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Nigeria's Failed Constitutional Amendment

In the fourth quarter of 2005, reports began appearing in the Nigerian mainstream print media about a bid to have the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, attempt a third term in office. Mr. Obasanjo, who has been president since 1999, is constitutionally permitted to serve a maximum of two four-year terms. In March 2006, a parliamentary constitutional review committee adopted proposals for the amendment of several clauses in the Nigerian Constitution. The most controversial of these was the fact that a president should be allowed to serve three four-year terms rather than the two four-year terms currently stipulated. This became widely known as the “Third Term Agenda” in Nigeria.

For the constitutional review bill to become law in Nigeria, both the upper and lower houses of parliament must approve it. On May 16, 2005, the upper House (Senate) rejected it with an unquestionable majority, bringing to an end all debates surrounding amending or modifying the Nigerian Constitution for the next six months. A large number of bloggers keenly followed events surrounding the constitutional review—especially events that centered on amending the constitution to allow the incumbent president seek an extra term in office.

Blogging from the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, Chxta’s World puts forward an article entitled “There is a God” in which it tells of people being “proud to be citizens of Naija [Nigeria]”given that “it has been shown that we have people in the right places who know how to do the right things.” Chxta’s World, like a large number of Nigerian blogs, opposed moves to amend the constitution to give Mr. Obasanjo a third term in office. Chippla’s Weblog, though generally favoring the idea of a constitutional amendment, was also strongly opposed to the idea of a third term. Like a number of blogs, it rejoiced on hearing about the rejection of the bill by the Nigerian Senate.

The blog Pause to Ponder, which is one of a few to have openly supported an extension to the tenure of Mr. Obasanjo, was left asking a great deal of questions after the Senate vote of May 16,2005. In an article entitled: “Suppose OBJ [Obasanjo] third term was a ruse,” it poses loads of questions on the entire constitutional review process, leaving you the reader to decide on them. Nigerian Times, despite being an opponent to the third term agenda, refuses to rejoice on hearing that it had been voted against. Rather, it calls on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of Nigeria to probe all allegations of bribery and corruption in respect of the constitutional review process.

Two days before the Senate vote, Naijablog, authored by a Nigerian-resident Briton, expressed fears for the future of Nigeria. It described Nigeria as a country “balanced on knife edge, between continued positive progressions and falling back into the dark old days” as well as a country in which “no one seems to know what is going to happen.” A day after the Senate vote, Naijablog appeared quite optimistic about what the future may hold, given that the country appears to be getting its politics right.

Just Thots By A Naijaman has been quite a vocal opponent in the blogosphere to the constitutional amendment that would have seen the Nigerian president extend his stay in office. It appears disillusioned with the present state of Nigerian society. Furthermore, its satirical portrayal of the chairman of the ruling party in Nigeria, Ahmodu Ali, as well as its questioning of the Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, leave room for much discussion.

The process surrounding the constitutional review process in Nigeria gave rise to new sorts of dramas previously unheard of. While the country’s President was silent on it all the while, the Vice President came out in public against the clause that would allow for three four-year terms. The blog On a Lighter Mode wasn’t surprised by this because in its opinion “these two people [the President and his Vice] are from different worlds, only brought together by similar desires – the quest for power.” Grandiose Parlor while declaring no love for the Vice President had these words for those trying to amend the constitution to keep Mr. Obasanjo in power:

“It is shameful, disgraceful, and undeniably callous of the parties stoking the fire of the third term agenda, particularly the man right in the middle of the controversy [i.e. Mr. Obasanjo].”

Black Star Journal, authored by an American with vast knowledge on African politics, had earlier cautioned on the need for Mr. Obasanjo to resist seeking a third term in office, lest Nigeria become a failed state. However, the blog Obasanjo 2007, authored by Bola Adisa, resident in the commercial city of Lagos, took a contrary view by putting forward arguments as to why Mr. Obasanjo ought to be allowed to continue ruling Nigeria for much longer. Obasanjo 20007’s views were also echoed by Ransome Obem, who stands in deep praise of Mr. Obasanjo’s government.

Few issues in Nigeria have generated as much debate in the blogosphere as that of amending the constitution to allow the incumbent president contest an election that may have seen him serve an extra term in office. While a majority of bloggers found this unacceptable, few felt that it was necessary, given the realities on the ground in Nigeria. With the rejection of the constitutional amendment by the Nigerian Senate three days ago, it appears that Nigerians would now start preparing for an election next year. This would be the first time in their country’s history that the mantle of leadership will be passing from one democratically elected government to another.

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