Opinion: Yes, There Will Be a Third Term, Just Ask History! (1)
By Nicholas Uwerunonye
“Why can’t you journalists face the real issues in this country,” chided an angry Femi Falana, human right lawyer and activist, banging his fist on the table. My midget clattered on its side from its upright position, momentarily. I set it aright, again, bracing for the next onslaught.
“You could ask what Obasanjo has been doing with the oil windfall from the allied invasion of Iraq since 2011,” he went on.
President Olusegun Obasanjo had been reelected for a second term in office and here was I asking the lawyer to react to speculations that the president was seeking a third term in office.
This encounter happened at Falana’s chamber along Fajuyi Road somewhere in Ikeja where I had come to interview the lawyer that hot afternoon, sometime in late 2003.
I wouldn’t blame you if you are of the same mind as Falana back then. Why talk about a third term for either a president or a governor in Nigeria when it is constitutionally forbidden? But then, I did have a basis for making the enquiry that day.
Yours truly had been summoned by my editors at Insider Weekly, an investigative journal founded by top journalists from the very illustrious TELL, for a briefing a day earlier before the encounter at the Falana Chambers. At the briefing in the boardroom, there were, as I recollect, Osa Director, editor in chief of the magazine, Obed Awowede, Danlami Nmodu, George Mbah, and Chucks Owundinjo; all except Osa, were executive directors of the magazine.
Without much preamble, Mbah, a former prison inmate with Obasanjo under Late Gen. Sani Abacha, told me that there were reasons to believe that Obasanjo was nursing a third term ambition. By his account, Orji Uzor Kalu, then governor, Abia State, was a guest of Nelson Mandela (late) of South Africa, where he was admonished by the former South African President to prevail on Obasanjo not to seek a third term. More or less, as the editors had analyzed, the former Nigerian president appeared to have begun a shuttle diplomacy to world leaders to support constitutional amendment to give him a third term in office. “That is the reason why Abubakar Atiku (Obasanjo’s deputy) fell out with the president,” Mbah said, wrapping up our chat.
My task was to get across to heavyweight public opinion moulders and ask if such political manouvers that could grant a third term even when constitutionally unrealistic could be managed in Nigeria.
I was to speak to Falana, then head off to Malate, Ibadan, to speak to Alh. Lamidi Adedibu and round off the survey with Lam Adesina, a former governor, Oyo State.
So when Falana chided me and my superiors on how unrealistic our story pitch was, I was a bit disappointed. Not at my bosses for such line of enquiry, but more at Falana and men who reasoned like him.
It wasn’t even a decade yet since Abacha, a military dictator, tried transmogrifying into a civilian life president in Nigeria. Like Mbah, my boss, and Obasanjo, Falana was also imprisoned for his activism under the late dictator. Only death stopped Abacha from succeeding. But here was the same Falana ruling out the possibility of history repeating itself.
He was particularly dismissive of the possibility of a third term happening in Nigeria, that afternoon!
Perhaps it was at that moment that I began having this feeling that most Nigerians never learn from history.
But at the Malate palace of Adedibu, strong man of Ibadan politics, it was a different response entirely. On record, Baba Adedibu believed that Obasanjo was above board and wouldn’t seek such additional term in office. “Obasanjo is a godly man. He knows what God has done for him and I am sure he will never contemplate staying a day longer in office when his term expires,” Adedibu said. Off record, however, the Ibadan high chief wasn’t so sure.
When I switched off my tape after the interview and made to stand up and leave, Baba grabbed me by the hand. “Son, is it really true that this man is planning a third term in office,” asked the bewildered politician. I then narrated the briefings I got from office, living out some details, though. “Oloun ma gba waa,” the man exclaimed in Yoruba, meaning: may God save us all.
Chief Adesina, the former state governor’s response was equally that of alarm. But unlike Adedibu, he put his worry on record. For him, the man, Obasanjo was never a man to be trusted. At the time, a political commentator would have dismissed Chief Adesina’s diatribe against Obasanjo as just sniping from an opposition’s man. More so, his party, Alliance for Democracy, AD, had fallen for a chicanery played on them by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP. They had reportedly prevailed on AD not to produce a presidential candidate which could have split Obasanjo’s vote in the South West during the 2003 presidential election. AD fell for the trick and lost. Chief Adesina was one of the major casualties of the electoral losses, losing his second term bid as governor to PDP.
You may have started to wonder where I am going with all these long memories.
In the last couple of weeks, talks of another third term had begun making the round and with no other person leading the discourse than Falana, himself, now a SAN and believed by many to be a close friend of many people in the government of Mohammadu Buhari, the president.
In a recent cant, widely reported on news portals, Mr Falana believes that plans may have begun to perpetuate Buhari beyond 2023. Maybe the learned gentleman has learnt from history, after all.
Or maybe like some dismissed late Gov. Adesina’s diatribe of a planned third term agenda, we may chose to see Falana as griping over recent brazen attack on rule of law by security agencies in the matters of Omoyele Sowore, the controversial publisher of Sahara Reporters.
If you ask me, I would say that long before Mr Falana made his allegation, portents were all over the places indicating the possibility of self perpetuation in our political clime. To see the signs as clearly as I do, all you have to do is go back to those factors that made the first attempt by an incumbent for a third term in office fail.
For me, they are just three. One, a powerful deputy who wasn’t willing to go along; two, a largely unified media and a civil society that still had the spunk of the Abacha years; and three, the disposition of the political base of the incumbent.
The cabal in the presidency has carefully nullified these factors around Buhari as I will explain shortly.
*Uwerunonye is a senior practising journalist