President Olusegun Obasanjo must be in a bad mood now. Money failed to buy him love among the crucial segment of the National Assembly needed to achieve his desire to bend the constitution to allow his continual rule. A crazy spending spree, which he had banked on to win the hearts of legislators, failed on the floor of the Senate.

The proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution to extend the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the 36 state governors was dealt a major blow in the Senate on Thursday.

By the end of proceedings on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, 42 senators had spoken against the idea, surpassing the 37 needed to achieve the two-thirds to defeat the bid.

Those canvassing the idea have recorded only 37 supporters but they require 73.

Sixteen senators have remained evasive.

As the event in the Senate was unfolding on Thursday, reports filtered in that Obasanjo had solicited the help of three state governors to prevail on the President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Masari, to ensure that the proposed third term agenda sailed through in the National Assembly.

The governors allegedly recruited by Obasanjo for the task were those of Delta State, Chief James Ibori; Nasarawa State, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu; and Borno State, Alhaji Modu Sheriff.

But the senators opposed to third term were unyielding as they rejected the idea during Thursday’s debate.

Those who spoke against third term on Thursday were Senators Iya Abubakar (Adamawa); Isaiah Balat (Kaduna); Dalha Danzomo (Jigawa); Ben Obi (Anambra); Umaru Dahiru (Sokoto); Usman Albashir (Yobe); Mohammed Ibrahim (Jigawa); Mukhtar Aruwa (Kaduna); Sani Kamba (Kebbi); Badamasi Maccido (Sokoto); and Mamman Ali (Yobe).

Those who spoke for third term were Senators Ugochukwu Uba (Anambra); Inatimi Spiff (Bayelsa); Fidelis Okoro (Enugu); Tunde Ogbeha (Kogi); Julius Ucha (Ebonyi); Kolawole Ogunwale (Osun); Iyabode Anisulowo (Ogun); and Christopher Nshi (Ebonyi).

Those who were evasive included Senators Jibril Aminu (Adamawa); Mohammed Sanusi Daggash (Borno); David Brigidi (Bayelsa); Simeon Ajibola (Kwara); and Victor Oyofo (Edo).

Thirteen senators are yet to make their presentations.

They will do so when the Senate resumes plenary next Tuesday.

First to speak against third term agenda at Thursday’s plenary session was Abubakar who argued that “tenure extension and the principle of rotational presidency are two incompatible principles” in a democracy.

In his remarks, Balat said while he supported the call for increased derivation for the oil-producing states, “majority of my constituents are against third term”, adding, however, that he was “still consulting” on the matter.

Danzomo told the Senate that he was not only opposed to the proposed third term for the President and state governors but also the amendment seeking to allow independent candidates to contest elections.

Dahiru asked rhetorically in his contribution, “What is the agenda? What is the interest? What is the rush (to amend the constitution) about?

“Amendment is all about one issue: we know how third term was smuggled in. The people of my constituency are totally against third term.”

Albashir dubbed third term “the monster of the year,” alleging that the entire constitution review process was a smokescreen for pursuing the agenda.

Ibrahim supported most of the proposed amendments except tenure extension, which he described as a “cancer.”

Aruwa said, “No to third term. The life of this administration ends in 2007, period! Third term is not in the interest of Nigeria.”

Kamba used less than a minute of the 10 minutes allotted to him to make his contribution stating briefly that, “We (his constituency) don’t want elongation of tenure. We don’t support it! I don’t support it! That’s all!”

In his contribution, Maccido denied reports that he was under pressure from his father, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Maccido, to vote for third term.

He added, “I do not represent the caliphate, I represent the eight local governments of my senatorial district.”

Ali, who was a member of the defunct National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, rejected the exercise, saying it was fraudulent.

Although Aminu opposed the proposal for rotational presidency on geopolitical basis preferring, instead, the north/south rotation, he avoided the issue of tenure extension.

Oyofo, who also avoided any comments on third term, however, canvassed the deletion of the immunity clause from the constitution, arguing that it was “shamelessly absurd. We can’t in good conscience shield criminals. We should remove the clause.”

He added that rotational presidency was inevitable, insisting that it was the turn of the South-South to produce the next president.

Oyofo also stated that he was in favour of 50 per cent derivation for the oil-producing states, adding, however, “25 per cent is enough for now.”

In his contribution, Brigidi dwelled on the need for increased derivation and avoided all other issues in the proposed amendment.

In the House of Representatives, sitting was abruptly adjourned as Masari was reportedly summoned to the Presidential Villa over the third term issue.

Sources said Masari and some officers had gone to see the President on Wednesday night when it became obvious that the extension plan was heading for the rocks.

He refused to see them. Said one source, “The President said he was not prepared to see them; he told them to go and get the job done.”

