Thursday, April 08, 2004

allAfrica: 'No Plan to Extend Obasanjo's Tenure'

Now here's a promise by an African leader that I can believe, for a very good reason: he's kept it before. In fact, prior to General Abdulsalami's handover of power in 1999, Obasanjo was the only Nigerian head of state ever to voluntarily leave office, and precisely on schedule to boot.

The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and vice chairman, Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Hon. Austin Opara, has said contrary to insinuations the committee would not make any provision for a third term in the reviewed constitution.

Opara, who spoke in Abakaliki at a reception ceremony organised by the Ebunwana community in honour of the chairman, House Committee on Co-operation and Integration in Africa, Hon. Irem Ibom said "there is no provision for a third term. It is unnecessary and we cannot make such provisions in our constitution".

While describing the idea of a third term as "very unreasonable and absolutely uncalled for", he berated Nigerians for their penchant for orchestrating rumours and making an issue out of a non-issue.

"As a people, we must stop selling ridiculous ideas to people. A third term is alien to us by all ramifications. It is unconstitutional and Nigeria is too big for a thing like that. I strongly doubt that Mr. President is nursing such an ambition", Opara maintained.

He pointed out that "the way we are orchestrating this matter is surprising. This rumour has suddenly become an issue when it should not be. There is no provision for a third term".

On fears that the review committee may be influenced by the presidency to allow a third term, Opara remarked that "there is nothing like manipulation here. I want to categorically state that since the committee started its work, Mr. President has neither contacted, spoken to nor made overtures, whether overtly or covertly to us. So there is no interference".

He hinted that the committee is likely to complete its work within the year adding that "we want to submit our report by either before mid year or towards the middle of this year to the two chambers of the National Assembly for deliberation".

There have never been allegations of a third term provision in the constitution.

But since the previous session of the National Assembly initiated moves to review the constitution, there has been campaign for a single term of five-year term for president and governor instead of the present two term of four years.

When the present National Assembly equally commenced efforts to review the constitution, there were speculations that President Olusegun Obasanjo may be scheming to extend his tenure and run for another term by manipulating the National Assembly to adopt the single five-year term. The adoption of a single five-year term, it is feared will give the president and governors another opportunity to stay on in office post - 2007.

While Presidency and officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have denied this, the speculation has refused to abate.

I do believe that Obasanjo is being genuine when he says he has no plans for a third term in office, though it isn't because I'm a fan of the man by any means. I think he's been an incredibly weak and ineffectual leader, whose failure to act in the face of Islamist pressures for the adoption of Sharia has only emboldened the extremists, while his promises to deregulate vital parts of the Nigerian economy such as fixed-line telecoms and electricity generation have come to nothing; economically, Nigeria has made absolutely no progress under Obasano's watch. Nonetheless, as Nigerian leaders go, he's about the only one who seems to understand that the office he holds isn't his personal property, to be held onto for as long as possible for the purpose of looting - which I recognize isn't really saying much by global standards of governance.