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Forget third term, Senate tells Obasanjo

Posted by Dotun Oladipo, Onyedi Ojiabor and Musikilu Mojeed on 2006/02/08 | Views: 865 |

Forget third term, Senate tells Obasanjo

The attempt to extend the tenure of the present political office holders may not materialise after all.

The attempt to extend the tenure of the present political office holders may not materialise after all.

Reason: The Senate says that the process of amending the constitution to accommodate any extension of tenure is too cumbersome.

The Senate therefore asked Nigerians not to be agitated, promising that the constitution would not be amended before the 2007 poll.

The Senate, which also disclosed that it would pass the Electoral Bill “in less than two weeks,” alleged that the controversial proposal for the extension of the tenure of the President and the governors was smuggled into the draft proposal of the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the Constitution.

The Senate Committee on Media and Publicity cleared the air on the third term agenda at an interactive session with journalists on Tuesday in Abuja.

The position of the Senate came a day before the President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop John Onaiyekan, advised those behind the third term campaign to drop the idea.

The Ibrahim Mantu-led National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Constitution had last Wednesday dumped the report, which sought to extend the tenure of the President and other elected officials.

Members of the Senate Committee on the Media, led by the Chairman, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba; the Vice-Chairman, Senator Jonathan Zwingina; and Senator Udo Udoma, said that the National Assembly was still probing the source of the proposed amendment on the tenure of the president and the governors.

Ndoma-Egba said that the suggestions on three terms of four years or two terms of five years or the retention of the present system of two terms of four years were not contained in any of the proposals before the review committee.

The reports examined by the Senate, Ndoma-Egba said, included that of the Presidential Committee on the Review of the Constitution, headed by former Governor Clement Ebri; the outcome of the National Assembly’s effort at amending the constitution since 2000; and the report of the National Political Reform Conference.

He said that apart from the controversy over the source of the proposed amendment, it would be difficult to get the amendment through, because it would involve the two chambers of the National Assembly, the 36 state Houses of Assembly, and Nigerians in general.

The Senator added, “We are still very far away from constitutional amendment. Even if a number of senators want it, it must be by two-thirds of member. For the House of Representatives too and the state Houses of Assembly, it must also be two-thirds. That makes it difficult.

“It is possible that there are some activities going on somewhere, but it is yet to reach me. There is nothing before the Senate as a body. So, till now, the institutions that we have today - the executive, legislature and judiciary - were created by the 1999 Constitution. It prescribes the tenure.

“That constitution is still in force as we speak. Nothing is before the Senate as a body to change the situation as was contemplated.”

Udoma, the Chief Whip and Leader, South-South caucus in the Senate, said that the third term issue was speculative, adding that Obasanjo, whom he sees every week, was yet to mention it to him.

Udoma also said that the Freedom of Information Bill was also delayed because of the amendments made by the Senate committee saddled with the task of looking at what the House of Representatives had passed.

Zwingina said that even if there were people working towards achieving a third term for the President, it would fail because it would not be possible to amend the constitution without a “national consensus.”

Zwingina said, “Such a national consensus must cut across all the zones and party lines with the required two-thirds subscribing to it. Unless there is unanimity among all Nigerians, getting the constitution amended would only remain a wish.”

He said that the amendments proposed were enough hindrance for the third term agenda, adding that once a zone does not get what it wants in the exercise, it was bound to oppose other suggestions.

He said, “The number of changes to be made is a barrier to any change. There are over 100 proposed amendments. Money can’t change the minds of a lot of people in the National Assembly because they were already rich before coming there.”

Onaiyekan, who spoke with newsmen in Abuja on Wednesday at the Women Development Centre, venue of a three-day Catholic education summit, said that the time had come to settle the third term issue.

Onaiyekan said, “If you ask me, we are now in 2006, time is very short. I hope those people who are fighting and scheming to extend the presidency of Obasanjo are beginning to decide otherwise. If that happens, we know that Obasanjo will be able to face 2007 and create conditions for a better election than we had in 2003.”

Insisting that the country must hold credible elections in 2007, the Archbishop said, “If we don’t, then we are in trouble for another six years.”

Meanwhile, a group in the House of Representatives has declared support for Obasanjo’s third term bid.

The group, National Unity Forum, said it was backing Obasanjo because he had ensured national unity.

The Forum’s Chairman, Mr. David Idoko, told journalists in Abuja on Wednesday, that Nigerians should “allow an orderly development of the political process and not place arbitrary restrictions of tenure on people.”

In another development, 27 out of the 36 governors in the country met on Wednesday in Abuja.

It was learnt that the meeting, scheduled for 5pm at the Nasarawa Hall of Transcorp Hilton, could not begin until 8.30pm because the Northern governors were holding a preparatory caucus consultation at the Kogi Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro District, Abuja.

In a brief address to open the meeting, the chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Obong Victor Attah, said the session had nothing to do with the third term agenda.

Attah said, “We are here to review the assignment we gave ourselves in our last meeting. We didn’t mention third term in our last meeting and we wonder where the press got the report that we discussed third term.”

As at press time, the governors had retired into closed doors session.

The PUNCH, Thursday, February 09, 2006

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Comments (22)

Valarie(Nairobi, Kenya)says...

What’s your point?

robloxian(Bangor, Maine, US)says...

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robloxian(Bangor, Maine, US)says...

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HonchoKanji(Angus, UK)says...

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