THE NIGERIAN DISASTER CALLED OBASANJO
He made a lot of palaver about anti-corruption but there was the issue of the endless estacodes he garnered from travels around the world virtually every week, in a self-approved N9.3 billion jet, to enjoy civilized quality of life abroad, brought about in those countries by conscientious, dedicated, caring and focused leaderships. Yes, Obasanjo shelled out N9.3 billion (US $72 million), for his new power toy, a Boeing Business Jet 737-800 series for exclusive use, bringing to six, at the last count, the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet. In other words, our President had six assorted deluxe jets, while the US Air Force had only two aircraft available for the use of the US President. Whichever of the two the US President flew in, was designated Air Force One for that moment. Britain's Tony Blair proudly flew with the British Airways.
President Obasanjo loved chasing after shadows and he was too pre-occupied with day-to-day partisan party issues. He did not know when to separate being a statesman from being a party man. He went around the world regularly visiting other heads of states without learning anything from them. Obasanjo thought he was a PDP President. He did not know that once he had been elected into office, the PDP became a discrete issue in his portfolio and he became President of Nigeria and father for all. I think this was one of the most serious problems we had with Obasanjo. He boasted all the time about being a PDP, and attended their mundane activities, as if he was an ordinary rank and file member.
He was so involved in his party affairs that he succeeded in turning his party into a personal instrument of vendetta, and single-handedly took all its major decisions, as he tried to do on the government level for the entire country. He jettisoned his party's constitution; settled for non-elective rather than elective congresses and appointments into party positions, and alienated all the elders and founders of the party, and drove them into opposition parties. His Ministers also boasted about being party Ministers. I was shocked in 2005 when Ogunlewe, his onetime Minister for Works and Housing, told journalists that he was a PDP Minister.
One of the most serious problems that plagued us as a people during Obasanjo's second time in power was his disdain for the rule of law, and in particular, the laws of the land. A president who would not obey his own laws, forfeits moral grounds to enforce such laws? That was the main reason for the general increase in lawlessness in our society during Obasanjo's civilian leadership. Obasanjo introduced a vicious criminal streak that destroyed the moral fabric of our society. He actually worshiped criminality in a most unbecoming and disturbing manner. Court decisions taken against him or his regime were ignored.
For example, his holding on to huge funds legally due to Lagos State Councils was against the advice of two courts of the land, including the Supreme Court. His disrespect for court decisions became so frustrating that lawyers in the country had to go on strike by boycotting court sessions for a couple of days in March 2006, to protest against Obasanjo's high-handedness. And in a speech on May 31, 2006, the retiring Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Muhammed Uwais, described government's disregard of Court judgments as, “evidence of bad government.”
Obasanjo encouraged his lieutenants to ignore the laws and provided cover for them after the act. People who had access to Obasanjo took our laws into their own hands. They even went to him to share crooked banters because they assumed he loved listening to rogues and fraudsters, and would offer encouragement. To massage his ego, they told him he was the messiah Nigeria had been waiting for. He got carried away; patted the sycophants on the back, and gave them assignments on behalf of his party and government.
The President told the world in late 2003 that Chris Uba and Governor Chris Ngige confessed before him that the elections in Anambra state in 2003 were rigged. He said this without a sting of conscience or moral qualm. In fact, with his connivance and support, Chris Uba used the Federal police to abduct Governor Ngige because Ngige reneged on his promise to deliver substantial amount regularly from the state coffers to his political godfather, Chris Uba. When that strategy failed, Uba unleashed mayhem on the state with hired thugs hailed by police officers, burning cars and public buildings, including the state governor's premises. When the efforts failed to remove the governor from office, or make the state ungovernable so as to get a chance to declare a state of emergency, Obasanjo awarded oil block to Chris Uba, and Obasanjo's PDP sacked the governor from their party (the PDP), and promoted Chris Uba to the PDP's trusteeship board. Uba was a PDP hero. In other words, you could be the worst criminal in the world, if you joined the PDP you were covered, as long as you were sharing your loot with the party.
On the other hand, Ngige's name appeared to be too short for words, (he is short physically too). Imagine signing his own death warrant in broad daylight without undue duress, and having the effrontery later on to point accusing fingers. People lacking in self-honour and principles should not be allowed to rubb**h our cherished values. Despite this, a coup is a coup, whether civilian or military, and Uba's lawlessness in Anambra state should have been visited with the due process of the law.
Obasanjo replicated the Anambra state saga in Oyo state where an illiterate political godfather to Rashidi Ladoja, the governor of the state, was insisting on sharing the purported state's security vote of N65 million monthly with the governor. The governor was playing footsie on the matter so, the national chairman of the governor's political party, the PDP, Dr. Ahmed Ali, advised the governor to respect the wish of his godfather, and play the politics of his state, (or Ibadan politics as he put it). The party chairman, who himself was an aberration, because the president short-circuited his party's constitutional provisions to plant him in the chairmanship position, was actually telling the governor to play ball and not be a f**l.
Impeachment of the governor required two-thirds of the 32 members of the State House of Assembly to succeed, so the godfather's 18 members in the house suspended their 14 members supporting the governor, and with the open backing of the Federal government, the Federal police prevented the 14 suspended members from attending the kangaroo assembly at which the 18 claimed to have impeached the governor. Obasanjo did not have sleepless nights over the matter. If anything, he and his party felt fulfilled that the new governor they had installed was dancing to the tune of the godfather. It was possible that the new governor was sharing his security vote with the godfather who in turn shared it with party members, to the satisfaction of the President and his PDP. The illiterate godfather nominated 90% of the state's new commissioners and planted his crony, another stark illiterate, as the new Deputy-Governor.
Obasanjo sent Federal police to protect the illegal governor in office, and to tear-gas and arrest leaders of trade union and human rights groups, protesting against the illegality. The same way he tear–gassed, humiliated, and arrested our mothers, peacefully demonstrating solidarity with parents who had lost their children in an air-crash a few weeks earlier. Of course, governor Ladoja went to court, but that did not worry those who plotted the coup against him, because going by Nigerian courts' traditions, the matter could drag until the end of tenure of the illegal regime in May 2007.
Obasanjo condoned his party's fraudulent activities in Anambra and Oyo states but railed against his imagined Lagos state illegitimacy. In 2003, INEC (the Independent National Electoral Commission), posted false report on its Internet website some days before the actual gubernatorial election took place, giving victory in Lagos state to Obasanjo's party. No one ever heard Obasanjo comment on that, or on the PDP's well known rigged elections across Nigeria in 2003, that put him in power. Peter Obi of APGA's stolen mandate, as the elected Governor of Anambra State, was restored in court, some three years into the illegal occupation of the position by Ngige of the PDP.
In the Delta State, rigging by the president's party showed that all registered voters came out to vote, whereas voting did not take place in most areas of the state. The court ruled in Buhari's case against Obasanjo, that the PDP massively rigged Obasanjo's home state, Ogun, in 2003. Obasanjo not only rigged to claim that all registered voters in Ogun State voted during the 2003 elections, he added 600,000 fictitious votes of his own, to exceed the list of registered voters.
At a meeting with the South-West caucus of his party, the PDP, during a visit to Ogun state in early February 2006, Obasanjo said: “The person who rigged the elections in Lagos State came to me. You know I am a man of my words. It was in the presence of Bode George. The person prostrated and begged me. He confessed that he was the one who falsified the results of Lagos state. I told him God allowed it; otherwise, he would have been attacked by leprosy.”
Now what kind of future is there if the president of an aspiring democracy, openly, proudly, and confidently, admits that he condones electoral fraud? Why would anyone go to the president to prostrate and beg him on anything if the person wasn't after some favours? The president did not contest election against the governor of Lagos state directly; therefore, such flippant talk should have been reserved for the PDP's secretariat. But knowing that the president was gullible and would gladly embrace riggers of elections, the tale-bearer went confidently to the seat of power, convinced of a hearing, and a place in the future election plans of the president.
The president did not hand the fraudster over to the Police or INEC because apparently the 'expert rigger of elections in Lagos state' was God-sent. As a result, Obasanjo assured his February 2006 Ogun state audience, that Lagos state was already as good as won by the PDP in 2007. In fact, he had publicly given similar assurance before. That was while he was attending a rally in Central Lagos in 2005. He said then that the PDP would 'capture' Lagos in 2007. 'Capture' is a very strong word to use. It is a language of war, inappropriate in a family, or the Nigerian union context, but he was not joking. He was seeing the opposition parties as enemies.
