By Sam Akpe
Days have passed since I read the story. Though I do not trust the obscure blog that published it, I still read it; for two reasons.
First, those who published it mentioned the respected Guardian newspapers as their source. That was sufficient motivation for me to read it.
In other words, the news was first published in the Guardian, while others simply ‘xeroxed’ and reproduced without permission.
Since the advent of online newspapers in Nigeria and the infiltration of the industry by quacks, “copy and paste” has become the new brand of reporting.
Most of the fraudulent online publishers simply invade websites of credible newspapers, copy whatever appeals to their fancy and run with it in a most unprofessional manner.
My consolation is that I can still see through the facade of quackery and con artistry to identify some credible online newspapers published by tested and reliable professionals.
The second reason I read the report was because I could not step out from the hospital bed I found myself into the streets in search of a copy of the Guardian newspaper to buy.
The straight-faced nurses were kind enough to allow me access to my mobile telephone. Today, they have gone a step further to show exceptional magnanimity by allowing me to use my laptop computer for a few minutes. That’s why I can write this.
Two names mentioned in that report instantly attracted my attention. Senator Ben Obi, the Ojeligbo, and Senator Ken Nnamani, the man, who as Senate President, never liked my style of reporting. At that time, I was the National Assembly Correspondent of the Punch newspapers.
These two people, in my estimation, are great Nigerians. Senator Obi, an excellently media-friendly and fine gentleman, combined his cerebral disposition and excellent political organisational skill, with that of the late propagandist extraordinaire, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, to usher Third Term into its early grave.
They did it alongside the late Idris Kuta, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Seidu Dansadau, Udoma Udo Udoma, Shuaibu Lawal, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, among others.
For those who are not familiar with the expression, Third Term, it also means tenure elongation. It describes an attempt by political supporters of the former President, Chief Olusegun Okikiola Mathew Aremu Obasanjo, to manipulate the process for an amendment of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution so that he could stay in office beyond the constitutionally approved two terms of four years each.
They almost succeeded with the evil plot. Even state governors invested heavily in the project, because they would also have benefitted if it succeeded.
Obi and his team, supported by the ever vibrant and patriotic Nigerian media, mounted an unprecedented opposition campaign against a sitting president, and dismantled the Third Term agenda, despite all intimidations.
The anti-Third Term campaign was so fierce, well-coordinated and finely executed that both the roaring, well-funded presidential publicity machine and the almost ruthless ruling party, with its arm-twisting approach, were left breathless.
On face value, everything would have ended in favour of Obasanjo and the ruling party, except for two reasons.
First, most of the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives who opposed Third Term were from the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party. So, the house was divided.
Senator Udoma, who was the first and perhaps, the only person to issue a public statement dissociating himself from the political absurdity, was a principal officer of the Senate.
So, the battle started from inside the party structure. None of these people left the party. They fought from inside. They were called unprintable names by the leadership of the party; and equally threatened, not by their constituents, but by the party, and even their state governors, who wanted a taste of the cake called tenure extension.
The clawing fangs of both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC) were unleashed on them. Still, they stood their grounds.
The second reason for the success of the anti-Third Term campaign in the Senate was the uncompromising role played by the then Senate President, Nnamani. He refused to take sides.
At a certain point, just before the commencement of the debate, the respected Senator, Idris Kuta, challenged him to declare his interest in the exercise.
Nnamani took the challenge and publicly declared he had no personal interest, and that he made no commitment whatsoever to anybody; not even his party.
For those of us who covered the Senate for our respective media organizations at that, we observed that Nnamani simply played the traditional role of a presiding officer — moderating the business of the floor through the strict application of the rules of debate.
He went a step further when he, alongside the leadership of the Senate, agreed that for purposes of transparency and public accountability, the debates should be transmitted live on national television and other networks.
This decision did not go down well with agents of the Third Term project, comprising the PDP, the Presidency, the State Governors and top entrepreneurs, who were part of the ill-fated project. They fought back like wounded lions, and threatened to withdraw the license of any broadcast media that would do so. The threat failed.
In addition, the Senate under Nnamani’s leadership stood its ground against voice votes.
It agreed the debate and voting procedures would be done individually and not collectively. In the words of Senator Udoma, everyone was expected to answer his or her father’s name publicly.
Throughout the debates and all the processes that led to the eventual defeat of Third Term in the Senate, there was nothing to indicate Nnamani was a member of the group that fought against the project.
It could also not be established, even remotely, he supported the party or the Presidency on the illegal contraption.
About three days after Third Term collapsed like a house of cards, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, on request, personally took me to Nnamani for an exclusive interview.
One of the straight questions I asked Nnamani was: “Why did you kill Third Term? His answer, equally straight, as though rehearsed, was: I did not kill Third Term.
He went ahead to explain that eventhough he did not like Third Term idea, as a presiding officer, he could do nothing to it, because his hands were tied by the traditional functions of the office he occupied.
Between that time and today, I have interviewed Nnamani on this and other issues several times. He has never given me any impression he personally masterminded and executed the death sentence of Third Term. His response has always been that if by applying the rules of debate, which is exactly what he was expected to do, and Third Term project was defeated, then no one should accuse him of killing it, because he was simply doing his job.
Recently, he published a 500-page book about his tenure as Senate President, entitled: Standing Strong—Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate.
I have read the book, and a review is already in the making. Maybe, I need to read it again, because I have not seen where Nnamani states in the book he was the arrowhead of the move that led to the death of Third Term. He couldn’t have been!
What Nnamani actually states in the book, perhaps for the first time, is his hatred for the Third Term project, which he tried to keep to himself at that time.
He has also revealed how he was approached by the party leadership to influence the rules in favour of the project, and he refused.
There is no assumption whatsoever in the book that he deliberately manipulated the process, and thus, personally, caused the death of Third TV erm. That would be a lie.
I was therefore surprised to read the copied report which quoted Senator Obi as faulting Nnamani’s alleged role in scuttling Obasanjo’s Third Term bid.
The report cited the Ojeligbo as saying such claims were misrepresentation of facts.
I have not seen such direct claims in the book, and I would be surprised if Nnamani were to make such claims.
However, I personally believe that Nnamani’s stubbornness in applying the Standing Rules of the Senate and certain Parliamentary Precedents in the debates; the decision to have the debates aired on live television, and the resolution that each Senator stood up to speak and also vote individually, instead of voice votes, must have unconsciously or unintentionally contributed to the defeat of Third Term on the floor of the Senate.
Does that imply that he was directly responsible for the death of Third Term? No, he was not.
Or has he ever claimed to have done so? Not to my knowledge. All the initiatives introduced in the tenure elongation debates as indicated above, were agreed to by the Senate. They were meant to add credibility to the process by making it transparent. There was no indication they were introduced by Nnamani to kill or sustain Third Term.
Akpe, a journalist and Communications Consultant, lives in Abuja