Remember the dark Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha regimes - when media houses were closed at will by dictators? Well, those days are back, sadly. And the perpetrator is General Olusegun Obasanjo. His administration has raided Nigeria's only satelite TV station, aborting a documentary program focused on his third term plan in the process.

What could be described as a renewed clampdown on the media over President Oluse-gun Obasanjo’s ailing third term ambition came to the fore yesterday when State Security Service’s (SSS) operatives raided the Asokoro, Abuja station of African Independent Television (AIT), ordering the stoppage of a documentary programme on tenure elongation.

The security operatives who raided the station yesterday afternoon were said to have also carted away a master tape of the documentary after stopping its further transmission.

But the SSS in a telephone conversation with THISDAY said it was not aware of the development as it did not send any of its operatives to the television station.

Anonymous security source at the SSS said its FCT director said he was not aware of the development just as the headquarters of the service also expressed surprise.

In a chat with THISDAY, however, AIT chairman, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, said the operatives came and ordered a stoppage of the documentary and demanded for the master tape which was given to them.

"They came and said we should discontinue the documentary on tenure elongation. They demanded for one of the master tapes and we gave them one", he said.

On his next line of action, he stated that he would make a statement on the implication of the action on the growth of democracy in the country.

The AIT chairman said he would make a formal protest to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on the issue. "I will take up that issue with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). I will make a formal submission to NBC", he said.

Dokpesi, who ruled out the police as being behind the incident, said the plainclothes operatives said they were from the Presidency and noted that "this is a season where nobody owns up to his responsibilities".

When contacted, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Information, Mr. Niyi Obeitan, said the minister could not be reached as he was busy preparing  for today's "mothers' summit" holding at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja but assured THISDAY that the minister would make government position on the matter known today.

The documentary that has been running for sometime shows attempts by the General Yakubu Gowon's administration to elongate its stay in office by reneging on his transition to civil rule programme and how he was subsequently toppled.

The documentary also chronicles manipulations of the Ibrahim Babangida administration which resulted in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the eventual failure of the regime to stay beyond its departure date.

It also focuses on a similar attempt by the late General Sani Abacha junta to transmute from a military dictator to civilian president with clips of Daniel Kanu of Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) fame and the eventual demise of Abacha. 

It also shows footages of the apostles of Abacha-for-president during the various rallies organised to drum up support for the dictator. Prominent among those who addressed the rallies was the National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ojo Maduekwe. In the footage, Maduekwe waxed eloquently in urging Nigerians to accept Abacha as the only man who could hold the nation together.

Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives opposed to the proposal to elongate the tenure of the President and state governors will today meet to review their strategy in the face of ongoing debate by their members on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Amendment Bill), 2006.

Since the House began the second reading of the bill last Tuesday, no less than 125 members have contributed to the debate with 69 opposing the third term clause and 56 indicating their support, leaving out about 240 members yet to make their submissions.

Confirming today's meeting, Minority Leader in the House, Hon. Aminu Tanbuwal, told THISDAY yesterday that members opposed to the third term agenda would meet under the umbrella of Forum 2007 to "review our strategies and match the strategies of the Presidential Villa."

He expressed hope that as the House reconvenes tomorrow, "more of our members and those who have defected from Unity Forum (pro-third term camp) will be making their submissions and, of course, sound a death knell for the third term agenda."

Tanbuwal said members of Forum 2007 were not unmindful of the fact that promoters of the third term agenda were "becoming increasingly desperate" but concluded that "third term is dead except they are going to manufacture people on the floor of the House."

The House Minority Leader said Forum 2007 would also use today's meeting as a forum to receive "a large number of pro-third termers who have defected to our Forum," stressing, "their number is depleting and ours increasing, we are very comfortable with what we have."

When contacted, Deputy Chairman of Unity Forum, Hon. Hallims Agoda, said his forum was unperturbed by the turn of events in the National Assembly.

He said the submissions by members on the constitution amendment bill were not a true reflection of the position of the lawmakers.

Agoda: "This is democracy in action.  Have they voted?  Is the debate the same as voting? Well, I am not aware that voting has taken place in either of the chambers.

"As lawmakers, we should try as much as possible to enlighten people on the processes of legislation, on its principles. We should not exploit their ignorance."

He continued: "We should be honourable enough to tell Nigerians, “look, what we are doing is debate on the general principles of the bill and that when we reach the clause-by-clause analyses and if the need for voting arises, we will vote."

Tasked to react to claims by Forum 2007 that they have defeated the third term agenda, Agoda said: "That is not correct. I am a practical politician. There is nothing new in what is happening. If you remember, we have been able to handle more serious situations before, so there is nothing in the claims you said some people are making that threaten our position in Unity Forum.
'It is at the dying minute that you will see what we call political astuteness, when people will really declare what their stand is on this matter," stressing further that, "debate is one thing, voting is clearly another."

s the debate on the amendment bill resumes tomorrow, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the weekend urged adherence to due process and rule of law on the constitution review process.

It also said the sub-regional body was watching with keen interest the efforts by the Federal Government of Nigeria and key stakeholders of the Niger Delta to redress grievances pertaining to lack of development in the region within a framework of dialogue and a socio-economic regeneration package for the Niger Delta.

In a statement issued in Abuja, the sub-regional body noted that in view of the leadership role being played by Nigeria in West Africa, it was imperative that the constitution review process follows constitutional provisions and the rule of law.

It said: "It need not be emphasised that the entrenchment of constitutional rule in Nigeria is inextricably linked up with the on-going efforts to deepen and consolidate democratic culture in West Africa. It is therefore imperative that all stakeholders are mindful of the leadership role of Nigeria in the sub-region and desist from any actions that are likely to undermine the consolidation of democracy and peace in the country."

The body added that "ECOWAS expresses the hope that the constitution review process will proceed in compliance with due process and respect for the Constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, without recourse to violence or intimidation.”

Further, ECOWAS urges all sides to respect the eventual outcome of the process underway. The body also lent its support for Federal Gover-nment’s decision to address the grievances of the people of the Niger Delta Region as well as the declaration by Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta Region (MEND) on the declaration of ceasefire in their campaign to disrupt oil production and hostage taking.
It said: "ECOWAS welcomes the May 7, 2006 declaration by Niger Delta militants under the umbrella of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), of a cease-fire in their campaign to disrupt oil production in the region.

Even though the group apparently denied making the cease-fire declaration, ECOWAS is encouraged by the fact that there appears to be sufficient goodwill on both sides to find a peaceful solution to the Niger Delta crisis.”

The issue of the Niger Delta, it said, had been of a major concern to ECOWAS as the mounting restiveness in the region could seriously undermine the unity and stability of Nigeria, which it added was a major pillar in the drive to promote democracy, peace, security and regional integration in West Africa.

COWAS "therefore urges the Niger Delta militants to favour peaceful negotiations in their choice of options as they seek solutions to genuine grievances.”

It added: “The recent major presidential initiative to scale up development efforts in the Niger Delta is highly commendable and a step in the right direction, as it creates an important opening for addressing the underlying causes of conflict in that part of the country."

Date:  2006/5/12
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