(Vanguard of Sunday, June 11, 2006)
Na our people say “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.” I am a South-southerner and I am proud to be one. But I hate to be taken for a ride. I do not need any lessons from anyone as to what it takes to make law that is binding on all of us. The National Assembly is empowered to make law and anyone who thinks he can twist and turn in defence of any other way of making changes in this country will have to think more. Let us not beat about the bush. The Third Term Agenda died because the National Assembly killed it.
It did not need a referendum to live or die. It needed two-thirds majority of all the members of the House and the Senate, sitting separately, to have sailed through before the decision would be taken to the state houses of assembly for ratification by 24 of the 36 states of the federation. But our law-makers at the National Assembly killed it, and therefore denied the outcome which would have seen Chief Olusegun Obasanjo having an opportunity to extend his tenure by another four years.
Those who killed it were not only the members of the opposition parties. If the ruling PDP had used its might, we would be singing another song today. But those who were opposed to the tenure elongation project rose above party threats and gave democracy another chance to live on in a country begging to be what it is meant to be.
Let history record that the main promoters and supporters of the project came from the South-East and South-South geo-political zones. It was most strange that opposition in the South to this evil project was most vocal in the South-West which stood to gain by its adoption. The roll call of our lawmakers in the South-South and South-East shows clearly that most of them were fully, totally and enthusiastically in support of Obasanjo staying put at Aso Rock.
In my zone, the South-South, only three senators of the 18 voted against tenure extension. May be because the Governors are all members and leaders of the PDP, there was not even a whimper from any of them against what was being constitutionally but illegitimately foisted on Nigerians. Even my most respected MT Mbu who is supposed to head a zonal team to fish for candidates for the position was quoted as saying that if the third term project went through, he would campaign for OBJ!
The South-East was not any better. The political leaders, aside of those estranged from the ruling party – Kalu and Ngige — led the way in destruction of the Igbo claim to push for their turn to rule the country. Prof Irukwu and ‘Hannibal’ Achuzie, kingpins of Ohaneze Ndigbo, brought shame to the race by dealing an irreparable blow to the call of their people to be permitted to take their turn in providing the country’s president.
I shed tears when I saw a full Imo State assembly of who is who in the state being presented as endorsing tenure elongation! I told my wife who was handing a handkerchief to me to wipe the tears blinding me that the Igbo denied the presidency to Ekwueme for a price that they would regret in future. Right before us, on television, was a repeat of what happened in 2003 – the cream of Igbo pride telling the world that they did not want to produce a President because the incumbent in office was doing very well indeed.
And they knew they were not speaking for the millions of their kith and kin at home and abroad! The redeeming feature of that zone was that Uche Chukwumerije and his 2007 Movement wrote their names in diamond which future generations will celebrate as proof that in a country where everything seemed to have been lost because everyone was believed to have a price they cannot refuse, some stood out in defence of what will secure the future for those yet unborn.
But after the project had failed because the North, for obvious sectoral and sectional interests, was massively against it, it is not neat, and it is even suspect for those who were latter-day converts after they had failed to bribe their way to acceptance of their evil plans, to turn around and offer to the South-South and the South- East the job they rejected through their lawmakers.
And who now stand out impatiently, even if shamelessly, to be called upon to lead the South-South in the treasure hunt for the top post – the six Governors and the 18 senators who bargained away our brief anchored in the Calabar Declaration that our zone must produce the president in 2007! No one is thinking of anyone else as capable of leading the country outside the group that should, by their acts, be pushed into the dustbin of history for giving up on a battle that would have made the difference between human beings with a will and a herd of cattle trained to heed the whistle of a boy with a slim stick?
I have said I am for a South-southerner being President. Is this not consistent with my thesis on segmented loyalty? In the struggle for who provides the person for the top job, the South-South, for me, is it, against the South-East, the North Central, the North East and the North-West. The South-West is out because the incumbent persona is from there.
If the South-South gets the slot, the battle lines will be drawn there and I would want an Edo State man there. Why? Because I am Edo. And why should the Delta man not want to be there? Just as the Akwa Ibom man; and the Rivers man and the Bayelsa man; and the Cross River man? Many are those who would fit the slot. But one thing I know, and this is why I am worried for those planning without a thought for the fact that the President’s constituency is the whole country and not one outpost of a zone, is that the South-South house is not in order.
If as is being touted, the candidate must come from among the governors, who is the governor from the South-South that all his colleagues would happily endorse? Since 1999, a lot of water has passed under the bridge in relationships between the governors. Was there not a time when a governor from the zone accused another governor of funding trouble in his state? Was there no time over the years when some of the governors were for Atiku and others for the President?
Have they all openly broken their links with Atiku in favour of Obasanjo, not because they love Atiku less but because they fear EFCC more! Can anyone swear that the governors do not have their own game plans or that because the South-South must produce one from among them as candidate for president, they would forget their future after serving two terms in their states? Can anyone swear that when the slot goes to the South-South and a governor is picked, there would not be another from their ranks who would actively work for a candidate from the North?
Let us climb down from the dream horse and look at the issues in the face. The fact is that everyone is looking for what they can gain from participating in the most paying business in Nigeria today – politics. The issues are very easy to streamline – are you going to gain from being an ethnicist (short for ethnic chauvinist) or political jobber? As an ethnicist, you are Igbo or Hausa/Fulani or Yoruba or Edo or Tiv or any other nationality group in the country which has identified 374 such groups.
Or are you going to be a political wholesaler who has retailers to attend to? The commodity to share is money, money, money. Down the line, it may translate into salt and umbrellas and even rice. The sharing at ward levels of items like these announces the return of those who seek political office. Are you going to wait for the largesse or you want to play the ethnicity card? That will determine where the South-South will stand in the search for who becomes president in 2007, if elections hold. We attend to this scenario next week.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 150 – 153; Lagos, 2008).