He told his February, 2006, Ogun state audience: “We don't want our enemies to surprise us but we have to surprise them so that by the time they open their eyes, they will discover that they are blind.” The president spoke of enemies as if he was at war with another country. He was supposed to be a father to all, but kept boasting instead of his rigging prowess, and confessing to aiding and abetting electoral fraud, (by the time they open their eyes), which obviously is a worst crime than converting state coffers into personal use, because rigged elections could lead to state disintegration.
To crush his enemies across the country, Obasanjo planted his cronies everywhere. He really did not have friends as such. If he could not use you, his parley-parley with you ended. Most people working with the president were compromised one way or the other. To compromise National Assembly members, the allegation is that he dangled lucrative contracts, oil bloc allocations, which they could sell to third parties, cash bribes, and other pecks. Compromise produced cobwebs in their cupboards, which he used to intimidate and coerce them.
When his criminal cronies were accused of corruption, he turned a blind eye, (and did not query or issue threats) to his Ministers loyal to him, and known to have been involved in abuse of office and book-keeping thefts. Chief Bode George, the deputy national leader of the president's party, the PDP, was alleged along with others to have corruptly enriched themselves to the tune of N81 billion when Chief George was Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and Ojo Madueke, the Secretary General of the PDP, was Minister for transport in charge of the NPA, but the president casually dismissed the findings of his EFCC by demanding further investigations to delay matters. Senators Mantu, Zwingina, and others, got off without a scratch with alleged attempts to extort N50 million bribe before confirming the nomination of Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai as Minister because of the President's overbearing influence on the Senate at the time.
Mantu, who was the Deputy President of the Senate, and the arrow-head at the National Assembly of President Obasanjo's attempt to elongate his mandate in office, allegedly personally approved and paid himself from the Senate coffers, N50m rent on his own house in which he lived at Abuja, and another N40m to furnish it. When a Senate Committee set up to investigate the matter during the heat generated over the 'third term agenda' of President Obasanjo at the National Assembly, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) authority, headed by Obasanjo's Minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, made it virtually impossible for the Committee to determine the ownership of Mantu's house.
The close subordinates used by Obasanjo as corruption scapegoats were people he planted in the system himself and discarded when they were no longer useful to his long-term agenda in power. Mr. Tafa Balogun, the onetime Inspector General of police, who stole N17 billion in office, N4.5 billion of which was from the Police Welfare fund, was appointed to the office and used to rig the 2003 elections from which Balogun garnered some of his loot.
Obasanjo planted Chief Adulphus Wabara on the Senate as president, and buffeted him with sumptuous contracts and oil bloc deals until Wabara started getting big headed and craving some independence. Obasanjo influenced his sack over a N55 million scam to teach Wabara and others thinking of defying the president, a lesson. Obasanjo said that much himself about the disgraced former president of the senate, who upset him for chasing after crumbs after being favoured with mouth-watering contracts. It made one wonder if the other well known corrupt lieutenants not given the Prof. Fabian Osuji's sack treatment as corrupt Minister, were not dropping pecks on Obasanjo's table.
Obasanjo often equated his personal feelings with that of the state and hounded perceived enemies to death or was nonchalant over issues affecting those who had offended him. The circumstances surrounding the unresolved deaths of Bola Ige, A.K Dikibo, Harry Marshall and Chuba Okadigbo, promoted the poisoned atmosphere for further political assassinations, including that of Funsho Williams in Lagos, and Ayo Daramola in Ekiti States, between mid July and early August, 2006. An atmosphere, which when taken along with the vicious and inhuman sacking of Odi and Zaki-Biam earlier, left a bad taste in the mouth about a possible sadist party, regime or despot, intolerant of opposition in the mould of the killer of Dele Giwa.
Urji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, who was alleged by the EFCC to have converted some N25 billion from his state money to personal use, along with Ahmed Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, considered by Obasanjo to be stubborn, were the two most vociferous and independent minded governors to regularly demonstrate against the buffoonery of the Federal government in public matters. They both suffered seriously for this. Obasanjo, apart from illegally withholding funds due to Lagos state, did everything within his power to frustrate physical development in the state, as if it was an enemy territory and not part of Nigeria. He withdrew the operating license of Kalu's thriving Slot airline to throw hundreds of employees into the unemployment market and destroy the airline. Kalu's airline had to quickly relocate to Gambia, where fortunately, it found succour as the country's national airline.
Obasanjo's love affairs with Gen. Buba Marwa reached its height when ANPP was courting Marwa to be their flag bearer for the 2003 presidential polls. Obasanjo bribed Marwa with the Chairmanship of the Defense Industries Corporation, and prevailed upon Marwa to wait until 2007, when he could facilitate his chances. By mid 2005, it had become obvious that Obasanjo was using Marwa to fight his dirty war against Atiku, since he had no intention of vacating power that soon. Marwa was detained by the EFCC in December 2005 for a couple of weeks for laundering money for Abacha. He was not formerly charged or tried; the EFCC claimed that they were investigating. It is obvious that the EFCC had known about the Marwa money laundering business for a long while but choose the time when Marwa's presidential campaign was becoming too strident and focused against the third term ambition of the president, to clip Marwa's wings. Marwa soon after his EFCC experience went into limbo and announced through a personal aide that he had never been interested in the presidency. He tried to return to the presidential race in mid 2006, but his credibility was already a dirty, smelly rag.
As for Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, another ex-military dictator, who was aspiring to return as president in 2007, although he threw his hat in the ring in 2005, no patriotic Nigerian took him seriously because everyone knew he was scared stiff of Nuhu Ribadu's EFCC, that had assembled a heavy dossier on him. Babangida betrayed his fear of EFCC when at his August 15, 2006, birthday lecture, he described Obasanjo as not being a saint himself. Babangida, of course, used the tenure elongation campaign of Obasanjo, to try to re-launch his presidential bid in April, 2006, by being seen to be on the side of the masses, but no Nigerian was in doubt about his antecedence on the issue of democracy and what he would do if he got back to power. Nigeria's massive foreign exchange savings would have been looted within hours of returning to power, that is for sure.
The accusation in 1999/2000 that the president's deputy, Atiku Abubakar, privatized Nigeria Incorporated to himself was not investigated because Obasanjo's third term ambition was not strong at the time. Atiku denied ownership of African Petroleum (AP), which in the end turned out to be a bobby trap, laced with huge hidden debt, and was re-acquired by the government through the NNPC Vice President Atiku Abubakar was the only strong, visible, potential presidential candidate fighting on doggedly while the tenure elongation issue lasted in the National Assembly.
On Thursday 7th September 2006, the Senate President read in the Nigerian Senate, a letter from President Obasanjo accompanying some documentary evidence, alleging conspiracy, fraudulent conversion of funds, corrupt practices, and money laundering, against the Vice President. The submission, which was for the information of the Upper House, claimed that the President, acting on information received from the USA government, set up an administrative panel to investigate the allegations against Vice President Atiku. The report of the panel, along with the findings of the EFCC, claimed that the Vice President utilized for private purposes, funds put in a fixed deposit account for the Petroleum Development Trust Fund (PDTF), a department of government under his care. In essence, the Vice President was acting as money lender with government money for personal profit. Atiku's defense was that he shared his loot with his Oga.
Apart from these numbing revelations about and from the VP, Obasanjo himself had loads of unanswered quarries on corruption, which Nuhu Ribadu was not prepared or in a position to investigate because Obasanjo was his boss. We usually did not get to know many details about the scams of our leaders until they left office so there was still time yet to expose and deal with Obasanjo. He spent billions of naira to guarantee uninterrupted power supply to the nation but only Aso Rock (the presidential villa) was partially out of darkness throughout his tenure. Instead of admitting that someone abused his trust or that they pocketed the investment on power supply and so could not plan properly, they kept insulting us with the lame excuse that one of the largest gas producing countries in the world ran out of gas for Afam and Egbin power plants. At other times, they cooed that water dried up at Kainji or that a fly hit the transmission line to the national grid.
The economic blue print of Obasanjo's government was that the power output which was put at 3.5 mega watts at the beginning of his regime in 1999, would jump to 6.5 mega watts by 2001 so, the government invested colossal public funds to bring this about. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, (which I call 'Please Hold Candle Now'), came into being on May 31, 2005, to replace National Electric Power Authority, NEPA nicknamed, 'Never Expect Power Always.' PHCN's Chief Executive, Joseph Makoju, said in an interview published in the Guardian of May 14, 2006, that the government had invested over N275 billion in the sector in the past six years. N55b in 2000; N25b in 2001; N35b in 2002; N12b in 2003; N60b in 2004; N56b in 2005; and N50b was projected for 2006. After these heavy investments Nigeria was distributing on average, less than 2.00 mega watts of electricity in mid 2006. The Minister of Power said in May 2006 that, “Nigerians should not expect to enjoy regular power supply until 2056.” Obviously, that was too optimistic because the more we spent on power generation, the less power we got, thanks to the crooks surrounding the enterprise.
