Posted by By Paul Odili on
The Northern political establishment in the last three weeks has left no one in doubt that they want power in 2007, and are willing to stake its claim openly and forcefully.
The Northern political establishment in the last three weeks has left no one in doubt that they want power in 2007, and are willing to stake its claim openly and forcefully. Every known political forces in the north has in one way or the other demonstrated their uncompromising determination to have power back, and would resist any talk about extension of the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo, being speculated for some time now. What is however striking to many observers is that, while the North is stealing the thunder, the Southeast and South-south have been quiet. What is not clear is why they have kept to themselves, and have not seized the moment to stake their own claim too.
Because of the loud silence from the former Eastern Nigeria, Vanguard politics did a check to ascertain the reason(s) for the seeming silence, and what emerged was that politicians in that region neither have the guts, nor is there any real game plan to stake a strong position for the Presidency, contrary to the common impression given that they want power in 2007.
A political stalwart who spoke to Vanguard politics, but declined to be named, said the silence from the zone is because people are afraid to offend Obasanjo. He explained that many of those angling for the presidency are hoping that Obasanjo, should he decide not to run again would support them to succeed him.
Further enquirers indicate that while many political figures from the zones are opposed to any possible extension of office, they are however hoping that it was better not to be seen as one spearheading the struggle against it, and thus hopefully win presidential endorsement, than speak up and lose that opportunity. Another thing that has posed some problem for many PDP chieftains in the Southeast, for instance, is that the President’s men are very much in control of the party apparatus.
For instance, Obasanjo’s loyalists like Nze Fidelis Ozi-Chukwu Chukwu, is the Vice- National Chairman Southeast, with the resurgent Chief Chris Uba, leader of the party, and now member board of trustees of the party, amongst many others are believed to be in support of the third term bid.
Furthermore, of the five Southeast states, two of the governors are estranged and have very little influence on what is now happening in the party in the zone. Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State, long expelled from the party can not, even if he wants to, influence things any more in the party. With his tenure in office shaky, it is unlikely that issues concerning the President getting an extension would mean much to him. Although, he has spoken against third term, being outside the party has curtailed his influence to do anything.
The other governor is Abia chief executive, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, seen by even the party’s National Chairman, Col Ahmadu Ali, as a loose cannon. Kalu has long spoken up against third term.
However, what Kalu says while getting media attention is only one voice and it is unclear whether others would be willing to work with him. While he stood out as one of those who have spoken out, his view is predictable and the party hierarchy would ordinarily not lose sleep over his utterances.
Of the three other governors, Sam Egwu, Chimaroke Nnamani and Achike Udenwa, only Nnamani had found the self confidence to oppose the campaign for third term. Since the campaign began he had not made any secret his stand on the matter. While Nnamani’s view is known, the stand of the other two are unknown. Does Egwu oppose third term or is he in favour? Does Udenwa oppose it or in favour?
In a sense it might be said that Udenwa ordinarily should oppose term extension because of his known closeness to Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Indeed, Udenwa’s political affiliation is believed to have cost him the control of the party in the state. During PDP’s last re-registration and congresses, Udenwa like Kalu were sidelined. New executives emerged, which they had very little control over. It would seem that in view of the fight he has on his hands, getting involved in the third term controversy might only multiply his problems.
But, on the other hand, Egwu does not have such worries, yet his voice has been quiet on this matter. Meanwhile, of the Southeast governors graded on performance, Egwu’s ranking is favourable, which suggests he has the potential if he seeks higher offices, yet he seem to be one of those without the back bone to stick out his neck on this matter. If there is no known organised effort by the governors or the party leadership in the Southeast to stake a claim, the federal legislatures have not also themselves seized the moment to make a point.
Like some of the governors, federal legislators from the Southeast zone have all been quiet. If silence means acquiescent, it then means that most of them were in cahoots with their governors, and would support wherever the pendulum swings; although the only exception to the general silence from the federal legislators is Chief Arthur Nzeribe, who believes the third term agenda is workable. Nzeribe, a ranking Senator, should know. He has the antecedent having previously embarked upon such an enterprise. His role during President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, with his Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, puts him on a different pedestal. So, if the others were chewing their tongues and afraid to take a commonly known position, Nzeribe was not one of them. In this sense he would not be accused of procrastinating.
And just like the legislators have no organised position on the matter, it can be assumed that had the third term agenda become an issue to vote on, the Southeast would have endorsed it without hesitation.
If the political class in the Southeast would rather sit on the fence, Ohanaeze, the dominant social cultural group has not taken up the gauntlet either.
