President Olusegun Obasanjo regains his footing and has resumed his tough talking on the House of Representatives’ 14-day ultimatum to him to resign or be impeached. What really happened?
Mr president... we hereby advise you to resign honourably within two weeks.
Tunde Asaju, Abuja Bureau - Newswatch Nigeria
The House of Representatives has forced President Olusegun Obasanjo to his
knees. Although he played the hard man in his public statements, the president
accepted a multi-pronged approach to save his seat and his re-election bid last
Obasanjo despatched Audu Ogbeh, chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic
Party, PDP to Kano to beg Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano to intervene for him
with Ghali Umar Na’Abba, the speaker of the House of Representatives, which
issued a 14-day ultimatum for the president to resign or be kicked out.
He did not stop there. The president was said to have called on his predecessor,
Ibrahim Babangida to equally intervene. Babangida was sighted at the Presidential
Villa on Monday. He went into a closed session with the president and Vice-President
Atiku Abubakar. He was said to have given his suggestions on the best way to
address the impasse between the executive and the legislature.
President Obasanjo equally got prominent Yoruba Obas to address the press in
Lagos . Newswatch gathered that these were part of the strategies adopted by
the presidency to forestall what a top government official called “the
insurrection” from spreading. Since August 14 when the House of Representatives
issued a 14-day ultimatum to the president to resign or be impeached, events
have been moving on a fast lane. Shortly after some members of the House met
at a prestigious hotel in Abuja to debate on the state of affairs, Newswatch
gathered some of the legislators headed straight to the Aso Rock Presidential
Villa to alert the president of the move. That night, unusual movement of Obasanjo’s
loyalists were noticed at the Villa. By the morning of August 14, the president’s
advisers had fine-tuned their survival game plan to beat the upcoming storm.
First, the decision to issue an order releasing July salary for workers was
meant to win back the loyalty of the federal civil service. Jerry Gana, minister
of information and national orientation issued that statement just as the news
of the ultimatum was being released to the public. He also announced a presidential
audit order on various government agencies and ministries including a peep into
the finances of the National Assembly.
Last week, as part of the fire-fighting strategies adopted, the Revenue Mobilisation
and Fiscal Allocation Commission announced that it had worked out an agreeable
revenue sharing formula for the country. This followed the deadlock that had
greeted the unilaterally amended formula which Obasanjo released and which stalled
the meeting of the commission with state finance commissioners. The unacceptable
formula had created a backlog of unpaid salaries in most states and local governments.
Many observers believe it was a panicky measure on the part of the executive
to draw sympathy from civil servants who were fast becoming disillusioned with
the administration’s insensitivity to their welfare. While most of them
were paid last week, officers and men of the State Security Service, SSS, and
those on Foreign Service were still groaning about the non-payment of arrears,
which is said to range between two and six months.
Newswatch was reliably informed that security officials at the Aso Rock Presidential
Villa were equally unhappy with the non-payment of their ration allowance since
July. Senior cadres of the security at the Villa are paid N4,000 per month while
the rank and file receive N1,000. Newswatch also learnt that ministers have
not received their N400,000 weekly federal executive meeting allowance in a
long time now. But all these came out two weeks ago in the face of the new onslaught
by the House of Representatives to make the Obasanjo administration more accountable
to the people that elected it. Some close friends and associates of the president
told Newswatch that the ultimatum jolted him and that he was worried about the
implication of the ultimatum not only on his re-election chances but also the
dregs of his popularity in the international community.
As a result of this, an earlier state visit to the Fiji Islands was suspended
at the last minute. The president equally turned down an invitation to attend
the swearing-in ceremony of Denise Sassou Nguesso, the new president of Congo
. He sent Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to represent him. It is rare for the
president to cancel a state visit except when there is a national disaster.
Obasanjo’s spin-doctors went to work immediately after the ultimatum.
The strategy, Newswatch learnt, was generally to demonise the members of the
House. By Saturday, the president had adopted the Abacha strategy of meeting
with traditional rulers and the so-called leaders of thought. Visitors trooped
into the Presidential Villa throughout the weekend of August 16 through 18.
Their brief, Newswatch gathered was to penetrate the media and keep up the tempo
of criticism against the impeachment move. Solidarity rallies and press conferences
were equally planned. Newswatch gathered that some editors were also invited
from Lagos to parley with the president to ensure that opposition views were
A source told Newswatch that in the heat of the pressure brought about by the
ultimatum given to Obasanjo, there was large scale movements of cash in many
Ghana Must Go bags out of the Presidential Villa. “Since Obasanjo became
a tenant here, I have never seen such massive movement of cash out of the Villa,”
suggesting under-hand deals in the attempts to resolve the conflict between
the House and the president.