Major blue chip Nigerian companies were each spending in excess of N200 million on electricity generation monthly to keep their factories going. So also were the telecommunications companies. The Bureau of Public Enterprises said in May 2006, that $1.5 billion or N185 billion, was being lost yearly due to power failure in the economy. “The economy would have been more viable if power had been steady,” the Bureau said. Billions of naira was spent on the National Poverty Alleviation Programme, (NAPEP), of Obasanjo's government. A Dr. Magnus Kpakol wore the portfolio around his neck like a medal of honour. The only poverty alleviation we saw was on the boss' faces that were getting rounder and fresher, and in some cases, with stomachs getting bigger to bursting point by the day.
In addition to Obasanjo's two billion naira library project scandal, he was alleged to have acquired by means that are not above quarries, kilometers of beach land for his Bell University business, on the left hand side of the road immediately after the Badagry town roundabout, on the Expressway to Seme, Benin Republic border. Those dispossessed of their land were threatening and waiting to fight for their rights and due compensation, at least, after his presidency has ended, which probably was another reason he required to remain in power indefinitely by corruptly amending the constitution by fiat.
His battles over land issues were matched only by his endless fuel pump price maneuvers. Obasanjo was alleged to own or have interest in Bell Oil and Gas Company, which apart from controlling some oil blocs, marketed crude oil, packaged gas, and imported refined oil for the NNPC. Some also alleged that Obasanjo had a hand in OBAT (probably Obasanjo Atiku?) oil marketing outfit retailing petroleum products with the state of the art facilities at the Beachland estate in Lagos. If these allegations are true, raising petroleum pump price daily was no more than a selfish, greedy obsession for untrammeled wealth.
Obasanjo increased fuel pump price twice as military head of state, and systematically in six years as civilian leader from 1999, from N20 to N65. But what do our leaders want so much loot for? Has greed no limit? They can't take anything with them when they die? Their greed for foreign exchange at any price, to import refined oil, was responsible for the continuous fall in value of the naira.
Obasanjo denied the National Assembly the opportunity to probe NNPC's accounts from 1999, when he took office. The early 2006 preliminary audit report presented by a London consulting firm, confirmed that a lot of fraud was being perpetrated at the NNPC, from the under declaration of lifting details and money collected, to the connivance with foreign oil companies to cheat Nigeria. Was it possible for such things to be happening without the president knowing about them, after all, he refused to appoint a full fledge oil minister from the inception of his 1999 presidency, and ran the office directly himself? In any case, when the final report by the foreign auditors was being presented to him and FEC, in late April 2006, he did not want the report presented. He rejected it off-hand, and asked the audit firm to go back and do more work on their report, obviously as a delaying tactic to kill public interest, that was at its height at the time on the matter.
Hon. Bashir Nadabo collected over 180 signatures in the House of Representatives to begin impeachment moves against Obasanjo in mid 2005. Sixteen impeachable offences, which soon grew into 18 were presented, and included the president's reckless disregard for Constitutional provisions and the rule of law, including the judgment of the Supreme Court over Lagos state local government's funds. Extra judicial spending, the non-implementation of budget, and the falsification of the 2005 Appropriation Act. The abuse of power, leading to security breach in Anambra State. Obstruction of the presentation of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources account books to the National Assembly, and the appointment of his children in government, including his son as the de-facto oil Minister. Obasanjo had the effrontery to accuse his hand-picked chairman of the PDP, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, of nepotism. Ali's problem was that he recommended his wife and son for plum government posts, and was caught out by the press before he could consolidate. The president was only playing to the gallery when he denounced Ali; his own children were visibly or otherwise holding top-ranking positions in government at the time.
In late August 2005, Urji Uzor Kalu, the Abia State Governor asked Obasanjo the following questions: (1) Who collected the commission for the sale of Ajaokuta Steel Company and the Delta Steel Rolling Mill at Aladja? (2) Why has Obasanjo refused to probe the over N300 billion scam at the Ministry of Works between 1999 and 2003. (3) Why has Obasanjo not openly declared his assets? (4) Did Obasanjo not use tax payers' money to finance the gigantic sports complex and hostels at his Bell secondary school through Strabag Company five years ago? Who is picking the bill for the transformation going on at frenetic speed at his Ota farm? (6) Why has there not been properly audited account of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources since he took over as Minister in 1999, despite evidences of major deals through cronies and the fraud at the NNPC involving crude oil sales? (7) Who has been cornering the commissions on crude oil sales? (8) What about his foreign accounts and the platinum credit card he collected recently? (9) Who got the Abuja national stadium contract that was inflated five times above its original quotation by a Chinese firm?
When Obasanjo was asked on a CNN interview in the US about his alleged foreign accounts, he said he would leave that to the EFCC to investigate. When the EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, was asked by the Nigerian press if he was going to investigate the allegations made by Kalu against the President, Ribadu literarily said he could not probe the president because he needed to be spoon-fed with evidence. Partial spoon-feeding came, indirectly through the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, (BMPIU), in a 65 page manual on public procurement reform programme in Nigeria, published on May 17, 2006, but EFCC still refused to act. The BMPIU report said the Abuja stadium contract was inflated by over N7bn, because the contract value of the stadium at N37 billion, failed its public procurement compliance test. The BMPIU, otherwise referred to as the Due Process office, confirmed that it achieved a post-procurement cost savings of N7.19 billion from the stadium's contracts, implying that they were inflated by N14.19 billion at least. The contracts were awarded in 2000 before the Due Process office guidelines were formulated.
Three contractors executed the contracts. Package A, which was the Main Bowl plus Valodrome, was handled by Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. Package B, the Indoor Sports facilities and hockey pitch, were awarded to Bouygues Nigeria Ltd, and Package C, the Games Village, went to a company or group called CCEC. The CCEC's (a group not publicly identified) aspect of the contracts, appeared to have been the most corruption ridden of the three. The contracts were placed under recurrent budget in the 2003 Budget.
When the president's third term campaign started it sounded like a huge joke. The first hint of the campaign was in mid March 2005, at a lecture in far away Germany when he said he was under pressure to remain in office after 2007. His plot to hang on to power began to acquire a life of its own during the Obasanjo's Political Reform Conference of 2005, at which the issue was thrown out to the relief of most Nigerians. Chief Clement Ebri, Chairman of the Presidential Committee set up by Obasanjo in 2001, to review the 1999 Constitution, confirmed in an interview published in the Saturday Punch of April 22, 2006, that his committee did not recommend a third term for the President, Governors, or anyone. That none of the more than three million memoranda and oral submissions received by the committee mentioned the third term. That after submitting the report, the President sent it to all the political zones of the country, and none of the zones recommended third term. The Ohaneze Ndigbo was vehemently opposed to it as a body. So also were Afenifere, the Yoruba Council of Elders, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the South-South People's Assembly, the Middle belt Forum and many other civil society groups and notable persons.
While Obasanjo was visiting Ogun State in early February 2006, a rented crowd along with his five PDP governors in the South-West sang joyously (in Yoruba) that they want Obasanjo to continue in office for the third term. The great 'Messiah' responded in glee, “I am lost for words.” General Abacha did worse than that in his time as head of state but it landed him in hell in the end. Every time our leaders toyed with extension of tenure it failed. Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida like Sani Abacha, tried it with unpleasant consequences. Yakubu Gowon's advice that Obasanjo should learn from history and not rock the boat was rebuffed and vilified by Obasanjo's uncouth hecklers who told Gowon to shut up.
The Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu's led Senate Constitution Review Committee, heightened the third term momentum with its deviously crafted trick options that included three terms of four years per term for the President and Governors in its proposed constitution amendment bill. Mantu had been accused of numerous scams in the past and was kept in the Senate by the goodwill of President Obasanjo who controlled INEC. Mantu's people signed a petition for his recall in late 2005 accusing him of gross incompetence but the petition was largely ignored by INEC.
