The Nation (Nigeria)
Third-term blues: An encore
HALF-WAY into President Muhammadu Buhari's second term marked by a great deal of motion but far less movement than the public had a right to expect, they are already laying the groundwork for a third term.
Buhari does not appear to have any part, direct or indirect, in the incipient campaign. Indeed, there are those who would swear that he is already counting the days when, happily freed from the gilded cage that is Aso Rock and the relentless contumely of the press, he would of an evening drive from his home in Daura across the border to commune with pals and close relations in Maradi, Niger Republic, over a bowl of fura da nono or trays of sizzling spicy suya.
He might even, as a demonstration of his abiding faith in the ECOWAS project, decide to ride into Maradi in an executive wagon on the Kano-katsina-maradi Express Train which, given Abuja's enthusiasm, might be completed well before the end of his second term in 2022. The stunning vista of the Sahel as the train glides along cannot but gratify him and confirm his wisdom in seeing the rail link through.
Personally, I believe that all the talk of a third term flows from the calculations of political speculators with their eyes permanently trained on the main chance, or from the frenzied hallucinations of those who mistake the foam for the real stuff.
But who knows?
Who would have thought that the author of the benighted Decree Four - an enactment that placed him in the same league with General Zia of Pakistan and Idi Amin of Uganda and such beacons of brutality would, on return to power as a penitent leader committed to democracy and the rule of law seek to fustigate the media anew?
Has it not been said that old habits die hard?
Besides, speaking metaphorically, a "third term," has become one of the more durable fascinations in Nigeria's political sociology, dating back to the First Republic. Back then, it was enunciated in one form or another across the political spectrum.
I would put down the premier of Western Nigeria, Chief SL Akintola, his deputy Chief RA Fani-kayode (Fani Power) and the ruling Nigeria National Democratic Party general secretary, Chief ROA Akinjide, as its chief apostles. They constituted the leadership of the Demo Party which, on the eve of the regional elections of 1964, seized every moment and every instrument at its disposal to assure the people that whether they voted or nor, the NNDP had already won the poll.
The NNDP claimed a "landslide" all right, but it was a victory it could not celebrate. Its leaders went into hiding, scared of the very people who had given them the kind of victory that obtained in countries where there was only one political party and voting was compulsory. From there, it was but a short step to declaring that Demo would win, and had in fact won the next poll scheduled for four years later. And the next.
In the general election of that year, the NPC, well-tutored by its NNDP partners in the Nigeria National Alliance, executed its own self-succession plan as a first step to securing a third term, with subsequent terms to be obtained in the same manner assured.
The military coup of January 15, 1966, put a bloody end to the travesty.
After the ruling NPN'S controversial win in the 1983 general election, the first since a return of sorts to representative rule in 1979, its chairman, the wily Chief Adisa Akinloye, declared that there were only two political parties in Nigeria: the NPN, and the Nigerian Army, all other political parties having become terminally irrelevant.
The army took note, stripped the NPN of all pretence to being a co-equal fount of power and, for the next nine years, functioned as the sole governing authority, effectively pre-empting the NPN'S drive for a second term, and a third term, all the way to an nth term.
"June 12" ended military president Ibrahim Babangida's dream of what would have been a third term for an elected president and sent him into a ragged, lachrymose retreat from Abuja to Minna. For eight years, he exercised power without restraint and almost without challenge.
If General Sani Abacha had not expired in an orgy of concupiscence and had succeeded in installing himself as an elected president on the platform of the five official political parties that Uncle Bola Ige, in a phrase for the ages compared to the five leprous fingers on a diseased hand, he would most surely have held power for as long as he drew breath. Thereafter his wife Mariam, or his son "Ibrahim can do it" Abacha would have taken over, to ensure continuity.
To the clan, the whole thing had become a family business.
General Abdulsalam Abubakar was too preoccupied recovering lost opportunities during the years he was kept on the fringes that the place on his mind was how to get out of the whole thing with enough assets to last his progeny till the end of time.
It is, however, with President Olusegun Obasanjo that the "third term" is most widely associated in the public mind. Half-way through his second term, it was bruited that he would somehow contrive a third term. He and his major supporters, among them the embattled Osun State Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the erratic Ekiti State Governor
Ayo Fayose, framed the matter as a package of constitutional amendments, of which the abolition of term limits was just a minor aspect.
"Third term," the public chanted in indignation. Despite the hefty sums reportedly handed out to federal lawmakers to support the scheme, the National Assembly filibustered, and the proposal died on a procedural technicality.
As his first full term was drawing to a close, President Goodluck Jonathan, though dogged by widespread charges of cluelessness, made a bid for what would really have been a second term in office. But his vocal opponents and a hostile press said the two years he had served to complete what remained of President Umaru Yar'adua's term following Yar'adua's death counted for a first term, and that Jonathan's expiring term counted for a second. His re-election bid, they said, was for a third term.
A hastily-convened Constitutional Conference designed to clear his path failed.
Even so, most of the third-term zealots were exceedingly modest in their projections compared to PDP stalwart Vincent Ogbulafor, who declared that the party would hold power for at least 60 unbroken years - or 15 terms. It was kicked out some four years later and has been in the political wilderness since then.
But the third-term syndrome is nothing if not contagious
Innocent of its dirty history, or believing that they are smarter and more resourceful than those who waged the earlier failed campaigns, Buhari's acolytes are reportedly now pressing him to declare for a third term and urging the public to assent for its own good.
As they see it, their case is unassailable. Even with Boko Haram more than technically degraded, the country is in the throes of convulsions on multiple fronts. The clamour for restructuring grows louder and more insistent with every passing day. So are the voices of separatism and of religious intolerance. The economy is near collapse and shows few signs of rebounding.
The good news, they are saying, is that without Buhari at the helm, the situation would have been infinitely worse. The patriotic thing, it goes without saying, is to prevail on him to serve a third term.
They will be consoled by the thought that even if Buhari declines to seek reelection, his third term can still be achieved by voting in Kogi's Governor Yahaya Bello (GYB) as Nigeria's next president, a title he has already awarded himself in his campaign blitz across the country.
Bello has vowed to think Buhari's thoughts, dream Buhari's dreams and implement Buhari's plans and programmes and vision with the youthful energy he has been touting as his principal qualification for the high office of President of the Republic.
God help us all.