Our correspondents gathered, however, that Aso Rock became uncomfortable when the trend of the speeches on Thursday indicated that there was no let up in the opposition.

Worried by the development in the National Assembly, President Olusegun Obasanjo, on Thursday night, invited Nnamani, Masari, and three others to Aso Rock for a last-minute manoeuvre.

Others at the meeting were the Deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu; the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Tony Anenih; and the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the PDP, Chief Bode George.

Although the details of the meeting were sketchy, it was gathered that the President was forced to delay his trip to Indonesia on Thursday night by three hours.

A source said that the President gave the team the marching orders on the third term agenda.

Masari had earlier on Wednesday night met with Nnamani, Ibori, Adamu, Sheriff and one of Obasanjo’s Special Assistants, Mr. Andy Uba, in Nnamani’s official residence in Apo Quarters.

Our correspondents learnt that the lobbyists pleaded with Nnamani and Masari to adopt voice vote during voting instead of calling for a division (individual votes).

They were also told that PDP bigwigs wanted the discontinuation of the live coverage of the proceedings.

But Nnamani reportedly told the team that he did not have the magic wand to achieve their requests. He said that he was not opposed to third term, if it was achieved through due process.

Asked to react to the issues, the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, tersely said, “I won’t comment on such speculation.”

A member from Kaduna State, Dr. Yusuf Baba-Ahmed, threatened to resign his position if the allegation of financial inducement to National Assembly members over the third term project was not investigated.

Baba-Ahmed, an All Nigeria Peoples Party lawmaker, during his contribution to the third term debate, read an open letter to Masari.

Titled, “Intention to resign as member should bribery allegations for constitutional amendment against NASS members not be investigated.” He said credible allegations abound that members were offered financial gratification to support tenure elongation.

Apparently rattled by Baba-Ahmed’s position, the House leadership abruptly adjourned proceedings at 2.16pm, despite the fact that it had fixed 5pm to rise to accommodate more contributions from members.

Justifying the sudden adjournment, the House Leader, Alhaji Abdul Ningi, said Masari’s attention was urgently needed outside the National Assembly complex.

But this was not before 39 members had spoken on the issue.

Out of the number, 21 lawmakers favoured extension of tenure while 18 spoke against it.

As soon as Baba-Ahmed introduced the subject of his letter, some pro-third term members of the House sought to prevent him from continuing the presentation by shouting into their microphones.

This led to a row between members from the opposing camps, a situation that led to the disruption of proceedings for over seven minutes.

It took the intervention of the Deputy Whip, Mrs. Patricia Ette, to call the House to order.

Baba-Ahmed said copies of the letter have been sent to Obasanjo; the Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Nnanami; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Austin Opara; the Inspector-General of police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero; the Director-General of State Security Service, Colonel Kayode Are (rtd.); the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu and the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related offences Commission, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola.

He recalled Obasanjo’s national broadcast in which members of the National Assembly were alleged to be involved in a bribe-for-budget scandal, adding that he had resolved to resign his seat if the allegation was not investigated before the end of the legislative year.

After Thursday’s debate, the number of members of the House opposed to third term increased to 68, 58 in support and two undecided.

Those who supported tenure extension on Thursday were Mr. Adediji Omotoyo (Ondo); Mr. Njida Jela (Adamawa); Emiola Fakeye (Osun); Mr. Olakunle Oluwole (Ondo); Chinonyerem Macebuh (Abia); Gozie Agbakoba (Anambra); Ogbuefi Ozombachi (Enugu); Cletus Upaa (Benue); Napoleon Gbinije (Delta); Mba Ajah (Abia); Tony Azegbeni (Edo).

Others were Dr. Gyang Daylop (Plateau); Martins Oke (Enugu); Ayinde Mufutau (Osun); John Fashogbon (Osun); Igo Aguma (Rivers); Attah Aidoko Ali (Kogi); Boulus Ndiamaowei (Bayelsa); Dave Solako (Ogun); Collins Muyiwa Abayomi (Ogun); and David Idoko (Benue).

Among lawmakers who kicked against the planned tenure extension were Addau Isa Rano (Kano); Mudashiru Hussein (Lagos); Hamisu Gambo (Katsina); Caleb Zagi (Kaduna); Isa Seidu (Niger); Solomon Agidani (Benue); Wunmi Bewaji (Lagos); Haruna Yerima (Borno); and Almajiri Geidam (Yobe).

Others were Nasiru Gabasawa (Kano); Abdulahi Idris (Gombe); Wale Okediran (Oyo); Charles Iliyas (Gombe); Baba-Ahmed (Kaduna); Sani Minjibir (Kano); Usman Balkore (Sokoto); Farouk Aliyu (Jigawa); and Shola Adeyeye (Osun).

THE PUNCH, Friday, May 12, 2006

Date:  2006/5/12
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