In February 2006, the Mantu led National Assembly Joint Constitution Review Committee announced a schedule to take their three terms' proposals around the country in the guise of public hearing. The public hearing, of course, was restricted to the notorious conclaves of his ruling party, and only cronies of the President and PDP card-carrying members were allowed to attend. The typical Nigerian public was harassed and arrested by the Police for showing up at the various venues to oppose the third term idea. The 'public hearing' exercise was estimated to have cost the Nigerian taxpayers a whopping N456 million, with N29.4 million of the amount earmarked for snacks alone. Azubuike Ishiekwene, editor of Saturday Punch, claimed in early 2006, that a Ford Foundation grant of US $2m to the Mantu led Constitution Review Committee had not been accounted for. Other sundry appropriations amounting to billions of naira had also not been accounted for by the Mantu led Committee of the Senate.
On Friday the 17 February, 2006, the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party in the 2003 elections, General Muhammadu Buhari, alerted the nation to the effect that 29 state governors had signed a document endorsing the third term agenda. He said in a statement entitled, ”Respect Term Limits,” that many of the pro-third term governors had embarked on strategies aimed at stampeding and intimidating the members of their state houses of assemblies into backing the project. Buhari warned that the entire project is a precursor to the emergence of despotism and life presidency.
Senator Uche Chukwumerije had warned earlier that coercive force, intimidation, harassment, manipulation, threat, and the use of state resources to blackmail, were the methods being adopted by powerful pro-third term lobbyists, to make elected public officers at all levels buy into the satanic project. The 'Unity Forum,' a pro-third term lobbying group, buying signatures of members of the House of Representatives with one million naira per signature to support the lobby, claimed to have already collected 100 signatures by the first week of February 2006. Billions of naira was reported to have been set aside for the third term project.
Chief Festus Odimegwu, the Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries, and a member of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc. (Transcorp), a private Nigerian mega company with government backing to cut offshore deals, strongly supported Obasanjo's third term bid with corporate raw cash. Other members of Transcorp sympathetic to Obasanjo's tenure elongation ambition included Mr. Femi Otedola, owner of a major oil conglomerate and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, a leading player in private enterprise and a frontline financier of Obasanjo in politics. Mrs. Ndidi Okereke-Onyuike, Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and chairperson of the board of Transcorp, privately supported third term. It appeared Transcorp was a front, Obasanjo needed to further nurture and consolidate in the four years after May 2007, to retire into as Chairman?
We were waiting and watching when on August 14, 2006, the ACD (a new political party), confirmed our worst fears that Obasanjo owned US$200m (i.e. some N27 billion) worth of shares in Transcorp. For someone who claimed to have only N20,000 to his name in bank account when he returned to power in 1999, he has some explaining to do about how he amassed the N27 billion he invested in Transcorp within four years in office. Transcorp was allocated four oil blocs (i.e. OPL 218, 219, 209 and 220), at its launching on 21st July, 2005, by Obasanjo, and has since bought out other significant government facilities in not very transparent manner, including the Nicon-Hilton on which it paid US$105m in October 2005. Rules were bent also for Transcorp to acquire 75% interest in the government's telecommunications agency, NITEL, valued in total at US$1.73billion. The US$1billion offer by International Investments Limited (IIL), for the 75% or US$1.3billion NITEL deal, was denied on account of delayed payment, for Transcorp's US$750m offer, trapped in an endless payment delay roulette, from 3rd July 2006, to end of August 2006, to mid October 2006, followed by another six weeks…………
Dr. Usman Bugaje, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives said in an interview published in the Guardian on March 2, 2006, that people canvassing at the National Assembly for 'third term' for Obasanjo promised supporters in the National Assembly: “guaranteed return ticket to the National Assembly, regardless of party affiliation of the person.” A clear indication of the intention to rig the 2007 elections by the Presidency. Obasanjo's third term lobbyist also promised each supporter: “a choice plot of land in Abuja with N100 million thrown in to use to build personal villa on the plot, and if the supporter chooses not to go back to his constituency, he could stay in Abuja and enjoy the rest of his life there,” with guaranteed plum contracts from the government, of course. Bugaje added: “It is important that the wider Nigerian public appreciate that if they allow 'third term' to happen, they are condemned forever. Graduates have come out of schools without jobs, government hospitals have no drugs, and you cannot pay school fees for your children. It is not a small matter. Nigerians should be prepared to rise up against these dictators, these hawks who are out to condemn them to a life of slavery.” Well, the recall system by electorates was not working. For example, the recall due process in the case of Senator Mantu by his constituency in late 2005, was blocked by the powers that be. However, when the pathway of a stream is blocked, the stream finds another level at a price of incalculable consequences, of course.
Hon. Wale Okediran of the House of Representatives and a member of the '2007 Movement' in the National Assembly against third term agenda, said at the time: “The third term issue is an unnecessary diversion to the real work of the House. From what is happening, it is not likely that much quality work will be done in the National Assembly until the much-vexed issue of third term is resolved. What some Governors have done is to open registers for their members of the National Assembly to sign in support of the third term project in return for automatic election in 2007.”
All the governors supporting the third-term plan had poor record in governance and saw the third term agenda as an opportunity to stay longer in office to steal some more from their state coffers. The Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Alhaji Usman Alhassan Jikantoro, said in February 2006, that some governors in the North had been forced against their wish to support third term. “We have problem with our governors. Some of them, because they have something to hide, are forced against their wish to support the president on the third term issue,” he said.
South-East governors, including Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State, who hosted the Conference of the 'Southern Forum' in December 2005, that demanded in strong terms, that the presidency should either go to the South-East or South-South in 2007, chickened out of their resolve and joined Obasanjo's third term train. Dr. Nnamani, who was fond of the phrase, 'To God be the glory” to buttress his achievement in office was one of the most corrupt governors cited in the EFCC report to the Senate in September 2006.
D. S. P. Alamieyeseigha, the Governor of Bayelsa State, while defending himself against accusation of money laundering offences offered the following imbecilic logic to the media. 'Even if it was true that he stole, he was a native born Bayelsan, therefore, the money stolen would eventually return to Bayelsa unlike if a non-native had stolen it.' Apart from the obvious display of mental imbalance, the billions of naira he stole was either nestling in European bank accounts or used in buying porch estates in Europe, while millions of pounds in cash and a large box full of jewelry belonging to his wife were found tucked away in his London flat bedrooms. Following after Alamieyeseigha's impeachment by his State Assembly for stealing from his state coffers, other governors from the South-South states, who were members of the 'Southern Forum,' became jittery. They all threw their crooked weights behind Obasanjo's third term project.
Peter Odili, the Governor of Rivers State who was one of the political leaders of the Southern Forum, was cited by the EFCC as being under investigation for fraud in September 2006. He defended this at the time with the argument that investigation does not mean he was guilty. But we all know that the EFCC as a rule, did not investigate flippant accusations. There was evidence already that an unnamed aspiring South South presidential candidate diverted some N150billion out of his state's coffers to fight the elections and there are not more than three states so buoyant in Nigeria. Lagos is one such states, but it is not in the South South and its governor cannot be President in 2007, because his Yoruba tribe slot has been usurped by Obasanjo.
Odili controlled the other state and he declared late last year that the presidency must come to the South-East or South-South in 2007, and offered himself for the position. In the heat of the third term debate in 2006, Odili lost interest in becoming President in 2007. He said on the USA Cable network news on the 11th February 2006, that he took the position to support extension of tenure “because President Obasanjo has laid the foundation for a stable polity and has taken several measures aimed at repositioning the polity. If there is a legitimate constitutional amendment that permits him to contest, I will be one of the people that would beg him to run.” After the failure of the third term gamble, Odili was back without shame campaigning to be president. Apart from lack of principles and healthy gumption, he is obviously not a democrat.
The third rich state is the Delta in the South South where Governor James Ibori holds sway. Ibori and Governor Igbinadion were declared wanted at the time by the London police on money laundering charges. They along with their counterpart, Obong Victor Attah, the Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, were listed as corrupt by the EFCC report to the Senate in September 2006, became unenthusiastic about being Vice Presidents to Northern Presidential candidates in 2007, during the third term debate between February and May 2006. Victor Attah, for instance, who read the communiqué of the Southern Forum in Enugu in December 2005, that insisted on power shift to the South-South or South-East in 2007, started singing a different tune in mid February 2006 when he said he would consider going for a third term as governor if the constitution allowed it.
Hear him: “The people waiting have a very good reason to wait because they know that it will be good that this person has been able to start the reform that we never had. How many years have we had since independence? We could not dream about these reforms, we could not get debt relief; we could not get the kind of respectability we are now getting in the international community. We could not accumulate the kind of foreign reserve that we are accumulating now. So it is even good for him to continue, let us learn a bit more from him before we take over. May be, that is why nobody is jumping to say I want to contest the presidency for the simple reason that if you know something, please continue for a bit longer.”
