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POLITICS
 
Why I am backing Obasanjo for a third term —Nnamani

By Paul Odili
Posted to the Web: Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, Enugu State governor, in this interview says he believes if the Constitution is amended to provide for another term of office for President Olusegun Obasanjo, he remains the best candidate because of his achievement and experience.

He says he is not supporting Obasanjo for another term because he stands to benefit, jokingly stating that nobody in Enugu State is rooting for him to continue in office as governor.
However, and speaking seriously, he made it clear that he believes the President has a long list of achievements spanning over 30 years following the end of the civil war, to make him the best person to lead the nation again. Excerpts: 

It was reported recently that you were a participant at the Governors Forum Meeting held last week in Abuja.  What was it about and what was the outcome of this meeting?

Thank you. Again, this is an opportunity to welcome you to Enugu State on behalf of our people and government. We say that we are glad that you are here. The interaction we are having here tonight is consistent with the dialogue expected in a constitutional democracy that we have in Nigeria today.  Specifically, barely five to six days ago, governors met in Abuja, about 24 or thereabout and some represented by their deputies. It was a widely publicised meeting and a communiqué issued to that effect. It had to do with, one, general concern expressed about regional groupings, about the ability and potentials of such regional groupings to further divide the nation; a clarion call by governors to discourage such groups, such regional alliances that were possibly associated with some of the problems we had in the past.  So governors agreed among themselves and would also encourage their associates in government to de-emphasize regional groupings or groupings that are akin to regional divisive sentiments, partly because these fora are being abused, by public office seekers and we agreed that such people are free to use organs as political parties to pursue their political ambitions, rather than use regional groupings.

Secondly, we also looked at the ongoing debate about constitutional amendment. The governors agreed that it should proceed as fast as possible, under due process, to address the over hundred issues that have to do with the polity and to be concluded by this administration.  Those were two main issues addressed by the governors. We also addressed issues that have to do with security and other matters.

 There is this belief that the presidency had already determined what would be the outcome of the meeting?

I don’t think what the governors discussed was in isolation of what are the current issues in the nation. There are current issues that have to do with constitutional debate and amendment. I don’t think that governors need to be teleguided to discuss such issues. They are current issues and there is no doubt that when such meetings hold, it is normal that such issues would be discussed.  I can say clearly that that meeting was not teleguided by anybody. The issue of constitutional amendment is a current issue, regional grouping is also current.

Talking about constitutional amendment, would the PDP accept such an amendment that would force it to retain an old and serving candidate or would you suggest a fresh candidate, especially against the background of demands by Nigerians to have an entirely new helmsman?

You are bringing the question closer home, rather than looking at it in an abstract nature. You are talking about the continuation of President Olusegun Obasanjo in office if nomination is offered by the PDP and accepted by the PDP, consequent on a constitutional amendment? I believe that is what your question is. It is easier to discuss that issue, rather than talk about an abstract issue of third term or third termism, as people have come to feast on. I can say clearly that for me, our relationship with the president dates back about seven years now and in those seven years, we have had cause to align with him politically. We have had cause to belong to his political family, come rain or shine. 

I believe that our respect and admiration for the President are based on analysis, analysis of history, antecedents and analysis of a divine calling, if you may describe it as such.  We have had cause, so many times, to mention in public fora that God, at various times, has placed him in positions of history, right from the point of the time of the hostilities of 1967 to 1970; the terminus of the Murtala administration. We have had cause to make reference, even in writing, to what I believe was his humane attitude to the cessation of hostilities that otherwise, if mishandled in the midst of  a celebration by victors, other massacres could have occurred. 

I believe he brought his experience, his wisdom and gentle disposition to bear to ensure that the war ended the way it ended. Even, we have had cause to discuss his first administration, the expansion of the economic base, infrastructural base, universities, colleges of education, the seaports, shipping lines, airports, Nigeria Airways, the Enugu/Port Harcourt, Enugu/Onitsha expressways etc. We have had cause to refer to his foreign policy exploits and the famous statement, ‘Africa has come of age’, the restoration of the dignity of the African nation in the area of foreign policy, that led to easier and earlier liberation of the South West African countries: Namibia, Zimbabwe and his government played a role even in the economic restriction of South Africa which eventually led to freedom in that land, as well as such restoration of dignity to the African in Nigerian foreign policy, nationalization of Shell, and banks. That first coming was with a lot of history and expansion.

