We feel encouraged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to stand by the Constitution to do two terms in office and no more. Indeed, he said: “I’m not going to make the mistake of attempting a third term.” Beside his age, (he will be 80 in 2023), he noted, the Constitution prescribed two terms, he told the Press at the National Executive Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Abuja on November 22, 2019.
The President’s response is important because we have been through this route before, if only for the record. But it is important that from time to time in a democracy, the men and women at the helm of affairs should speak up to let Nigerians access to their thinking about events.
Our immediate past experience during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) was that the beneficiary denied any such intentions. Indeed, Obasanjo was said to have initially refused to run for President and when his sponsors did not yield, he relented and said he would accept if he did only a single term of four years.
Somewhere down the line, he changed his mind and after his first term, he fought tooth and nail for a second, and there is a general belief that he spared no effort trying to obtain a third, until Nigerians refused. The distrust, the bad blood and broken alliances resulting from that ‘third term’ bid have not healed till date. Obasanjo continues to deny it but very few believe him.
Efforts to impose rulers on Nigerians or extend their tenure have a fairly long history. In 1998, Daniel Kanu was so enamoured of the Gen. Sani Abacha junta, that he organised a ‘two-million-man march’ of Nigerian youths to beg Abacha to continue, if possible, indefinitely. The march seemed to have been a scam, but it was found to be a big time business, which yielded so much fortune, including the allocation of oil blocks.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a Charles Eya in Ebonyi State, taking a cue from Kanu, has approached the Federal High Court in Abakaliki seeking to expunge Sections 137(1) and 182(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which had set two term limits on governors and presidents. “..Restricting the President to only two terms of four years each, is inoperative by virtue of its discriminating nature in relation to the Executive and Legislative branches of government in Nigeria and therefore null and void and thus inapplicable,” Eya averred.
Knowing what we know about ourselves and our country, we appeal to all Nigerians, the National Assembly, the Judiciary and all segments of our population to watch out for third term mercenaries. Those who are determined to push the ‘third term’ agenda are not likely to be dissuaded by Buhari’s denials, and frivolous and evil machinations against constitutional government are going to be unleashed. It would be a tragedy if the country is pushed to thread that path again. It would also make a laughing stock of our Constitution and join us to the lengthy number of African countries that have degraded their Constitution as not worth the paper on which it is printed.
The office of the President of Nigeria is so demanding beyond the kind of energy naturally available to an octogenarian, but we know also that those pushing the President are doing so essentially for their own personal or group interests.
The rotation of the Presidency may be an unwritten convention not covered by the Constitution, yet it has been found to be imperative for peace, order and good government of the federation. Recent attempts to denigrate or diminish it raise red flags which tend to fuel the fears of a third term agenda. The President’s denial of a third term ambition may not be good enough because it is unlikely to remove every scintilla of suspicion. Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-political group, has raised a few questions on President Buhari’s records, including his promise in 2011 that he would do only one term if he became President.“He’s now on a second term.” Buhari also promised Nigerians in 2015 that he would not have his wife posing as First Lady as President. “He was mute when the wife issued an order that she must be addressed as First Lady and he has gone ahead to appoint six aides for the office,” Afenifere said.
Our experience is that the desperation of the sycophant has been found to pressurise presidents to reverse themselves. A third term is practically a coup against democracy and those who sponsor it are embarking on self-destructive agenda if they move beyond the President’s stated position.