By JONATHAN MONOK
When Southern politicians innocently gathered in Enugu last December to discuss Nigeria’s political future, little did most participants realized that they were subtly dancing to President Obasanjo’s silent tunes of third term ambition. And the communiqués at the end of the historic Southern political summit is now a subject of controversy, because its wordings did not faithfully follow the intention of the President. While the North and South were plunged at each other’s throat, unaware they were being manipulated by the third term foot soldiers, the Presidency was exploring for more room for manoeuvre.
Now, however, the hidden motive of the Enugu political conference is coming out of the woodwork. The Presidency would have wanted the communiqué to call for the retention of power by the South rather than rotating it to either South-South or Southeast. For misreading the script, the Chief convener of the Enugu conference, Mr. Chimaroke Nnamani is now in a mess, because as far as Gen. Obasanjo is concerned, the political interest of Southern Nigeria begins and ends with him. Retention of power by the South means allowing Obasanjo to continue in office against the provision of the constitution which entitles him to two terms in office. Critics of his silent agenda, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) are now vindicated by the dramatic turn of events. Indeed, a clearer picture of why Atiku Abubakar ran into collision course with his boss over alleged disloyalty is also now emerging. The Vice President’s insistence on respecting the constitution was thus the beginning of his persecution, because he refused to collaborate to undermine the constitution.
One of the oft-repeated arguments of third term promoters is that President Olusegun Obasanjo needs more years in power to consolidate the “gains” of his reform agenda, which they fear, may be reversed should a “wrong” person step into the shoes of the President in 2007 (granting that the Otta General bows to reality in the end). The fact that the President has not settled on a possible successor yet speaks volumes about his inexorable commitment to the increasingly unpopular third term political project.
However, the biggest puzzle facing many Nigerian democrats is the question of why a President as old as Gen. Obasanjo would regard power a matter of life and death. Is he truly motivated by patriotism or the fear of uncertain political future by his seeming determination to exploit all tricks in the bag to manipulate constitutional amendment in a way that could guarantee him extra years to accomplish the unfinished aspects of his reforms? Specifically, are the President and the chorus boys of third term agenda scared of coming to account after leaving office ?
Perhaps, we may also ask other more questions. Does the President so much love us more than we love ourselves that the future of Nigerians crucially depends on his continuation in office? In fact, does democracy itself face imminent risk of demise should Gen. Obasanjo be pressurized out of office?
The devastating reality, which the third term promoters don’t want to acknowledge is that they are pursuing the project for the wrong reasons – with patriotism being a simulacrum behind which they disguise their ulterior motives. Since a public office will always outlive its occupant, it is fatuous to insist that Nigeria will be worse off after Obasanjo. And this argument ignores the fact that there are many more Nigerians with better ideas, knowledge, vision and equal patriotic fervour to move our country forward after Gen. Obasanjo does us the “favour” of quitting office honourably in 2007 as required by the constitution, when a leader perceives himself as the personification of the state (a notion of power that afflicts the mind of our own super-patriotic President), it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince him that others can be as good or patriotic as he is.
A leader’s conviction of his imagined indispensability has frequently caused problems for nations looking for change. In August 1993, when he was finally cornered in the wake of the June 12 political crisis, contrived by his perpetual ambition for power, former President Babangida told the nation that his decision to quit was a “personal sacrifice.” Such is the psyche of most dictators and it would take “personal sacrifice” to convince President Obasanjo to leave office gloriously. Perhaps, Gen. Babangida can even be forgiven for the “personal sacrifice” of forgoing his ambition for Nigeria’s unity. After all, didn’t he risk his life to stage a coup to come to power in the first place? He didn’t need our mandate; all he needed was to muster and mobilize loyal soldiers and tanks to realize his ambition.
In Gen. Obasanjo’s case, however, he exercises power, which arguably derives from the mandate of Nigerians after his election in 1999 and re-election in 2003. Besides, the constitution of the country is a binding document by which he was to operate, thus his term in office is fixed by it. A coup plotter by contrast, does not have that limitation, because once he successfully takes power, he suspends the constitution and introduces emergency decree to achieve legitimacy under the so-called doctrine of effectiveness.
