We are one vibrant, lively nation despite all the odds we have faced and continue to face everyday. We are definitely not a boring society. There is always something juicy for a journalist to report; be it social-wise, political-wise or economic-wise. Though, unfortunately, not all of what is reported about us is good news, it is however noteworthy that we have somehow managed to be in the international news one way or the other. If our infrastructure were all in place as should be in any well-functioning society, all major international news media outfits will have a major base in Nigeria to report the news that spews out of our very vibrant society on an almost daily basis.
For news, we have had the occasional terribly embarrassing reports of failure and inefficiency; the reports of accidents and its attendant loss of lives; the surprising good news in sports before the occassional sudden and disappointmenting exits; the cheery news of our freedom from the shackles of indebtedness to the Paris Club; the glorious moments of our return to democracy [May 1999]; the kangaroo trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa; the death of a tyrannical General; the C-130 crash that killed over a hundred men and women[?] of the Armed Forces; June 12 and the stepping aside of a gap-toothed General; the fall of a few corrupt but powerful politicians to EFCC and now the latest good news - the rejection by the Senate of the Federal Republic of a bill that would foist upon us Nigerians the wishes of an elite few.
"Why are you staring at me? When I put [forward] the question, it was transparently clear. You did not say anything. I put it [the question] twice." Those were the words of Ken Nnamani, the President of the senate, yesterday, as the Senate rejected the 1999 Constitutional Amendment Bill. His comments were directed at his Deputy, Ibrahim Mantu, who sat stupefied - numbed as he stared in disbelief at the event that unfolded live before his very eyes - as reported by THISDAY newspaper. The Punch newspaper quoted the Senate President slightly different: "I said [to] those in favor of a second reading, say ÔÇśaye' and you all sat down looking at me as if it's by looking at me that you'd vote." Thereafter came the clincher that was quoted in the press across the world yesterday: "By this result, the Senate has said very clearly that we discontinue further processes on this amendment bill." And Kenechuwku Nnamani sounded the Gavel.
With those words in the Senate yesterday, May 16, 2006, a death knell was delivered on the issue of the elongation of the tenure of the Obasanjo administration. All major newspapers have reported the visible disappointment amongst those who supported the idea to extend President Obasanjo's rule. The Punch and THISDAY both reported that the Presidential Villa wore a solemn look yesterday as well. This contrasts with the much vaunted Presidential aides' declarations that the President [who himself has refused to state his position directly with the people] is not interested in '3rd Term'. The somber look they wore is however the latest in the many giveaways on the part of the Presidency that Nigerians have noticed so far.
And so it came to pass that an idea was hatched called ÔÇś3rd Term' and was fine, as every citizen - including the President - has a right to an opinion as to what is best for the nation. This idea was however shrouded in secrecy and smuggled around like it was some deadly contraband. It was not open to the average Nigerian but peddled around the corridors of power. The people, under whose mandate those who hold power were elected, were ignored. Hence the people of Nigeria naturally got suspicious and doubted the sincerity behind the intent to elongate the rule of the incumbent President.
Meanwhile the President keeps mum to date; preferring, like his supporters, to use subterranean moves to achieve his objective. Nobody knew his position and he tacticly and disrespectfully [to Nigerians] evaded a direct answer on the issue. But Nigerians do remember that the last man to act in such a way was a bespectacled General of the Nigerian Army who took our nation with him down the path of pariah. That General never spoke his intent either, nor did he stop the campaigners from clamoring for him to remain our ruler for life. Instead, he basked in the attention he was given - even as the existing 5 political parties then all adopted him as their respective flag bearer - until nemesis kindly took him away for us.
So, it was only natural that Nigerians will doubt the current President's sincerity as well, when he adopts a similar posture in the midst of many intimidations and coercions to force the nation to bend the way of a few. These further added to the disadvantage of a less-than-honorable silence on the part of the President. Also, protests against '3rd Term' were cut short, rallies were tear-gased, the few who declared intent for the highest office in the land were hounded and intimidated, free assembly of people as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution was denied those who sought it, unknown agents of state raided media houses [AIT], rival politicians and their families were targeted and sometimes assassinated [Rimi] etc.
All the above were writings on the wall for the Nigerian people: an idea cannot be honorable if it is being introduced the way it has so far been with the case of the elongation of Olusegun Obasanjo's tenure as President of Nigeria. As much as Nigerians appreciate the fact that no other leader in the history of the Federal Republic has made as much positive impact in the life of Nigerians as Obasanjo, they will not subscribe to a carte-blanche manipulation of the constitution without involving them directly in fixing the same constitution. Plus, many Nigerians are aware of the fact that Olusegun Obasanjo only stands tall when compared to a list of failed despots and corrupt politicians that preceeded him.
The President, like most of today's politicians or leaders in Nigeria, has always treated the rest of us Nigerians in a condescending manner. He acts like he is all-knowing of what is best for us. Rather than consult directly with us on his ideas and proposals, he goes ahead and does as he wishes, bullying his way through to achieve his objectives, the end result of which is alienating himself with the people he rules. While the nation remained on a knife-edge due to the rumors of '3rd Term', the President did not see it fit to choose just one prime-time slot on national TV to address us. Who knows, he may have had excellent reasons to justify extending his stay. But no, the President remained aloof; preferring to evade questions on the topic as tension mount across the land.