And of course, the second coming, we have had cause to say, time and time again, in both public and private fora, the advantages: the removal of the so-called pariah status from Nigeria, and the re-admittance of Nigeria into the comity of nations, as well as the aggressive pursuit of globalization which is essentially information technology, privatisation and stakeholder-driven developmental governance. This aggressive pursuit of globalisation has led to a plethora of goodies which include the debt relief, the $18 billion debt relief, expansion of the telecom industry, deregulation of the energy sector, expansion of the transportation industry and of course, his foreign policy forays and economic diplomacy that have had impact in Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Cote d’Ivoire and recently in Liberia; an economic diplomacy that has had effects in France, Europe and even in the Americas, a prominence in G7, even the last week’s economic summit at Dafur and even the influence of peace- keeping in Sudan.

I have no doubt that the second coming has had major impact and effect on the polity.  So, if the constitution is amended and a situation arises where the PDP offers President Obasanjo nomination, he accepts and runs, I believe he is a good product. I believe he is certainly a good candidate and I doubt, when you consider the stature of the personality involved, the role he has played as a detribalised Nigerian, his constituency: former military constituency and now, civilian constituency and experience… There are certain things you cannot buy, I believe he would be a good candidate.  If the party so decides, his would be a candidature that can stand against any other candidate anytime any day.

If then, we accept all you have to say about the qualities of the person of Obasanjo, could you explain how this  has keyed  into the nation’s vision and leadership that will make one to say, well, there is a man out there who can do it well?
Let’s look at his records, a record of a detribalised Nigerian, record of a General that brought the civil war hostilities to an end without major massacre, record of a Head of State that pioneered the restoration of Africa in terms of foreign policy, a record that saw a huge expansion of infrastructure. Or is it a record that saw to the removal of the pariah status?  Do I need to repeat them all over?  This is statistics, it is data.  Or even the war on corruption, the effect in the area of communication and transparency? The other day, we saw the BB Minus rating. I don’t think we have been rated this high before. The fact that the country could agree to subject itself to such rating is gladdening. Even though you may describe me as being partisan, but I am going on record based on statistics and available data. And of course, more importantly, his being able to hold the country together in the last six and half years, despite the restiveness, aggression, ethno-religious desperations here and there.  And despite an aggressive opposition, aggressive opposition in a truly democratic state, with freedom of expression, without an  attempt to restrict people. The opposition have been allowed to have their say. I believe the records are there statistically.

But how do you escape the allegation that if the PDP muzzles in Obasanjo for another tenure, it represents the traditional sit-tight syndrome which is believed to ridicule African leadership?
I don’t agree with that. 

What we have in Nigeria is a democracy. We have a democracy based on a constitution, that states clearly the tenure system for a leadership. That same constitution provides means and mechanisms for amending or changing that constitution under a democratic setting.  So if that constitution is democratically amended and changed, under due process, it is legitimate. Therefore, actions pursuant to that are also democratically legitimate. So, the idea of a sit-right syndrome does not arise. It is not an issue of declaring a state of emergency, declaring a one party state. 
There is opposition in the land and it is a vibrant one. And the press is free, freer than many press of other places, even freer than the American press. Some of the things we write here, we can’t write them in the United States, nor the UK. So I am saying that if the constitution is amended under due process, under the tenets of democracy, that actions pursuant to that amendment are also legitimate and therefore, sit-tight does not arise.

What is your opinion on the saying by those opposed to the third term that some of you governors  championing a third term are doing it for selfish reasons because you stand to benefit. May I ask you, assuming the constitution is amended, would you run again as governor?

In the first place, you would notice that we have tried as much as possible to stay away from third termism.  What we are saying is that we have a constitution that has a tenure system. We are saying that, amongst other things, that constitution is subject to amendment. And if amended democratically, that political actors have a choice to seek political office under that circumstance. In the case of President Olusegun Obasanjo, clearly, there are proponents and opponents of his staying on, and in a case where the PDP offers him nomination and he accepts, it is democratically legitimate. If this happens, then sit-tight does not arise, third termism does not arise, and he would now be operating under an amended new constitution.

Regarding us personally, I can say clearly that our foray into this present second term was more or less because we felt we have something to prove in Enugu State. We went through a four-year battle and if we had left after the first term, I am sure that they would have thought that we abandoned ship. 

