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U.S. won't support third term, say officials

Posted by From Laolu Akande, New York on 2005/12/22 | Views: 736 |

U.S. won't support third term, say officials


IF President Olusegun Obasanjo seeks an extension of his mandate, he will most likely not receive the support of the United States government, its senior officials, past and present, have declared.

IF President Olusegun Obasanjo seeks an extension of his mandate, he will most likely not receive the support of the United States government, its senior officials, past and present, have declared.

President Obasanjo has consistently denied nursing any such plan, although several prominent Nigerians say his body language suggests it.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Africa at the U.S. State Department, Dr. Jendayi Frazer and one of her predecessors, Herman Cohen, say any such plot will negate the principles upon which the U.S. is founded.

According to Frazer, at a recent press briefing in Washington DC, the U.S. believes that presidential term limits are "extremely important."

The Guardian learnt that some notable world figures known to be very close to President Obasanjo are already being intimated with the international community's views on the rumoured plot.

The notable world figures include Robert Mcnamara, a former Defence Secretary in the U.S. and former World Bank president; Baroness Lynda Chalker of the United Kingdom and David Rockefeller.

The message of these figures is the same as expressed by the U.S. government: Obasanjo must relinquish power at the end of his second term.

Active in that international advocacy is Cohen, who is respected for the pro-African stance both in the U.S. and across the globe.

At her recent press briefing, Frazer said although Obasanjo had not declared interest in the rumoured third term, "our view is very clear that term limits should be respected."

She declared: "It is extremely important in Africa to respect term limits because it allows for the grooming of new leadership." Arguing that relinquishing power at the due date "supports the rule of law," she noted that most of the African countries that had taken the path lacked development "under those 20 - or 30-year presidents."

Frazer noted that having a regular turnover of power "actually ingrains, it institutionalises, a democratic process and it gives an opportunity."

She warned that the alternative to such regular transfer of power is dangerous. Her words: "What happens is when people feel that they can't get into government because they're going to have a life president, what do they do? They pick up arms. They go to the bush, you know, or it opens up the space for a military coup d'etat."

This is why, she added, it is "extremely important for U.S., for the United States and its policy, to push African heads of state to respect their term limits. And we certainly would have that message to President Obasanjo should he indicate an interest in running for a third term."

Frazer's declaration is the most direct and lucid indication that the U.S. would not support the speculated plan to have the president's tenure extended.

And, Cohen's comment, following soon after, is believed to represent a definite move in the U.S. government circles to add to the groundswell of opposition to the rumoured third term bid.

According to Cohen, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, "even our own country, the United States, set a limit of two terms, or eight years, for the presidency after FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) won his

fourth presidential election in 1944.

Cohen, who spoke in an interview with a U.S. government news outlet, Washington File, earlier this week, is well known to President Obasanjo as they had both been involved in international collaboration including at the Transparency International (TI).

Cohen said that in emerging regions like Africa, term limits are especially important, as "they help consolidate democracy."

He added: "It has become a symbol of a successful political transition -- the way to show that you can peacefully move from one democratic administration to another."

He said that with regular presidential transitions, "it would be a shame" if Nigeria does not follow the better examples of transfer of power in Africa.

Cohen, who was assistant secretary of state for Africa from 1989-1993, insisted that "moves to alter constitutions to allow incumbents (sitting presidents) to extend their terms in office were counterproductive."

He said: "It is very undemocratic to change the constitution to benefit the person in power," adding: "If people want to get rid of the two-term limit, they should do it for the next president."

Although Cohen commended Obasanjo for improving "the democratic system," he added: "But he still has not done enough to end corruption and if he stays in (for another term) the people around him, who have been benefiting from the continuation of vested interests in corruption, they will just continue."

He continued: "There must be a change (in Nigeria) now so someone new can come in and move the anti-corruption programme forward" at a swifter pace.

Top members of the U.S. Congress including veteran African affairs' figure in the Congress, Representative Donald Payne, have also spoken against a third term or the extension of Obasanjo's tenure.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.