In other words, if Obasanjo had suddenly died in power, Nigeria would have died too? The same argument was used for the prolongation of Abacha the messiah's tenure in office by his supporters. Then he died and Nigeria did not die, rather she got another messiah in Obasanjo. If Obasanjo was so good as they were saying, did that make all the governors so good as to deserve collectively the third term too? There lied the dishonesty in the whole matter. If Obasanjo really loved Nigeria, he would not have tried to return all the rogue governors and National Assembly members his EFCC had built hefty negative dossiers on or who had been exposed and openly maligned, to power for another term of four years? Obasanjo hated Nigeria and wanted our disintegration and he was heartless in the way he went about it so, patriotic Nigerians had to choose between him and our poor hapless country.
An elder statesman and a leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-economic group, Senator Ayo Fasanmi, said in an interview published on February 19, 2006, that the: “people who are championing the third term agenda are insulting the Nigerian people. They insult the people when they say, he has done well, that he has done this and that. The high rate of insecurity everywhere in the country is there, the economy is still nightmarish to the ordinary man in the street, our respect for the rule of law under Obasanjo's government is a disaster. He does not believe in the rule of law. The local government fund of Lagos State is one of the many testimonials hanging on his neck for disdain for the rule of law. What can we say for a man who is championing the complete militarization of his political party?”
In a February 2006 interview with the BBC, Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, declared that he would not allow the allure of office and filthy lucre to push him to what is unlawful, immoral, and indefensible, by extending his stay in office. He said although his party controls more than two-thirds, the requirement to change the constitution, to stay in power, he would not allow it. Mbeki also said: “By the end of 2009, I will have been in a senior position in government for 15 years and I think that is too long. After 15 years I think I should really step aside.” He was hoping to infuse new blood and ideas into the body politics of South Africa. Obasanjo, who ought to have taken a cue from Mbeki to start preparing the grounds for the takeover of power from him in 2007, was equivocating. At one point, I thought Obasanjo's fear of handing over was because of the huge foreign reserve (over US $30b), he had built up. The wrong leaders could siphon all of that into their private accounts abroad over night. But was there any time that such a possibility was impossible? Was by prolonging Obasanjo's tenure the guaranteed way of preventing rogues from coming to power? Is he himself clean?
The clearest statement on Obasanjo's ambition to extend his tenure in office came in an interview with the Washington Post on April 3, 2006, when he said he remained undecided whether to seek a third term in office or not and that he had left the issue of a third term in office to God.
He emphasized in the interview he granted to the paper at his Ota farm in Ogun State, that God would decide whether to extend his tenure in office or not. He also said he “believed God is not a God of abandoned projects. If God has a project, he will not abandon it.” Obasanjo said that additional term in office if allowed by lawmakers and voters, would allow the reforms he had initiated in the past seven years to be ”anchored” and added, “the reforms we are putting in place have to be anchored, anchored in legislation, anchored in institution.” He would decide whether to run again or not after the National Assembly had voted on a proposal to revise the constitution, he concluded.
Obasanjo's foot soldiers or arrow-heads on the third term campaign included: the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih; the Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Bode George; the Deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu; the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Mrs. Florence Ita-Giwa; the leader of the Senate, Dansalu Maida; a Special Assistant at the Villa, Mr. Andy Uba, and the Governor of Jigawa State, Saminu Turaki. The President's strategists on the term elongation issue had six plans of action.
Obasanjo's political reform conference was Plan A1. Plan A2, required the use of every means possible including blackmail, assassination or threats of it; threats of dismissal from the party for not towing party line; intimidation, bribery in cash and by awards of oil blocs and lucrative government contracts etc, and outright banditry to push the 'third term' agenda through the National Assembly (NASS), and eventually the state assemblies. Plan A3, involved pressurizing NASS leaders to jettison due process while voting on the constitution amendment bill, and to use instead, secret or voice vote to arrive at decisions to overcome the two-thirds obstacle for amending the constitution
Plan A4, was to replace the three terms of four years each, with five or six years single tenure clause, allowing the President and Governors, extra one or two years each in power, if the third term plan appeared to be heading for failure. Plan A5, was the damage control strategy. The President would come out with the statement that he was not part of the plot all along, and that he abstained from taking sides over the third term issue throughout the debate. He was neutral and now that NASS had decided, he believed democracy had won and it was time for us to work together and heal the wounds of national unity.
Plan B, required that if third term bid failed, confusion and mayhem should be created in the polity before or during the 2007 elections, to encourage the opportunity to declare a state of emergency or the annulment of election results. That way, Obasanjo's tenure in office could be elongated by between six months and two years, to give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), ample time to prepare for credible elections. INEC betrayed the plan when in May 2006, it announced April 7 to 28 2007 election timetable, that allowed barely 30 days, as against the statutory 60 days, considered long enough, to sort out litigations etc, before the handover date on May 29, 2007.
Over 99% of Nigerians, including all private institutions, agencies, NGOs, human rights groups, professional groups, the Nigerian Labour Congress as a body, religious groups, ethnic militias, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the media excepting those controlled by the government, were solidly against the president's plan to prolong his tenure in office. The private media in particular was largely in support of Nigeria's survival and the strengthening of democracy through editorials and by providing space for dissents against the president and his cohorts determined to force tenure elongation on the nation by hook or crook.
In March 2006, the Editor of the New Nigerian newspaper, Mallam Mahmud Jaga, was sacked over the cover page story of his newspaper's March 10, 2006 edition, which criticized the tenure elongation plot. Soon after this, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) pounced on the privately owned Freedom Radio station in Kano. The NBC accused the station of failing to handle phone-in programmes professionally and barred it from broadcasting between the hours of 5pm and 10pm daily for two weeks, a prime time belt when the station airs political and people-oriented programmes. The station was also asked to pay a penalty of N200,000.00 within 48 hours, failing which its license would be revoked. The station could not meet the demand so the federal government shot it down. A few days later, the police visited the Lagos offices of 'The Insider' magazine to harass the staff over a publication that was against the third term agenda of the government.
The Senate had five sessions on the constitution amendment exercise beginning on Wednesday the 3rd of May, 2006. To kick off the debate on the first day, the Senate President assured the Senators that all passages on the constitution amendment debate would be by voting, because division (by voting), was the only way to determine two-thirds of members. He urged the legislators to speak their mind and assured them that the entire exercise would be open, just, and transparent. And as a measure of the transparency, the entire constitution amendment exercise was allowed to be beamed live by Television, and attended by the media.
It was obvious from that first day of debate on the constitution amendment bill, that the third term agenda was going to be the main issue and that it was going to have a rough ride in the Senate. Out of the 13 Senators that spoke on the issue that day, eight were against tenure extension, two were undecided and only three were in support of the idea. On the second day of debate, which was Thursday the 4th of May 2006, six opposed tenure elongation while five were in favour and five were evasive or non-committal.
On Monday the 8th May 2006, Chief Tony Anenih, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, and Governor Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa State, visited the House Speaker, Alhaji Masari, and the Senate President, Ken Nnamani, at the National Assembly (NASS), to direct them to subvert the rules of both chambers in the ongoing debate on constitution amendments. They asked Nnamani and Masari to adopt secret balloting during the amendment exercise because the PDP believed that that was the only way the third term agenda could succeed.
Masari and Nnamani declined their requests and this prompted the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC), to beam its searchlight on the two leaders of the National Assembly from the following day. It is curious that the ICPC, rather than investigate the sources of funds used in bribing pro-third term legislators, decided to witch-hunt, intimidate, and harass, the leadership of the National Assembly at the time because they refused to adopt secret or voice vote, and prevent the media from covering the constitution amendment debate.
On the 3rd day of debate in the Senate, which was Tuesday May 9, 2006, twelve Senators spoke in support of the third term, two were against and two were undecided. The debate in the 360 members' House of Representatives began on Wednesday 10th of May, 2006. Of the thirty-one members who spoke on that first day, eighteen were against the third term, twelve were in support and a member was undecided. The debate continued the following day, Thursday, with more members shooting down the third term agenda than were in support.
On the night of Wednesday 10th May, 2006, Obasanjo's men visited the Apo legislative quarters' residence of the Senate President to lobby him. The team included two governors, one from the South-South, the other from the North Central, and an aide to the president who along with his younger brother had been key players in the third term campaign.