However, a democratically elected President like Obasanjo does not have the licence to treat the constitution with levity by defying his term of office. Admittedly, few leaders especially in Africa, cheerfully welcome the prospects of leaving office honourably, though great men like Nelson Mandela and the late Dr. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania are remarkable exceptions. Although President Obasanjo loves to shine in the reflected glory of leaders like Mandela, he does not curiously want to follow their examples of humility.
It is now increasingly evident that the third term promoters are motivated by darker motive than sheer patriotism, and hence their determination to defy reason, popular opinion and the constitution, with a view to imposing themselves on sick and tired citizens. They are scared of taking the does of their own medicine after leaving office, because their gospel of transparency is virulently infected by insincerity.
Hunted by the fear that a successor administration to President Obasanjo may call them to account like they have done others, the third term promoters would prefer to die in office than quit to face the reckoning of their own conduct in office. Those that ran the bitter pills of accountability down the throats of others are now themselves afraid to taste similar medicine after leaving office. Indeed, the fear for their own future rather than the future of Nigeria, is feeding the stubborn posture of the third term promoters.
According to media reports, the Presidential committee for constitutional review, established since 1999 by the President, has secretly advised Gen. Obasanjo against his third term ambition. Quoting anonymous but dependable insiders in the corridors of power, the press reported that the committee, which comprises security officials, warned the President that the consequences of the project are by far greater than any perceived gain. It was, however, reported that the President was unimpressed by the report.
If anyone ever held the notion that the President had abandoned his third term ambition, the latest signals coming from the Southwest PDP Governors, who reportedly endorsed the political project, should open the eyes of those credulous Nigerians. In fact, even the decision by the Governors’ forum to support “a comprehensive” review of the constitution was reportedly part of the plot hatched at Otta Farms after a meeting between the President and some Governors silently working to bring about the third term ambition. Even the so-called good will message from to the President to the Governors’ meeting had confirmed suspicions that the whole thing was manipulated to achieve a specific end. Any other issue of constitutional amendment is of secondary importance to the Presidency once the third term agenda cannot be guaranteed.
Though majority of the Governors had their misgivings about the third term project, they eventually succumbed to blackmail, because the EFCC is being used to good effect. What we have under this increasingly desperate third term subtle campaign is: your support or your reputation. Most Governors had to toe the line against the grain for the fear of being blackmailed. In the words of Senator William Marcy (USA), “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” And since President Obasanjo and his hatchet men have overrun the PDP and seized its control by crudest undemocratic means, blackmail has become their weapon against any stubborn opponent of third term agenda, including State Governors, who are reduced to paper tigers by this method.
With blackmail effectively deployed by the third term promoters, majority of the Governors have retreated to their holes like terrified rats at the sight of devouring mice! However, what the third term advocates cannot destroy is the truth. So far, not a single credible politician, elder statesman and clergyman in Nigeria has thrown his weight behind the maniacal third term ambition of the President. Besides, has any international figure of repute, including those perceived as President Obasanjo’s friends, declared his public sympathy for the audacious third term ambition? Isn’t this a ringing message for the third term promoters? As one wise man said, “conscience is like a mirror, take a look at it and you would know who you are.”
The Southwest PDP Governors cannot and should not speak for the rest of Nigerians in such crucial issue of third term adventure. According to them, President Obasanjo should be given a third term in office because of his “unparalleled” achievements in Nigeria’s political development. Rather than helping the cause of the President, the Southwest PDP Governors have further fractured the ligament that holds General Obasanjo’s credibility over the issue. They have exposed the fact that President Obasanjo is more committed to his personal ambition than the collective political aspiration of the South.
If truly he is committed to a collective Southern political aspiration, why didn’t he stand down for Dr. Alex Ekwueme in 2003? Does Southern Presidential ambition mean the continuation of President Obasanjo in office? Is President Obasanjo’s obsession to rule for life necessarily synonymous with collective southern political interest? How long can Chief Bode George and other third term soldiers go on fooling Nigerians? Let them be reminded of the words of Gen. Norman Swartzkopf, the Gulf War American hero (1990-91), who said, “the higher up the flagpole the monkey goes, the more he exposes his arise.”