The question many observers are asking is: should term extension become a reality, how would the quest for Igbo presidency launched in Enugu in 2001 succeed? In 2003, the bid for an Igbo man to take over from Obasanjo failed, despite the efforts of Chief Alex Ekwueme. Ohanaeze, the body that led the struggle said at that time that it would position the zone to clinch the top job in 2007.
The president-general of the group, Chief Joe Irukwu, even went as far as saying that Igbos would not accept a second position, automatically ruling out any alliance that would see the zone accept the VeePee slot. Yet, despite, Irukwu’s rhetoric, the big threat to his avowed position was a term extension, and where are Irukwu and Ohanaeze?
On the other hand leaders and spoke persons of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, were out in the trenches insisting that power must return to north in 2007. For instance, Col Hameed Ali, Secretary General of the group, warned that the ACF and north would do everything in their power to resist term extension. They say third term negates the understanding that the power would shift to north in 2007. Interestingly, while Ali was indignant about a possible negation of what he believes an attempt to breach a clear understanding, Irukwu, who led the Southeast delegates to the National Political Reform Conference, where the position was canvassed that instead of power rotating between north and south, it should rotate across the six geo-political zones has not even led the struggle to insist on the sanctity of Southeast demand.
As it is, the moment to demonstrate seriousness of power shift is over this third term issue, but Ohanaeze’s position seem overshadowed by the clamour by the north that power should return to them. If the momentum in the Southeast over the third term issue is low, the South-south that has spoken equally as forcefully has not fared better either. What about the governors? There is no known coordinated position on the matter. Individual governors at one time or the other spoke on this and counseled against third term agitation. Akwa Ibom Governor, Chief Victor Attah, said at one point that he is opposed to term extension, same as James Ibori and Peter Odili. Beyond this, it was quiet on the South-south front. Yet the South-south apart from the Southeast was the other zone making the most noise that it wants the presidency in 2007.
Still, the question the zone has to answer is: How can it be talking about power shift and not take a coordinated position the way northern leaders have done? Because as has been pointed out earlier should term extension work, would it not mean the South-south zone have lost out? If most of the leaders of the South-south are PDP chieftains and therefore party loyalists, and would rather not adopt rabble rousing style, what about the South-south Peoples Assembly, (SSPA) the body that made 2007, the principle aim of its work. Just like Ohanaeze failed to show leadership at this crucial moment, the SSPA appears to be missing in action in the face of this northern challenge.
A look at the role of the National Assembly legislators would reveal that many of them were timorous on this issue of third term. Not one of them said a word about it. No organisation to speak and stake clearly what South-south position on the third term is about. Yet, the South-south federal legislators are the ones that would have to enact the necessary legislation over this issue.
The position of the Southwest on the third term is understandable. The President is from the zone and if he gets a term extension, it saves them the trouble of having to campaign for office in 2007, since many of them are first term governors. The only second term governor with a different attitude is Lagos governor, Chief Ahmed Tinubu, who has his eyes on other things and is working to break out of the AD cocoon.
Notwithstanding the break up of Afenifere, leaders of the different factions had publicly criticised any term extension warning that the Yoruba would not support it. In a way, even this public statement is an improvement on the silence from the southeast and south-south.
One other interesting side light on this third term and its aftermath is that comments from northern politicians indicate that any chance of a possible constitutional amendment might well happen only during the next dispensation. By organising themselves and taking a common stand they have shown power, clear sightedness, direction, and one of the consequences of this is a foreclosure of any possible constitutional change, because it would appear from their position that they do now wish to allow a slip that may reopen term extension in any way. But there are strong signs of suspicion in some quarters that the north is only attempting to play the role of a filibuster just so when a northern president mounts the rostrum, an amendment favourable to the north would then be engendered. Some of those pushing the northern position have consistently denied this but the more they make their case against constitutional amendment, the more they make it appear that they, too, have a hidden agenda.
It would seem that with the north seizing the momentum, the southern zones would have to redouble their efforts, and put their own organisation on the ground to show that they really mean what they say. Otherwise, it would appear that the suspicion all along that the posturing by southern politicians was a cover up, and that their real aim was the Vee-Pee slot, would be vindicated.
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This is a great piece of history, which is dear to our hearts as people and very much appreciated.
Many thanks to the people who worked hard in the past and those who are still making efforts to keep the institution.
The labour is obviouly worth it. We are proud of you all.
A lot still to be done, with the motivation of the champions of this course, others will follow as well to maintain the institution
May God continue to keep the edifice for development of future generations to the glory of God and the benefits of our fatherland.