The Senate President had been wary honouring invitations to Aso Rock (the seat of the Presidency) since the constitution amendment debate in the Senate. The team tried to persuade Nnamani to use secret voting instead of open voting or division, to determine two-thirds majority, to facilitate the easy passage of the constitution amendment in favour of third term. The problem for the Senate President and the Speaker of the House was that they were, in fact, helpless in the matter of what voting method to use, and knew that it was only by playing by the rules that they could hope to successfully and peacefully pilot the constitution amendment exercise in the National Assembly. Section 9 (2) of the 1999 Constitution required two-thirds of members, both in the Senate and House, for passage, after which concurrence of two-thirds of the 36 State Assemblies (i.e. 24 states), would be required.
On Thursday May 11, 2006, which was the fourth day of debate in the Senate, eleven members were against tenure elongation, eight were in support and five were undecided. A total of 42 Senators were already against third term by the end of that fourth day of debate, five members more than the 37 Senators needed to defeat the idea. There were 37 Senators in favour, a far cry from the 73 members needed for the tenure extension to sail through the Senate of 109 members. Sixteen Senators were evasive or undecided.
During the second day of debate in the House of Representatives, which was Thursday May 11, 2006, more members continued to speak against the third term agenda of the president than in support. In a fit of panic, the president delayed his jetting out in his new Boeing 737- 800 to the D8 meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, to give NASS leaders the warning to do everything possible to deliver the third term. Obasanjo repeatedly called the Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari on the telephone, while the debate on constitution amendment was going on, and eventually prevailed on the Speaker to come to an urgent meeting at the presidential villa. Obasanjo's invitation to Masari came when the House was still in session and this compelled Masari to adjourn sitting abruptly, despite the earlier schedule by the House to end sitting by 5pm that day to enable more Representatives to contribute to the debate.
The Senate President, Ken Nnamani and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, led other principal officers of the National Assembly, including the Senate Deputy President, Ibrahim Mantu, the Deputy Speaker, Austin Opara, the Senate leader Dalhatu Tafida, the leader of the House of Representatives Abdul Ningi and others to answer Obasanjo's imperial summons at the presidential villa. The urgent meeting, which lasted for two hours, was a platform for Mr. President to exact pressure on the House Speaker and the President of the Senate, for the purpose of manipulating the voting process in the National Assembly in favour of tenure elongation. Also at the meeting were the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Anenih, and the Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, who insisted at the meeting that those opposed to the third term agenda should quit the party. After Chief Austin Opara, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Rep. had narrated at the meeting, the difficulty in getting the third term clause passed in the National Assembly due to the stiff opposition it was facing, Obasanjo gave a marching order to the leadership of the National Assembly to do everything humanly possible to make the third term agenda succeed.
He told the NASS leaders that he would not entertain any excuse from them and reminded them that by his military background, soldiers don't retreat from battle. “You know that I am a soldier, soldiers do not retreat from battle. I have started a fight and, therefore, I will not retreat, I will not surrender,” Obasanjo said and added that the 'third term' was a policy of the PDP. He warned that voting the third term out, on the floor of the National Assembly, would amount to defeating the policy of the party that controls the National Assembly, and added that it would be “totally unacceptable to me, and I would not accept such a defeat. The party has to be saved from the disgrace of the National Assembly voting out third term,” he warned.
He was unhappy “with the tone, texture, and depth of the debate in both chambers of the NASS. The legislators are taking advantage of live coverage of the proceedings to repudiate both third term and his government.” He specifically referred to the House of Representatives where he claimed they were making issues personal and using uncivilized and unbecoming expressions to attack the person of the President. Obasanjo asked Nnamani and Masari to ensure that secret balloting was adopted to overcome the two-thirds requirement spelt out in the constitution. In the alternative, Obasanjo said the leadership should “use voice vote or simple majority to decide the third term issue.” Members of the 2007 Movement in the House of Representatives opposed to the third term agenda, on Friday 12 May, 2007, protested publicly against Obasanjo's disruption of debate in the House of Representatives the previous day.
The major problem for the sponsors of the third term agenda was that receipts are not issued for bribes, and bribe takers faced with public glare that television broadcast of proceedings facilitates, are likely to pander to the dictates of popular public opinion and vote accordingly, than be influenced by the volume of money in their pockets. After all, their first constituencies are the people they represent and not the government or their political parties. So, Obasanjo's government stopped the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), both government outfits, from live broadcast after the first day of debate in the Senate.
The National Assembly leadership, could not jettison the broadcast exercise by the private media, because of the 'third term or nothing' attitude of the President. That would destroy the credibility of the entire exercise. It was a delicate balancing act for the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. Live television coverage exposed the unpopularity of the third term proposal and enhanced the credibility of the constitution amendment proceedings at the National Assembly.
Africa Independent Television (AIT), a privately owned television station continued airing the constitution amendment debate despite endless harassment, intimidation, and assassination threats to the personnel of the station through the mail, physically and otherwise. AIT's transmission equipment in the vicinity of the National Assembly was destroyed second day into broadcasting the proceedings at the National Assembly of the constitution amendment debate. On the 14th of May, 2006, the country home in Agenebode, Edo State, of the Executive Chairman of AIT, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, was razed by fire in the wee hours of the morning followed by the invasion of the premises of AIT in the Asokoro district of Abuja, in the day, by SSS operatives from the presidency, to cart away tapes.
The SSS men seized tapes, including the master tape of an anti-third term advertorial, which the station had been broadcasting from the night of Friday May 13, 2006. The advertorial normally ran for one hour and the last insertion was to have gone on air on the evening of Monday May 15, 2006. The advertorial traced past failed attempts by military rulers from General Yakubu Gowon to General Sani Abacha to extend their stay in power and the ignoble roles played in the failed attempts, particularly in the Abacha one, by many of the arrowheads of the Obasanjo tenure elongation campaign. The SSS men ordered the station to stop broadcasting the tape even if the advertiser brought a new copy.
The President's security men also confiscated tapes of the ongoing National Assembly debate on the constitution amendment bill and ordered the station to stop further transmission of the debate. The station rebuffed this order, at the risk of putting lives and property at the station in peril. The AIT premises had to be hurriedly evacuated on Monday 15, May 2006, due to a bomb scare, but its live transmission of the debate on the constitution amendment at the National Assembly was stubbornly continued.
Before the bomb scare, the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, had a face-off with a chieftain of the PDP, when she was informed that a pro-third term advertorial, which had been running on the National Television (NTA) for a while, was being scheduled to run on AIT. She phoned AIT to protest against the airing of the tape. When the station tried to find out what to do from the PDP bigwig who authorized the airing in the first place, he insisted that the advertorial should be aired and that the protesting Minister could resign if she was uncomfortable with it. It took the intervention of the Presidency to bring the matter under control.
Despite the relentless pressure on AIT from pro-third term sponsors and security agents of the government to discontinue relaying live signals of the debate on the constitution amendment bill at the National Assembly, the AIT pushed on undeterred, and weathered the storms to the end to provide Nigerians with the details of what happened at the National Assembly in their name. Without the courage and steadfastness of the AIT, the fate of the third term in the National Assembly would almost certainly have been different.
The Central Bank of Nigeria's periodic statement of accounts released in the second week of May, 2006, showed massive and curious withdrawals in the seven months preceding the constitution amendment debate at the National Assembly thereby fueling speculation that the government had been withdrawing funds from the (Nigerian Excess Crude Oil Account, managed by the Ministry of Finance, through the Central Bank), to finance the campaign for tenure extension.
Between October 2005, and April 2006, US $14,264 billion (about N1, 857 trillion), was withdrawn from the account called the 'Federation Account,' without the constitutionally required legislative authority. While two withdrawals were listed as payments to the Paris Club, including 1% commission on each payment, another payment that was not of public knowledge was listed, making three sets of payments to the Paris Club. There were various withdrawals listed as payments for Niger Delta Power Com plants between October 4, 2005, and April 5, 2006, amounting to US $2.4b. The other very disturbing withdrawals were made without giving reasons or explanation as follows: 12/12/05 ($170,549,006.00); 15/03/06 ($471,143.17); 20/03/06 ($442,947.50); 22/03/06 ($144,063,485.00); 27/03/06 ($17,290,067.04) and on 30/03/06 ($630,115.85) making a total of ($333,446,764.56) or over US $333 million. (Courtesy Punch, May 9, 2006).
