How To Kill A Third Term

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Olusegun Obasanjo

Democracy and the African chief are mortal enemies.

The chief in Africa sees himself as a permanent fixture who must never be disturbed by such matters as elections that democracy promotes.

The Nigerian chief is the giant amongst all African chiefs, and it is incumbent on the chief of Nigeria to treat democracy and the constitution anyhow he likes.

It is quite striking that President Muhammadu Buhari is using every opportunity to mouth off that he does not want to extend his tenure – as though he is doing the world a favour.

During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time as president he equally kept denying that he planned to extend his tenure.

But we have it on the authority of former United States Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, via page 638 of her autobiography, No Higher Honour: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, that Obasanjo, despite his repeated denials, had in fact approached the then U.S. President George W. Bush for support to amend the Nigerian Constitution in the bid to extend his tenure in office.

Condoleeza Rice writes: “In 2006, when President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria sidled up to the President [Bush] and suggested that he might change the constitution so that he could serve a third term, the President told him not to do it. ‘You have served your country well. Now turn over power and become a statesman.’”

Mrs. Oluremi Obasanjo, Obasanjo’s first wife, said on page 16 of Sunday Sun, February 28, 2016: “When he (Obasanjo) was still president, Iyabo (Obasanjo’s first daughter) told me that she was at a meeting when they were discussing the issue of the third term. Knowing that her father does not like people opposing him, she decided to wait till everyone had left the venue of the meeting. When they were alone, she told him that this third term that he was seeking for would not work in Nigeria and advised him to forget about it. But he told her that she should leave him alone, and went on to mention some countries in Africa where their presidents amended the constitution and got third term. He was not happy with her for suggesting that he dropped his third term ambition. But people like Andy Uba, who we used to call the de-facto president urged him on. We used to joke in our house that he (Andy) was the president, while Obasanjo was the vice president. If Andy didn’t like your face, you are finished.”

Former Senate President Ken Nnamani in his recently published memoir, Standing Strong: Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate, states: “The battle against the third term bid of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 was certainly the most defining task of my tenure as president of the Fifth Senate of the Nigerian legislature.”

In short, Ken Nnamani was the one man with a gavel who changed the course of Nigerian history.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Amendment) Bill, 2006, that later became tagged as the Third Term Bill, proposed 116 amendments to the 1999 Constitution including provisions for handling the process of local government creation, the independence of the third tier of government, the nature of immunity for public officers, the rights to residency privileges, the rotation of power, and an issue very dear to Senator Nnamani, to wit, creating a new state in the Southeast to put it at par with the other geo-political zones.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 was Nigeria’s date with history – the climax of the debate for the review of the 1999 Constitution was up for a final decision, and the most controversial issue in the entire pack was the granting of what had come to be known as a Third Term for President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Senate President Ken Nnamani presided over the momentous session, in front of live TV, with uncommon leadership acumen such that the constitutional review was comprehensively rejected alongside the poisonous third term clause.

The history of Nigeria would have been changed to the odious course of the tenure elongation whims of incumbent presidents, much as had led to the doom of many African countries in the past.

Nnamani and the other senators who stood tall to thwart the third term bill paid the prize of not being allowed to return to the senate by a vengeful presidency.

With the defeat of the third term project, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was shooed in to contest for the presidency with all the catastrophic consequences.

Ken Nnamani stresses: “I believe it is important to call out former President Obasanjo for his constant denial of what was very glaringly an attempt by him to elongate his stay in office, rather than watch from a distance and allow him rewrite history to cover that blemish on his record. The former president continues to deny any involvement in that bid to procure himself a third term, against the constitution which brought him into office, and which he swore to uphold. He has codified this untruth by publishing it in a book and this is dangerous for posterity. So, it is important to clear things up and call them what they are.”

Even as the third term bid was killed under the watch of Obasanjo, Nigerians must as ever be vigilant.

Democracy and the African chief are not the best of friends.

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