Regarding whether we  would be beneficiaries of such a situation, that issue does not arise because unlike at the federal level where there are obvious tension and agitation for the president to stay on, I don’t think we have such in Enugu State (laughs). So it does not arise. I have not seen anybody agitating that we stay on here! (laughs). So our own case is different. We don’t have Obasanjo’s record. We have a mere record of six and a half or seven years, we are still little guys and have not institutionalised enough for people to call on us to stay on.

Assuming there is such a call, will you succumb?

I don’t know but I can tell you clearly that the perks, the joy, the grandeur of office have still not hit me. They still have not hit me. This has still been a job, a very hard job, exerting both mentally and physically. That big deal with it has still not hit me. And being on a single job for eight years is a long time.

Let me deviate a little, it appears you political leaders in the South East just abandoned MASSOB to its fate, its leaders are held in detention, its members are harassed and killed. Are you people just playing safe or not just interested?
I think the political leadership has to rise up and say something. You would recall that various stakeholders in the nation state Nigeria have had cause to sacrifice, in order to maintain the sanctity of the nation state and I believe that the Igbos, more so, have also made a lot of sacrifice, both in human lives and material costs, to maintain the unity of this nation. I also believe that apart from MASSOB, there are agitations among other aggrieved ethnic groups, quote and unquote. All I can say is that under a democratic milieu provided for us in Nigeria today, non-violent means should be used to pursue accommodation, equity, justice and self respect.  So, I believe that it is the responsibility of the leadership to discourage acts that can be associated with violence or divisive tendencies and preach peace and accommodation to our people so that grievances can be resolved through non-violent means and democratically provided mechanisms.  We believe that such organizations should subject themselves to such.

Still on the issue of third term.  Some of you PDP members advocating a third term for the President, is it because the party feels that it does not have somebody who can take over from him?

My brother, what we need to be careful about is such terms that tend to confuse the whole thing.  Things like third termism, extension, sit-tight.  They do not arise here.  This is a true democracy.  They say if it ain’t broken, you don’t fix it.  The party chairman, the party organ, even the South West the other day, have, time and time again, said things are working, things are getting done right.  We talked about economic diplomacy, debt relief, liberalisation of trade, regulation of energy sector, maintenance of the unity of the nation, peace in the nation, etc.  If the party says we have a good candidate in President Olusegun Obasanjo and they are not in a hurry to change a good thing, or not in a hurry to try a new hand and this is done under a true democratic principle, done under due process, it is legitimate and should be supported.

With this development, don’t you think the Southern Forum initiative has been hampered somehow?

No.  What is the Southern Forum initiative?  To pursue a constitutional amendment, constitutional provisions that would guarantee true fiscal and fiscal federalism, where you have devolution of powers so that the federating units would demonstrate true federalism in terms of their relationship within the center and the marginal units.  The Southern Forum initiative is to guarantee the inalienable rights of people to control their  resources and say because of the vagaries of the Nigerian situation, 25% graduated to 50%.  It talks about ethnicity and religion in the census data, creation of the sixth state in the South East for geo-political balancing, retention of the President in the Southern part of the country.  You have to look at that in realisation of the feelings of the dominant party which is the PDP and its membership.  So it can never be done in isolation.

I want you to analyze this situation:  How optimistic are you about seeing to the end of this political development, given the Northern quest for power to return to them and bearing in mind that the North has more States than the South and have more members in the federal legislature than the South.  Do you think it would be easy amending the constitution given their numerical strength?

I can say clearly that for us in Enugu State, our National Assembly representatives, without question, are certainly interested and are certainly pursuing constitutional amendment without question; the eight members of the Federal House of Representatives in Enugu State and the three Senators from Enugu State are certainly interested and working hard to achieve constitutional amendment.  And for us in the state, when it comes to our House of Assembly, I have no doubt that the leadership, working in consonance with the House, would also pursue and possibly effect constitutional amendments, conducive to our people, under due process.  So I can say clearly that I was at that meeting of about 24 governors and I can say without exception that all the governors were in agreement to pursue constitutional amendment.  May be one or two had reservations about the seeming haste involved but I can say that in totality, all these governors were in support of constitutional amendment, done under due process and legitimate democratic structures used and to effect it in the life of this administration.

 

 
 
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