The Senate decided on May 2, 2006, to investigate the withdrawals, which if they had been necessary, should have been made from the Consolidated Revenue Account after due legislative approved. While we were waiting for explanations for the withdrawals, Obasanjo claimed that the $17,290,067.04 he withdrew illegally on 27/03/06, was for the two extra days he arbitrarily imposed for census enumeration.
In the five days before the constitution amendment bill was thrown out in the Senate (i.e. between Friday 12 May, and Tuesday 16 May, 2006), more than ten billion naira in cash was alleged to have been moved around to bribe legislators. This was besides the billions of naira lavished in the months before the debate in the National Assembly to compromise legislators, strategic individuals, opinion molders, leaders of tribal groups, traditional rulers, religious leaders, trade union leaders, NGOs, student union leaders, the military hierarchy, etc. The cash bribe to corrupt the system kept rising in the 'count-me-in' competition between the Federal government and well known and identified facilitators, including State governments, governors, political zone leaders, Companies including the Nigerian Breweries, the new Transcorp sponsors, select banks angling to manage our foreign reserves and retired military Generals. The assumption was that since Nigerian politicians are largely corrupt by nature and our people are very poor generally, everyone could be bought, so the sponsors of the third term project were ready to empty the volts of the Central Bank of Nigeria on it, rather than be disgraced with failure.
It is estimated that over N250 billion in cash, (apart from other inducements like allocations of oil blocs and sumptuous government contracts), was used all around, to corrupt those for and against tenure elongation and civil society. Some civil society unions and NGO's were given land and cash for their secretariats or largesse for other urgent projects while their leaders each got on the average N20m bribe. A long overdue request to equate the HND with Universities' first degrees was given the impression of being approved at the time to pacify a large segment of the students' population. Some stubborn, impossible to compromise frontline human rights activists (including Chima Ubani and others) lost their lives in sudden and suspicious circumstances early in the struggle. Beko Ransome-Kuti's death was difficult to dismiss as purely natural, especially coming at the height of the third term imbroglio.
NLC leadership had to be prodded by the popular lawyer and human rights activists, Gani Fawehinmi, to make a categorical statement on the third term agenda of Obasanjo during its May Day ceremonies on May 1, 2006. A rather ambiguous statement, weak on positive engagement and activism came from the leader of the NLC's May Day message on the principles and preoccupations of trade unionism and civil matters generally rather than on the 'third term,' which was the great debate of the day. The NLC leader was eyeing the position of governorship of a state in the follow-up election at the time. As far as the leadership of the TUC was concerned, there was no sentiment, no ambiguity, no pretence. After all, Obasanjo gave them their union on a platter. He had earned the right to rule us for life and should be allowed to do so.
The Military leadership too was rubb**hed by the filthy lucre soaked third term agenda of the president. The Guardian newspaper of May 5, 2006, reported a meeting between a Nigerian senior military officer and a select group of reporters on the issues of 'third term' and the 'Niger Delta.' At the meeting, which was secret with its date undisclosed, the military boss revealed to the few reporters invited, on the condition of anonymity, and probably wearing a mask too, that the Military High Command viewed the 'third term' controversy as, “just democracy in action and does not pose any threat to peace and security of the nation.” He expressed surprise about the hue and cry over the issue that had not yet been fully debated by the National Assembly (NASS) and advised citizens to wait for the verdict of the NASS and accept it. He cited the dictum that, “the minority would have their say while the majority would have their way,” and added this vintage 'third term' script, “you have to know we are coming out of albatross. Somebody has to lead this country and we have started the journey with a great promise. We need to reach there. We don't like the public concentration on the third term. We have to make this Nigeria project work. We have wasted over 40 years as a nation. It is only now that we are seeing the height to go.”
On Friday 12th May, 2006, the media was agog with reports that some members of the National Assembly were each collecting N50 million cash bride from two banks, one a new generation bank and the other, an old one, to support the third term agenda of the president. The EFCC Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Osita Nwaja, when asked what they were doing about the scandal, said (see Saturday Punch of May 13, 2006), that although the Commission had a wind of the bribery allegations through media reports, they were not investigating it. Later in the week, the Chairman of the Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, sounding unusually look warm in such matters, said tongue-in-cheek, that they would investigate, thus suggesting lack of serious commitment to the unraveling of the scam.
A House of Representatives member, Alhaji Nasiru Dantiye of the ANPP, alleged in an interview published in the Punch of Monday 15, 2006, that he was offered $1 million to support the third term project. Speaking against the background of reports that lawmakers opposed to the project were freshly offered N150 million each to induce their support, Dantiye was offered $1 million on Thursday 11 May, 2006 night, in cash at a hotel in Abuja. He said, “My price shot up like crude oil about three days ago, it increased from fifty million naira to one million dollars.” He was made an additional offer of allocation of unspecified products from the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC). He rejected the offers because he was guided by his conscience and commitment to his constituents. In rejecting the bribe, he set a condition, which the bribe presenter could not meet. He said he asked the bribe presenter if he could guarantee that “I (Dantiye) will live long enough to enjoy the money, we have a deal. He (the bribe presenter) could not give the guarantee because he doesn't have the power to prolong my life for a single second.”
In a report in the Punch of May 13, 2006, the presidency threatened to withdraw and eventually actually withdrew 50% of the area covered by the Oil Prospecting Lease 246 awarded to South Atlantic Petroleum Ltd, an oil firm owned by the former Minister of Defense, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma. Danjuma's opposition to the extension of President Obasanjo's tenure and Danjuma's alleged romance with General Babangida, who was interested in contesting the 2007 presidential election, appeared to be the problem. Danjuma in an interview with a national newspaper condemned the tenure elongation plan of the President as an “evil that must be buried.” Danjuma's wife, Senator Daisy, was non-committal during her contribution to the debate on the third term project in the Senate. Danjuma immediately went to court to fight for his rights over the oil bloc issue but he did not stand much chance against the government in such matters.
In an open letter on the tenure elongation issue published in the press in mid May 2006, Rev. Father George Ehusani said, “The one whom the gods want to destroy, they first made mad.” That same week, it was reported in the press that the convoy of the President was attacked by a mob wielding amongst other objects, stones, sticks, pure water sachets, when the President visited Kano on his way to Dutse, in Jigawa State. The attack was against the President's maneuvers to elongate his tenure in office. An earlier attack over the same issue took place in Lagos, when demonstrators loyal to the President, barricaded the entrance to the Ikoyi, Lagos, home of the Vice president, Ajhaji Atiku Abubakar, because of his open disagreement with the President, over the tenure extension issue. The protesters followed the Vice President to the presidential wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport to continue booing him while the police looked on as if helpless.
In another report in the Punch of Saturday May 13, 2006, Obasanjo's first wife, Mrs. Remi Obasanjo, begged third term campaigners to let Obasanjo return home in 2007. She said, “Eight years is enough…..people should please leave him alone to rest. At least, they have got enough of whatever they want from him.” On Sunday May 14, 2006, the Economic Community of West African States, called on the proponents and opponents of tenure extension to respect the outcome of the legislative process in the ongoing amendment of Nigeria's 1999 constitution. In a statement issued by its Secretariat in Abuja, it said the constitution review process should be allowed to proceed in compliance with due process and respect for the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to a report in the Punch of Tuesday May 16, 2006, ahead of the resumption of debate on the constitution amendment on Tuesday May 16, 2006, both the pro-third term and anti third-term groups in the National Assembly met all day and late into the night on Monday 15 May, 2006, strategizing. Asked about what to expect, the leader of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP), in the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, assured Nigerians that those opposed to the third term bid, would stop the passage of the tenure extension for the president and governors.
Another report indicated that the anti-third term group was planning to upturn the entire constitution amendment on Tuesday the 16 May. That rather than block the clause proposing tenure extension only, the legislators would reject the entire constitution amendment bill. A pro third-term member, Mr. John Halims Agoda, vowed that his camp would break the ranks of the anti-third term lawmakers. While the pro and anti third term members of the National Assembly were plotting their strategies that Monday 15 May, 2006, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih and the Governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, made a sudden appearance at the National Assembly, in company of Obasanjo's Chief Protocol Officer, Alhaji Inuwa Labaran, at about 3.35pm. The team was delivering a message from Obasanjo, and first met with the President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, before going to the office of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Masari, at about 4.20pm. All the members of the House who were with Masari when the president's men arrived were excused from the meeting. After the separate meetings with both leaders of the National Assembly, the Chairman Senate Committee on Information, Mr. Victor Ndoma-Egbe, told reporters that Nnamani informed him that the visit was an informal one. “Nothing significant,” Nnamani reportedly said.
