Former Senate President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator Ken Nnamani, has revealed how he aborted the planned to amend constitution to allow for third term in office during former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Nnamani said his model of legislating was shaped by the debate about whether the legislator is an agent or a trustee.
Speaking Thursday in Abuja during the official launch of his book titled “Standing strong: Legislative reforms, third term and other issues of the 5th Senate”, the former Senate President said he wrote the book with intention not to sensationalize; rather to present a factual account of that defining moment without malice to anyone.
Narrating how he aborted the third term agenda, Nnamani said: “During the debate on the Third Term Bid of President Obasanjo, I weighed these two competing concepts of the role of a legislator. I decided to marry the two concepts. I wanted Senators to vote their mind on the question whether to amend the constitution to allow President Obasanjo a Third Term. I also wanted them to effectively represent the views of their constituents. To be an informed trustee, the Senators needed to understand the views of their constituents before casting their votes.
“On this basis, the Senate adjourned to allow Senators to consult with their constituents about the constitutional amendment. With this intervention, some Senators returned to the plenary with enlightened views. Many who were previously overwhelmed with exigencies of politics returned with stories of the vehemence of their constituents. This “Damascus experience’ changed the game on the Third Term vote. It was obvious that majority of Nigerians wanted the National Assembly to keep faith with the constitutional limitation on tenure.
“To ensure that Nigerians saw how their representatives were responding to the most important question of democracy, the Senate decided to televise its proceedings. Publicizing the proceedings was faulted by those who wanted to smuggle into the constitution the extension of tenure through undefined and darkly proceedings.
“They knew that if we isolate Nigerians from the proceedings and therefore reduce public pressure on the legislators it could be possible to ram through with their agenda. But I stood strong. The principal officers of the National Assembly stood strong. We overcame this intense pressure even from the highest level of government.
“We continued to broadcast the proceedings. The result of the publicity and openness was that we ultimately secured our democracy.
“The degree of public interest the debate generated owed largely to the decision to televise our deliberations. This was about the origin of the now institutionalized use of television to publicize the proceedings of the National Assembly. The publicity of the proceedings made legislators to sit up and take seriously the art of law-making. No one wanted to be caught on camera either sleeping or making disjointed statements.
“No one wanted to be seen by members of his community taking a disgraceful position on such important issue. Publicly televised proceedings became a new incentive structure to improve the quality of proceedings in the Senate. Suddenly, we gained a new insight into the legislative craft, we were then ready to subject our decisions to public scrutiny.”
The former Senate President thanked his former colleagues for standing by him during the trying period.
“These innovations paid up huge social capital for the National Assembly. Suddenly, the National Assembly became the most credible public institution in Nigeria. The National Assembly became effective, credible, and efficient. Nigerians now came to regard the National Assembly as a collection of patriots devoted to generating laws and legislative framework for economic growth and social inclusion.
“Publicizing the proceedings was faulted by those who wanted to smuggle into the constitution the extension of tenure through undefined and darkly proceedings. They knew that if we isolate Nigerians from the proceedings and therefore reduce public pressure on the legislators it could be possible to ram through with their agenda. But I stood strong.
“The principal officers of the National Assembly stood strong. We overcame this intense pressure even from the highest level of government. We continued to broadcast the proceedings. The result of the publicity and openness was that we ultimately secured our democracy.”
Nnamani, however, advocated for the need to focus on building the strongest and most resilient institutions of democracy and development.
“We need to have the best-in-class institutions since economic and social development turns mostly on the quality of institutions. However, recent political experience teaches us that crafty autocrats can rob these institutions of meaning and use them against democracy and development.
“The Third Term Bid was almost a disaster, but for the vigilance and courage of the National Assembly leaders who supported the due process and opposed an invasion of self-serving politicians.”
Commending the contributions of Nnamani to the Nation building, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonayan Onu, assured that the country will continue to fight against insecurity and ensure development of all part of the Nation.
In his own, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo commended Nnamani for documenting his experience as a leader for the upcoming leaders to learn from.
Osinbajo acknowledged that Nnamani has never showed desperation for anything, saying “He (Nnamani) want to serve but not at all cost.”
In his comments at the event, former Chief Army Staff, who chairs the occasion, General Theophilus Y. Danjuma, recommended the book for all upcoming leaders.
Danjuma said: “In my own personal opinion this is a text book for all young men and women who want to run a difficult country like Nigeria.”
In his goodwill message, former Senate President Adolphus Wabara, faulted the current security apparatus which he said is headed by only one section of the country to the detriment of other part of the country.
He charged Nnamani who once chaired the Federal Character Commin Senate to prevail on his party to correct the anomaly.
“You have to make sure that the country remain democratic and we must thank Buhari for not nursing ambition for a third term. I duff my hat for him. If he wanted an amendment of the constitution to extend his tenure, I am sure this current National Assembly will grant it, keep standing strong.”