An Open Letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo by
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani
Secretary General, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
Your Excellency, at the end of their March 2006 Plenary Meeting, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria issued a statement on the state of the nation in which they reflected on the controversial Constitutional Amendment, and particularly on the treacherous Third Term Agenda, which as at that time had already begun heating the polity very seriously. In their statement the Bishops admitted that a review of this country’s Constitution with the aim of redressing the structural injustices and shortfalls embedded in the existing one, is indeed a necessity if our fledging democracy must survive.
With regard to the contentious proposal for a Third Term for the President and Governors, the Bishops made three clear statements: Firstly, that this issue should be a truly fair decision of Nigerians, and not the result of manipulation for self-perpetuation in office against the wish of the people; secondly, that whatever the outcome of the debate, the eventual choice of President and Governors in 2007 must be that of the people in a free and fair election; and thirdly that even if a third term is made legal through a constitutional amendment process, those presently in power should consider whether it is ethical for them to change the rules to their advantage midway in the game. They warned that “our country cannot live in hope if government engages in a monologue neither listening to the people nor to the international community.”
Your Excellency, I have paraphrased above the position of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria on the ongoing third term debacle. You can appreciate that while avoiding equivocation, the language of the Bishops is nevertheless diplomatic and non-confrontational as is meet for leaders in their position. But in my personal capacity as a Nigerian citizen, I have no such constraints in language or content when propelled to communicate my opinion to you and to fellow Nigerians on critical national issues. In other words, I am writing this letter to you in a frank, blunt and unequivocal manner as a significant stakeholder in the Nigerian project, yet with due deference to your person and your revered position as President of this great country.
Events in Nigeria in the last two months (that is, since the Bishops released their communiqué) have sadly demonstrated that the “manipulation for self-perpetuation in office against the wish of the people” which the Bishops warned against is exactly what is currently playing out. From the mysterious appearances of “fake” Draft Constitutions in the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, through the dubious enterprise and show of shame which was called Zonal Public Hearings on Constitutional Amendment and the primitive rascality that enthroned a new leadership in Oyo State, to the ongoing intimidation, harassment and coercion of opponents of the Third Term Agenda, it has been a blatant display of political brigandage at the highest precincts of governance in our land.
Your Excellency, I am not only a human being, who like other human beings have some knowledge of good and evil, I am also a Christian subscribing to a set of high moral standards as contained in Matthew chapter 5 to 7. What is more, I am a priest who has a prophetic calling to discern evil and to denounce it, in order to save the people as individuals and as a corporate entity of the unwholesome consequences of such evil. I recognize that as Scripture says, I shall be held responsible if I remain silent and refuse to speak out as I watch in broad daylight a band of misguided professional politicians and a gang of shameless sycophants daily fanning the flame of a violent revolution and stoking the embers of an inexorable disintegration.
It is for this reason, and with a high sense of responsibility that I have chosen this extraordinary medium - to address an open letter to you at this time, seeing how all other channels of alerting you on the dangers ahead (such as the Bishops’ Communique referred to above) have been ignored. I am aware that similar letters have been addressed to you in the past by such eminent Nigerians as Professor Wole Soyinka, Retired Col. Abubakar Umar and of late Chief Awoniyi, but their warnings have not been heeded. Yet I must add my voice to the other voices of reason in the land, urging you to have a rethink and see the accident ahead before it occurs.
Your Excellency, on the substantive issue of this letter, I am aware that you have not come out openly to declare your interest to contest for a third term as President in the 2007 Elections. Yet your vague and ambivalent statements when confronted on the issue in public within and outside Nigeria, your body language, and the ongoing intimidation, coercion and marginalization of all those opposed to the idea of a third term by elements associated with you and your administration - all these affirm the belief of most Nigerians today that you are poised to continue as President beyond May 2007, at whatever cost to the country, even in blood and tears. The majority of Nigerians see the failed National Confab and the ongoing charade of Constitution Amendment as part of the script for actualizing this vaunting and overarching ambition.
As a human being, I give it to you Sir, that there may be no limit to your ambition to preside over the affairs of this country, so as to consolidate the political and economic gains of your leadership as your supporters have often sought to articulate. So you might even wish to be president for life as we have had numerous cases in Africa. Yet it is a well-known fact of history that leaders that overstay their welcome, no matter how well they may have performed, have often been humiliated out, if they do not succeed in throwing their country into chaos. But we have gone beyond the age of Monarchies and Dynasties. We are in a democracy. Terms and term-limits for public officers are fundamental to this system of government. Not only would democracy be fatally wounded if these term limits are violated or manipulated for selfish purposes, but the country itself could be turned into political turmoil as a result.
Besides, Your Excellency, the matter of a Third Term for you and others has a moral imperative. As a Christian I want you to recognize that even if through the ongoing process in the Assembly the Constitution is amended to include a third term for the President, it is immoral, unethical, and I dare say gravely sinful, for you, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as our current (two-term) President, to seek to benefit from this term extension, because there is an elementary principle of justice and an age old wisdom that you cannot be an umpire and a player at the same time, and that you cannot change the rules of the game midway in the game and seek to benefit from the change.
You see, as I was contemplating on this letter, I chanced on a video documentary produced by Caritas International on the protracted war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was caused and has been sustained all the while by the crisis of leadership in that country, including the late Mobutu Sese Sekou’s ambition to remain in power for life. The level of physical devastation, the magnitude of human waste, the beastly rape of women and the hopelessness of children reflected in the documentary, presents a frightening scenario that you cannot wish for this country or for any country for that matter.
Your Excellency, let me conclude my letter by reminding you of the Yoruba saying that:
“Eni ti awon orisa bafe parun ni won n koko ya ni were” which translates as,
“the one whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad.”
Therefore I plead with you in the name of the God we both serve: Don’t do it! Stop the madness over a third term! Call to order your fanatical supporters, including those political prostitutes, contract chasers and professional sycophants who today are prodding you on in this lecherous enterprise! And May the Good Lord bless you as you heed this humble advice in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Saturday May 6, 2006.
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani,
Secretary General, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, P O Box 951, Lagos, Nigeria. Phone 234-1-2630347; Fax 234-1-2636680
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