Meanwhile, a former President of Botswana, Mr. Ketumile Masire, warned on Monday 15, May 2006, that Africa would be in trouble if there was unrest in Nigeria. Masire spoke during a visit, accompanied by the President of the US based National Democratic Institute (NDI), Mr. Kenneth Wollack, two former leaders, Mr. Karl Offmann of Mauritius and Hage Geingob of Namibia, and a former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Joe Clerk, to the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Masari. The teams' visit was sponsored by the NDI to see that the electoral system in the country was working well ahead of the 2007 polls.
Masire said, while the team was meeting with Masari: “We do not come here only for elections but we have come to see that all systems are working. If anything happens in Nigeria, the whole of Africa is in trouble. It is not only in your interest, we are also here in our interest to ensure that nothing goes wrong.” The former Botswana leader told Masari that Nigeria was so big that no country would be able to contain the problems associated with the influx of refugees from her. Masari assured his visitors that they had nothing to fear and added, “We are putting our heads together to make sure that nothing happens. Effects of crisis do not respect national boundaries. We have gone through our worst periods. Some of the shortfalls we see are normal trends in emerging democracies.”
Before the commencement of debate on the constitution amendment bill in the Senate on Tuesday May 16, 2006, reports were presented about threats through phone calls and letters to the lives of anti third term Senators. The Senate referred the issues raised to its appropriate committee for further investigation. After the reports, the Senate President set the tone for the debate on the constitution amendment bill with an inspiring, history making speech pledging total impartiality and adherence to the rules of the Senate and “the protection of democratic procedures no matter where our votes fall.” He emphasized: ”regardless of how votes are cast, I will not short-circuit any of the provisions of our Standing Rules of the Constitution. By the end of debate in the Senate on Tuesday May 16, 2006, 49 were against and 40 were in favour of tenure extension, while 17 were undecided.
After the debate on Tuesday May 16, 2006, Senator Jonathan Zwingina, the deputy leader of the Senate and one of the architects and leading promoters of the third term agenda for the president and governors, (in an attempt to pull the rug off the feet of the anti-third term group), sprang to his feet to move that the motion for the second reading of the constitution amendment bill be delayed until Tuesday the following week to allow members more time to think about the matters raised. Obviously he was playing for time to enable lobbyist of the third term agenda to reach out more vigorously, bribe wise, to Senators who were against the elongation of tenure during the debate. The Senators saw through the trick and promptly shot the motion down in a resounding voice vote. It was after this, that the Senate President invited the leader of the Senate, Senator Tafida to move the motion for the second reading of the constitution amendment bill.
Senator Tafida who was a principal architect of the offensive third term clause in the bill, moved the motion for the second reading reluctantly and after receiving support, the Senate President called for voice vote of those in support of the motion. The Senate President appeared shocked when only about half a dozen voices supported the motion for the second reading so he explained the motion more carefully and called again for voice vote. This time, fewer voices than during the first time, said yes. He then called for those against the second reading of the bill and the House roared a deafening No, killing the bill there and then, with most of the members bursting into spontaneous celebration, singing, dancing and hugging each other in triumph. They also sang the national anthem. The few that could not join in the celebration, such as Mantu, Tafida, Zwingina, sat there motionless, looking shocked and crestfallen, as if they had just been hit with the news of the death of a very dear one. The Senate President, sensing their mental anguish, said from his sit: “I asked twice for voice vote and you were looking at me? They were probably bleeding heavily internally, because they looked too lost for words. With the Senate rejection of the constitution amendment bill, fireworks started going off around the country in celebration.
By Tuesday the 16 May, 2006, when the House continued the debate on the constitution amendment bill, those in support of tenure elongation were trailing far behind those against. The sessions had been as lively and robust as in the Senate. In fact, like the Senate, contributions to the debate by the House of Representatives members against tenure elongation were more intelligent and focused than those of the pro-third term Representatives who appeared to be tongue-tied.
Austin Opara, the Deputy Speaker and sponsor of the bill in the House, as the last person scheduled to speak on the debate that day, suddenly introduced Plan A3 of the Presidency, but with modification to make it acceptable to the House, hoping perhaps during further debate on it, to find accommodation still for Obasanjo's ambition one way or the other. He dropped the three terms of four years tenure option, for one term of six years starting from the end of the current regime in 2007 and preventing those who had served two terms in office from benefiting. The change was received with loud cheers by most members who mobbed him, singing victory songs although not aware at the time that the entire bill had died in the Senate thereby rendering their efforts on it useless since one arm of the National Assembly could not effect constitutional amendment on its own.
Obasanjo had traveled out to Paris, France, hoping to return to a triumphant welcome by his PDP hired crowd as Nigeria's 'life president in waiting. For a considerable while on that Tuesday 16 May, 2006, after the Senate vote, none of Obasanjo's lieutenants could tell him on the phone that his pet project had been shot down at the Senate, until his Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, summoned the courage to do so. It was reported that on hearing the bad news, the president was silent for nearly five minutes and when he eventually recollected himself, said he was returning home immediately that day.
Obasanjo, on returning home that evening from Paris, decided to take stock of his failed bid to elongate his tenure as President, at a makeshift emergency meeting of his close 'villa' associates, that lasted several hours from the evening of Tuesday 16, 2006, to the early morning of Wednesday 17 May, 2006, at the presidential villa. The meeting came to the conclusion that a thorough investigation needed to be carried out to establish how funds voted for the exercise were deployed. The belief at the meeting was that most of those that were given money to facilitate the success of the proposal, especially in the National Assembly, did not put the money to the right use.
Out of ignorance about how the two chambers of parliament work in relation to each other to make laws, it was decided at the Obasanjo's panic meeting that in order not to allow the president to be disgraced, a further bid could still be made to elongate the tenure of the present regime by two years through the Austin Opara's proposal at the House of Representatives on Tuesday 16 May, 2006. That instead of having 2007 as the commencement date for the six-year tenure proposed by Opara, they could lobby to have the commencement date back-dated to 2003, to give Obasanjo two more years in office. In the event of this failing, it was decided that the presidency should go to the South-South in 2007.
That was all that was left for the President to try to do actually, after having alienated the elite of his party, particularly the Northern elite from the PDP, and driven them into other parties. The PDP had to be positioned for its survival in the 2007 elections and a South-South or South-East presidential candidate was the best way to ensure a constituency and some relevance if the term elongation bid failed.
Following in the footsteps of the Senate, which on Tuesday 16 May 2006, had shot dead the constitution amendment bill because of its third term clause considered to be against public interest, members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday 17 May, 1006, threw out the entire amendment bill as well. The Speaker, Alhaji Aminu Masari, who called for the discarding of the proposed amendments, said there was no need going ahead with the discussions since the Senate had rejected the entire document. For any amendment to be made in the Constitution, both chambers of the National Assembly must assent to it.
Masari who made the pronouncement to a near empty House, following poor attendance by many pro-third term legislators suffering from the shock and shame of failure, said at the sitting: “Honourable members, in view of what happened here yesterday (Tuesday) and in the Senate, it has become necessary for us to drop the bill from this House. The bill is hereby withdrawn from this chamber.” A pro-third term member in the House suggested to the Speaker that the bill could not be withdrawn because the Speaker's motion was not seconded. The Speaker responded that a seconder was not necessary to withdraw a dead bill. The withdrawal of the bill from the House was greeted with screams of joy and celebration by members, who danced and sang happily, hugging and embracing one another and ending up singing the national anthem.
The death of the constitution amendment bill was a great relief for the long-suffering and traumatized people of Nigeria. It signaled national re-birth, restored voice and hope to the masses against a brewing monstrous dictatorship. The relief and joy was thick, boisterous and palpable across the length and breathe of the country.
NAIWU OSAHON Hon. Khu Mkuu (Leader) World Pan-African Movement); Ameer Spiritual (Spiritual Prince) of the African race; MSc. (Salford); Dip.M.S; G.I.P.M; Dip.I.A (Liv.); D. Inst. M; G. Inst. M; G.I.W.M; A.M.N.I.M. Poet, Author of the magnum opus: 'The end of knowledge'. One of the world's leading authors of children's books; Awarded; key to the city of Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Honourary Councilmanship, Memphis City Council; Honourary Citizenship, County of Shelby; Honourary Commissionership, County of Shelby, Tennessee; and a silver shield trophy by Morehouse College, USA, for activities to unite and uplift the African race.
Naiwu Osahon, renowned author, philosopher of science, mystique, leader of the world Pan-African Movement.