There is considerable disquiet in the national conference about an attempt by some delegates to angle for tenure elongation for President Goodluck Jonathan. Promoters of the agenda are basing their move on the current security crisis in the country and trying to angle the national conference towards the recommendation of an 18-month term extension for Jonathan.
Their argument is that the situation of the country would not be conducive to the conduct of a general election, a position that coincides with recently suspected moves to extend the tenures of the governors of the three North-east states of Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa, which have been under emergency rule since the last one year.
But the plot has sharply divided delegates at the ongoing conference.
It is the second time in a decade that an otherwise desirable conference called to resolve issues threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria would be imperilled by arguments bordering on alleged tenure extension by the president, who is usually the conference’s organiser. The National Political Reform Conference organised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 was ruined by widespread suspicion that he had purposed to use it as a ploy to secure a third term.
The roots of the brewing discontent at the current national conference, which had hitherto been discussed in hushed tones, manifested recently in the Committee on Public Finance and Revenue chaired by the former governor of Kebbi State, Adamu Aliero. A member of the committee, Chief Okon Osung, from Akwa Ibom State, was said to have brought the idea of the president’s tenure extension to the committee chairman, who directed him to share his views with other members of the committee.
A source told THISDAY that when Osung disclosed his proposition to members of the committee, it was vehemently opposed by many of them, creating a sharp division in the committee.
But undaunted, Osung addressed a press conference on Friday where he openly canvassed the elongation of the tenure of the president and other elected officials whose terms would be ending in May 2015.
“At this crucial juncture in our national history, a presidential or National Assembly declaration of a politico-administrative moratorium or cooling-off period before the conduct of the third transitional elections scheduled for February 2015 has become an imperative necessity,” Osung stated.
He elaborated, “This calls for the postponement or deferment of the scheduled 2015 elections by at least 18 months, while retaining all the democratic institutions at all levels of governance and across the entire spectrum of the country’s political divide, without any bias to the statutory termination dates of such democratic institutions.
“This implies the retention of the presidency, offices of governors in the states, the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), state Houses of Assembly, local government chairmen, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the respective State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). It is imperatively necessary to speedily put the proposed politico-administrative moratorium into effect, and Nigeria would not be lacking in terms of historical precedent of having to rise to a difficult and unforeseen contingency or occasion for which the country’s constitution had not made adequate provision. A ready example is the Doctrine of Necessity under which Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had transformed from Vice President to Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria following the untimely demise of our beloved president, Umaru Yar’Adua. As the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, had declared at the time, ‘the Doctrine of Necessity requires that we do what is necessary when faced with a situation that was not contemplated by the constitution… In doing so, we have as well maintained the sanctity of our constitution as the ultimate law of the land.”
According to Osung, “The said presidential/National Assembly declaration (or proclamation) has become an inevitable action Nigeria cannot shy away from in a situation in which governments need to pause, think, re-tool and re-focus (electorally-speaking), in order to avoid an impending catastrophe by way of a constitutional crisis or deadlock of unimaginable proportion. The impending constitutional crisis could be exacerbated as Nigerians prevaricate over whether to submit the national conference report to a referendum or to the National Assembly for ratification!”
Buttressing his position with the book, This House has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis, written in 2000 by American journalist Karl Maier, Osung said the picture painted by Maier was “a reminder that Nigeria is approaching a disaster or ‘a tropical firestorm’ that may lead to its breakup.”
Osung referred to the ethnic, religious, and geopolitical tensions as well as corruption and unemployment threatening Nigeria, which Maier identified in his book. Like Maier, he believed Nigerians needed to discuss in a national conference and agree on the terms of their association by means of a referendum.
“The congruence between Karl Maier’s 2000 prescription on the impending crisis in Nigeria and what the Goodluck Jonathan administration is doing currently is not far to seek. A very strong reason why the national conference report should be put to a referendum!” he said.
Osung, who struggled hard to read the text of his press conference, an indication to many that he was not the original author of the statement, but a mere hatchet man, tried to make a distinction between past attempts at tenure extension and the current call. He said, "While tenure elongation bids by previous administrations aimed at profiting individual incumbents of public office, or their cliques, to the detriment of the general public, including opposition groups, and apolitical Nigerians, the current proposal, which is non-partisan, aims at profiting all Nigerians across the political divide – both protagonists and antagonists of the 2015 elections…
“In fact, at the terminal stage of the moratorium, a government of national unity should be put in place, comprising representatives of major political parties and other important stakeholders in the country.
“Additionally, the proposed temporary postponement of elections is intended to guarantee security and peace throughout the Nigerian federation – a sine qua non for the attainment of any developmental goal in any society – as well as to stabilise the system for the good of all. After all, there is no virtue or valour in dismal failure; neither would any Nigerian stand to profit from orchestrating any deliberately contrived stalemate or constitutional crisis!"
Osung said, “A second plausible argument in support of the proposed postponement of election is the ardent need to stave off the phenomenon of military intervention now that Nigeria seems to be experiencing gradual institutionalisation of democratic processes, given the background that the country has already had two previous successful civilian-to-civilian transitional elections (in 1999 and 2003). Yet, most of the essential ingredients that normally uncork coups d’état in Third World countries appear to be present in Nigeria presently:
“The North-east has been infested with (or virtually taken-over by) Boko Haram terrorists/insurgents, despite the declaration of a state of emergency there; the South-south with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)and other militants, who specialise in the vandalisation of oil installations and in kidnapping; the South-east with the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), who specialise in kidnapping and robbery; while the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) in the South-west is hobbled by lynching cultism, ritual killings and other fetish bestial practices. Fulani herdsmen are ravaging the North-central, killing and maiming innocent civilians.
Osung also mentioned the recent defections in the National Assembly, which he said portrayed an awful lack of ideology among the political class, as part of the inconsistencies in the system necessitating a postponement of the general elections.