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Senate buries third term: Reps okay six years single term

Posted by By JAMES OJO, BASHIR UMAR and ISMAIL OMIPIDAN, Abuja on 2006/05/17 | Views: 1232 |

Senate buries third term: Reps okay six years single term


Wild jubilation, backslapping and hugging spiced with victory songs erupted at the National Assembly on Tuesday after the Senate threw out the Constitution Amendment Bill, which sought, among others, the elongation of the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors.

Wild jubilation, backslapping and hugging spiced with victory songs erupted at the National Assembly on Tuesday after the Senate threw out the Constitution Amendment Bill, which sought, among others, the elongation of the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors.

However, in the House of Representatives, the bill was passed for second reading with modifications proposing a single six-year term for the president, with effect from May 2007.

Indication that Tuesday’s debate might take a new turn emerged when Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, took a position on the bill. In an emotion laden tone, Nnamani, reading from a prepared text, absolved himself of indulgence in acts inimical to the democratic interest of the Nigerian people, saying, "I have thought carefully about the process and politics of amending the constitution and come to the conclusion that the historic responsibility which the Almighty God has placed on my shoulders as the Senate President at this moment is to uphold the truth, justice and the principles of the rule of law. Democracies survive when citizens believe that the state can give them justice."

The issue of elongation of tenure or third term had divided the National Assembly into two camps, but at the end of proceedings, opponents of the agenda could not contain their joy as they filed out of the two chambers saluting one another for a job well done, while the promoters, on the other hand, walked out dejectedly even as scores of Nigerians that thronged the National Assembly complex mocked them.
Nailing the coffin of third term in the Senate was dramatic.

The bill met a premature death when a motion moved by Senator Jonathan Zwingina from Adamawa for deferment of the second reading till next week Tuesday and seconded by Senator Arthur Nzeribe from Imo State, was defeated by a voice vote of nay.

Subsequently, Senator Sule Yari Gandi of the anti third-term group raised a point of order, which he had earlier raised calling the Senate President to put the question to the floor as to whether the Senate should proceed to take the second reading of the bill, arguing that by the order, the issue before the Senate was not subject to any debate. Senate President, Ken Nnamani, therefore, called on the Senate leader, Dalhatu Tafida, to follow the right procedure by moving a motion requesting the Senate President to ask the same question as raised in Order 70 1 (c).
The Senate leader had moved the motion and was seconded by the Minority Leader, Senator Lawali Shaibu from Zamfara State.

Shocked by the response of the pro-third term members to the motion at first, the Senate President had to put the question again for clarity sake. He asked. "Why are you just looking at me when I put a question to you for your reaction?" The lawmakers had voted "No" to the request for a second reading of the bill. Senator Nnanami had no choice than to pronounce the bill dead.
Before he hit the gavel signifying the burial of the third term bill, he said: "This bill (referring to the bill for an Act to amend the 1999 Constitution) will never be treated on the Senate floor until next Legislative Assembly."

At the House of Representatives, the call by Speaker Aminu Bello Masari on his deputy, Austin Opara to address the House changed the tide of debate. This was after 13, out of 27 members spoke against tenure elongation.
Opara, who introduced the bill to the House in his capacity as deputy chairman of the Joint Committee of the National Assembly on Constitution Review, proposed a single tenure of six years for the president beginning from May 2007.

A thunderous ovation followed Opara’s submission that no Nigerian that had been elected for a two term in office would benefit from the proposed amendment.
"President Obasanjo has done well for this country, but as a principal officer of this honourable House, he has never told me he wanted a third term. It came from the report of the committee, but I think that 12 years for a single person would marginalize some zones like my zone, the South- South. It implies that Bewaji, the AD leader, who is my friend, would not have the opportunity of contesting for president until after 60 years," he said.

Instead of building personality as the campaigners and opponents of the third term had done by the quality of their debate, the deputy speaker canvassed the building of institutions to continue with any policy of government.

He equally warned his colleagues not to lose sight of the problems of civilian- to- civilian transition, the problems of incumbency and the need for justice, equity and fairness in political arrangement and for democracy to grow in the country.

The chamber erupted with jubilation as notable pro and anti-third term members rose up from their seats to exchange banters, congratulating one another for dousing the tension generated by the campaign for and against third term.

House Leader, Abdul Ningi, supported the position canvassed by the deputy speaker, saying that there was no way the constitution would be amended to serve the interest of one person.
However, he decried the ways some members disparaged Mr. President during the debate on the bill to amend the constitution, noting that whatever anybody may say, President Obasanjo has done well for Nigeria and the African continent.

"Nobody can say the Mr President has not achieved anything for the nation, but we should not amend the constitution for an individual. Let the next assembly enjoy the fruits of our labour. The fundamental changes we proposed are for the good of those coming to take over from us. The issue of Niger Delta, for instance, is an issue for every Nigerian," he noted.

Chief Whip, Bawa Bwari, rounded up debate by scolding those who hijacked the constitution review process for selfish proposes, adding that the proposal by the deputy speaker spoke volumes of the readiness of the National Assembly to bequeath true democracy to the people of Nigeria.

The debate was witnessed by Oyo State Governor Alao-Akala, former AD governors from Osun, Ekiti, Ogun and Oyo states, Barrister Femi Falana, delegation of Advance Congress of Democrats (ACD) led by Audu Ogbeh, Anelis Anielo, Funke Adedoyin and Duben Onyia.


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