Written by JOHN AMEH, OLUWOLE JOSIAH, OZIOMA UBABUKOH AND LEKE BAIYEWU
Anger and outrage, on Saturday, trailed claims by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that he did not initiate the infamous third term agenda.
In an interview he granted Channels Television, Obasanjo had placed the blame on the National Assembly. He said it was an idea initiated and pursued by the National Assembly and not himself.
He argued that a presidential initiative would normally have come to the legislature in the form of an executive bill, which was not the case with the third term project.
The former president claimed that the legislators on their own included the agenda in the 100 amendments they proposed to the 1999 Constitution.
However, some of the ex-lawmakers who spoke to our correspondents on Saturday insisted that the former President was the brain behind the third term agenda.
Former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, who could barely hide his anger while reacting to Obasanjo’s assertion, claimed that Obasanjo informed him about the agenda shortly after he became Senate President.
“Immediately, I became Senate President, he told me of his intentions and told me how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold,” he said.
Nnamani, who spoke to our correspondent over the phone from the United States of America, said, “There was a time that there was a rumour that heavy sums of money were doled out to National Assembly members (Senate), that each of us received N50m – that translates into more than N8bn, including other sums that were shared.
“If he is claiming that third term was not his agenda, where could such money have come from and for what purpose? Didn’t he give instructions to the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor then to dole out the money?
“If he is claiming that he never initiated the idea, who then initiated the release of more than N8bn from the CBN coffers? Is it not only the president that has access to CBN vaults? Or does any lawmaker or senator have access to it?
“How can someone talk like this that he didn’t know about it, yet money, both in local and foreign currencies, exchanged hands,” he asked.
The former Senate President, however, was not forthcoming on how the money was shared and whether he got a share. He only said that as the President of the National Assembly at the time he took “full responsibility” for all that might have happened during his tenure.
He insisted that the third term bill was an executive bill and that he was prepared to defend his statement “anywhere and anytime.”
He said, “I am telling you that as the man who presided over it (third term bill), that it was an executive bill. I can defend this anywhere and anytime, with more than enough facts that I have given to you. No one should claim ignorance. If anyone is saying that the bill was not an executive bill, then such a person is only being a liar. At certain age in life, there are certain things one shouldn’t expect from an old man.
“The bill containing the tenure elongation was an executive bill and could not have been sponsored by any National Assembly member. Moreover, I don’t know what magic the executive would have done to get such bill through when all Nigerians were against it.
“If you remember, during the saga, I requested that all members return to their various constituencies to seek the views of their people. It was when they returned that we sat on it and ended on the 15th of May, 2006.
“In your paper today (SATURDAY PUNCH), Obasanjo referred to Ibrahim Mantu as Senate Leader. Mantu was not the Senate Leader, he was the Deputy Senate President then.
“I also read in your paper where he said that if he wanted third term he would have had his way. Well, that man is just a big joker. I don’t want to tell you other dubious and unpatriotic things he discussed with me. If I do, you would really know the kind of person he is.”
The former senate president also stated that Obasanjo solicited the support of the United States of America but failed.
“If you want to be convinced that the man is only telling a lie, pick up a copy of the book written by Condoleza Rice, the former Secretary to the Government of the United States of America. It is actually an autobiography by Rice.
“On page 628 or page 638, she discussed about Obasanjo’s meeting with Bush, how he told the former American President that he wanted to see how he could amend the Constitution so that he could go for a third term.
“To his surprise, Bush told him not to try it. Bush told him to be patriotic and leave by May 29, 2007.”
The Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, told our correspondent that Obasanjo’s denial of his role in the third term agenda still sounded like a dream to him.
He remarked, “What is he (Obasanjo) talking about? Is such a statement coming from a military man and a former President? He has insulted the collective intelligence of Nigerians and members of the National Assembly.
“His aides came to me to solicit support for third term because I led the fight against third term in the House.
“All those names he is claiming not to have sent (Florence Ita-Giwa, Senator Ibrahim Mantu); they all came seeking support.
“I recall vividly that people were being given N50m, some N100m to support third term.
“The money totalled over N10bn. How could N10bn be taken out of the national treasury for a project when you were the sitting President, yet that project was not your idea? Where did the money come from?”
The Action Congress of Nigeria lawmaker from Lagos State added, “Assuming it was not his idea as he now claims, did he speak publicly against it? What did he do or say publicly to condemn or stop the project.”
Gbajabiamila also added that Obasanjo attempted to enlist the support of a former US President, Mr. George Bush, for the project, but failed.
In the same vein, a former influential member of the House, Mr. Halims Agoda, laughed for about two minutes when his reaction was sought.
Agoda, who was at the House, from 1999 to 2007, recalled that he participated actively in the third term debate.
“One of the things that make a statesman to stand out is the ability to stand by whatever decision he took, whether good or bad.
“That a project failed should not amount to a complete denial. The third term was Obasanjo’s personal agenda, which he took a long time to nurture.
“He sought the support of the National Assembly, but it was thrown out”, Agoda said.
Agoda held the view that until now, Nigerians were hoping that Obasanjo would throw more light on the project so that they could learn some political lessons from it.
“The third term has been practised elsewhere in the world; it is not entirely new.
But, since it came to Nigeria in the days of Obasanjo, Nigerians expected that he would speak more on the project, not to disown it,” he said.
Senator Ahmed Lawan, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, also said Obasanjo was interested in the third term agenda, adding, however, that there was no bill from the executive to that effect.
“There was no way the ex-president then could have done it himself because it was a legislative affair. But Obasanjo was clearly in support of it. There were lobbyists from the Presidency,” he said.
Lawan, who was a member of the House of Representatives at that time, said although he was not a member of the review committee, he would not be able to tell at what stage the third term came into the bill.
Effort’s to get the ex-president to respond to the claims of the lawmakers were not successful on Saturday night. When our correspondent called his Chief Security Officer, Mr. Ayo Akande, he said he was not competent to comment on the matter.
“I can’t make comments on the matter. I am not his spokesperson. You can contact the spokesperson to react,” he said.
When our correspondent called Obasanjo’s media assistant, Mr. Adeoba Ojekunle, the network operator said the number was wrong. A text message sent to his mobile phone was not replied as at press time.
The third term bid failed after the National Assembly annulled the entire process of amending the Constitution following sustained public outrage.
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