No one in our recent history in Nigeria, of Obasanjo's stature and respectability, has wasted public goodwill as he has done by stubbornly taking on such an unpopular choice of action and it really does make one's heart bleed for him to see him go down such a lonely road to political isolation. All we can do is ask ourselves again and again: Is power so bad at corrupting people? If it is, can it also corrupt a man like Obasanjo who has literarily been through the 'valley of the shadow of death' during the Abacha era? Do we blame his actions on his advisors? Or is this an early manifestation of senility? Perhaps he has good intentions? Or is this the REAL Obasanjo whom we are just getting to know?
The President has inadvertently made dictators of yesteryears today's 'champions' of democracy and the rule of law. Hear Ibrahim Babangida yesterday, while he congratulated the Senate as reported by THISDAY: "I knew it would not succeed because there was no adequate consultation with Nigerians on the matter...It did not succeed, not because the lawmakers did not want constitutional amendment, but because of the way the proponents packaged the exercise as a third-term agenda". That was vintage IBB talking; discerning as ever! He was practical enough to appreciate the need to involve Nigerians in affairs of state - of course by any means neccessary if one is to go by IBB's antecedents.
Then there was the case of former Senate President Adolphus Wabara who was indicted for bribery last year and was subsequently impeached. According to reports, it was a moment of glory for a man who only a few months ago was a personification of corruption in the public eye. Senator Wabara used his allotted 10 minutes on the senate floor to deliver a humorous and powerful speech that stood for fairness and accountability. It won him encomiums from many that included his colleagues, the viewers in the Senate gallery and many others who viewed the proceedings live on AIT TV. He spoke of his constituents wishes rather than his wishes - all in a very civilized manner that in no way revealed he bellied any grudges with the executive arm that saw to his previous downfall.
Other observers of the proceedings in the senate yesterday also commented on the outcome of the debate; from Vice-President Atiku to Uche Chukwumerije - another Senator who has been in the fore-front of the battle against tenure amendment for the Obasanjo government. He is another example of a few individuals that President Obasanjo has inadvertently helped cleanse of past 'sins' against the Nigerian people; for it was Chukwumerije who only a few years ago was Ibrahim Babangida's propaganda chief as the latter manipulated Nigeria till she got dizzy from the dribblings. Today, Senator Chukwumerije is one of the most eloquent voices in the National Assembly on important debates that affect the direction of the affairs of state - including the so-called third-term.
The Nigerian media - especially the press - has always been the last line of hope for Nigeria. Without them, a lot of injustices and ÔÇśwuru-wuru to the answer' will go unreported in the land. Their tenacious vigilance beamed the spot-light on this tenure issue while it was under fertilization, as it grew to an embryo and as it hatched to become an issue that rocked the nation. The perpetrators had nowhere to hide or run; the search light of the Third Estate of the Realm was on them whereever they went. A few lawmakers asked for secret voting and the press cried foul. Our own CNN in Nigeria, the African Independent Television displayed her independence - even while under harassment of raids and bomb threats - and broadcasted live from within the senate chambers.
Ken Nnamani, the Senate President, could have easily bent the way of those who applied pressure on him on an almost daily basis. He could have done things the way Ibrahim Mantu did as head of the "Constitutional Review Committee". Ibrahim Mantu's committee had recommended that a '3rd Term' be included in the amendment of the 1999 constitution. According to him, it was in line with the wishes of the Nigerian people whom he consulted with as he criss-crossed the country. He went further to state that history will vindicate him and he thanked God for using him to help Nigerians[!]. However, Senator Nnamani toed a different path - the humble path of honor and integrity. Today, Mr. Nnamani won't have to boast of how history will treat his name; it is obvious to all and sundry how posterity will view him.
So it happened that the '3rd Term' idea died a sudden death; one that left all those who supported the idea bowing their heads in ignominy. The President may have lost his goodwill but he can still save face by humbling himself before Nigerians through a prime-time TV address. If he wants to earn his respect again, he must come clean with Nigerians. He must state why he refused to speak before now and apologize for taking us all through the emotional roller-coaster of the '3rd Term' yawa. He must state what his future plans are and assure us he is ready to retire at the expiration of his tenure. He must assure us that he would work to organize a very free and fair election that will usher in the first successful civilian to civilian transition in Nigeria.
But then again, it is not in President Obasanjo's character to explain himself to anyone, much less of apologize for his errors. If we are to go by his antecedents, he would most likely remain evasive or shout down those who approach him to ask what his plans are. Obasanjo must eventually realize he has the press and the Senate to thank for saving him from what might happen if the '3rd Term' had survived - that which happens to every despot that clings to power: humiliation and disgrace before an eventual downfall. Obasanjo has not fallen yet but he has been humbled. He should begin to plan his exit from power and leave a legacy [if any] for others to emulate. That way, he can celebrate his 'official' 70th birthday anniversary next March in relative peace before he retires to his farm in Ota.
May 17, 2006.