “President Obasanjo appointed Professor Maurice Iwu as INEC National Chairman to kill the opposition parties in order to drift the nation into a one-party state and to prepare the ground for the take-off of Obasanjo’s life presidency. That is why INEC has plunged the main opposition parties – ANPP, AD and APGA – into crisis,” Chekwas Okorie, APGA pioneer Chairman told TheNEWS. Besides, to shrink the emasculation of the political space, the President has been building his own political structure within the top PDP hierarchy. From a political neophyte in 1998 with neither political clout nor structure of his own to run for the presidency, Obasanjo has finally hijacked the party from its founders. He did this by installing Ali as Chairman on 2 March 2005. This was after he had ordered armed men to force Chief Audu Ogbeh, then National Chairman, to resign. To ensure that the party’s Board of Trustees was in his firm grip, he ‘democratically’ planted his master strategist, Tony Anenih, as head of the BOT, though the position was not zoned to the South-South. The consensus in Aso Villa now is that, having turned the PDP into his lapdog; the President’s third term dream is a fait accompli.
However, the third term project may not be a walkover for the President, given the division among state governors and opposition by the international community. An indication that not all the governors support the plan emerged last Wednesday when they met at the Wadata Plaza, Abuja. Ali had summoned the governors to a meeting that began on Monday 6 February. He reportedly rolled out reasons why the PDP was drumming up support for Obasanjo’s tenure extension. And to the chagrin of his guests, the PDP helmsman brought out a pre-written communiqué endorsing the sit-tight agenda. But 18 governors out of the 28 in attendance shunned Ali, bringing the confabulation to a stalemate.
Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his Delta State counterpart were sighted at the reception of Wadata Plaza seething with anger. “We have resolved not to support third term because it is criminal and antithetical to the tenets of democracy. Is Obasanjo the only Nigerian? What have the people benefited from his years of misrule?” Kalu queried. Obasanjo’s plan may be stymied by signals coming from South Africa, Britain and the United States. Recently, when the South African National Civics Organization, a wing of the African National Congress (ANC), which supports President Thabo Mbeki, advised the party to take advantage of its majority in the national legislature to amend the constitution so that Mbeki could have an elongated tenure, the South African President declined. Mbeki said on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) TV: “For a long time, the ANC has taken a stand not to alter the constitution, even with two thirds majority support in government.” According to a report published by Business Day of South Africa, “Mbeki has staked his presidency on his leadership of the continent and has been vocal against African Presidents holding on to power for too long.” While Britain’s position on the matter was rather diplomatic, the United States came out smoking.
On 2 February, the US Intelligence boss, Jon Negroponte, told a US select committee on National Intelligence that the most important election on the African horizon would be held in the spring of 2007 in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and largest oil producer. Negroponte warned that the election had the potential to reinforce a democratic trend away from military rule or could lead to major disruptions in a nation suffering frequent ethno-religious violence, criminal activities and rampant corruption. “Speculation that President Obasanjo will try to change the constitution so he can seek a third term,” as Negroponte maintained, “is raising political tension and if proven true, threatens to unleash major turmoil and conflict. Such chaos in Nigeria could lead to disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows and instability elsewhere in West Africa.”
The Nigerian President in his own sermon, contained on Page134 of his book, This Animal Called Man” writes: “Dictators who rule by the force of power, oppression, and intimidation seldom relinquish power and control voluntarily to others …Sadly, one of the greatest tragedies of man is that he never learns from history, hence the saying that history repeats itself.”
Does President Obasanjo want to end up as a repeat of tragic history?
This story was first published in TheNEWS (hard copy) of 20 February 2006