What Newswatch sources could not confirm, however, was the destination of the
bags of money. At the House of Representatives the “tough talks” about
impeachment seemed to have given way to the issuance of conditionalities for
resolving the conflict.
On the day the ultimatum was given, Jerry Gana, the information and national
orientation minister, physically went to the premises of the Nigerian Television
Authority, NTA, to ensure that the report on the motion was not carried on the
Network News that night.
Nonyerem Macebuh, representative of Ukwa federal constituency, Abia State ,
who has been opposed to the leadership of Na’Abba addressed the press in
Lagos last week, criticising the manner the motion for impeachment of Obasanjo
was passed. He said the public was deceived into believing that the motion was
duly raised and passed, but rather that there was manipulation of the issue
by Na’Abba to settle personal scores and animosities with the president.
Macebuh said rules of the house was not duly followed in the passage of the
motion. He said that the notice for motion was not given in advance as usual,
for it to be given serious thought before discussion. The notice, he said, would
have allowed caucuses to meet at zonal, state and party levels to discuss how
the motion will affect them. “What I saw when I came to sign the attendance
register that day was a motion already signed by more than 80 members. The prayers
were based on allegations of misrule against the president and for him to resign
in two weeks or get impeached. There was no urgency in the matter. Na’Abba
was only taking advantage of public sentiments about failings of Obasanjo to
pursue a selfish and personal interest against the president,” he said.
He said Na’Abba’s interest could easily be seen in the manner he
handled debate on the issue as he is known to be a political enemy of Obasanjo.
He said Na’Abba gave more opportunity to his supporters to speak in support
of the motion while less attention was paid to those opposing the motion. “Na’Abba
called more than 20 who supported the motion and only about three who opposed.
He drew the curtain when my hand and others’ were still up. There is nothing
in the rules to stop a member from speaking on the issue. He was autocratic.
I left when he ruled against those who opposed it,” Macebuh said.
He believes there was no need to impeach Obasanjo admitting, however, that
the president has not done very well in his handling of the economy. “Change
is not necessary at this time we are near to 2003. We should be careful because
there are crooks taking advantage of our plight to steal the presidency again,”
Ironically, none of the issues raised by the House was discussed in most of
the radio and television discussions on the ultimatum. Emphasis was placed more
on the earlier refusal of the House to submit to a probe at the instance of
the executive. On the day of the ultimatum, the president had ordered another
probe of the National Assembly. But members, including members from the Upper
House, the Senate, vowed to resist any probe instigated by the executive. They
felt that this would amount to a witch-hunt.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, equally entered the fray. Audu
Ogbeh, the chairman of the party called a meeting with principal officers of
the House August 15. At the end of that meeting, the party directed the House
leadership to withdraw the ultimatum. Na’Abba told the chairman that the
motion was not the exclusive preserve of party members and that since it cut
across party lines, it could only be withdrawn or resolved on the floor of the
This irked Ogbeh who felt that his authority was being eroded. The chairman
fixed another meeting for August 16 at the premises of the National Assembly.
That meeting, it was reasoned, would have included members of the other parties.
That night, according to Newswatch sources Ogbeh was at the Presidential Villa
where he discussed with the president. It was resolved at that meeting that
the party should not ridicule itself by going to the National Assembly.
On the appointed date, Na’Abba and his colleagues waited in vain for Ogbeh,
and his executive members. After the long wait, they got a call asking them
to report to the party secretariat at the Wadata Plaza . As expected, the speaker
refused to show up at that meeting. Ogbeh on his own went ahead to address the
media. He told them that another meeting had been fixed for last Thursday and
that all the House members who belong to the party would be expected to attend.
He warned that those who flouted the order to appear stood the chance of being
suspended from the party.
Newswatch sources said a decision to suspend belligerent party members had
been taken on the first day. Following directions to security operatives to
look at those who were either remotely or directly connected with the move by
the House, the party hierarchy was said to have in the pipeline, a plan to suspend
other “belligerent members.”
But Na’Abba would not be alone. Newswatch was informed that the axe of
suspension was equally dangling on the head of some other principal members
of the assembly including some senators. Notable among these are Jim Nwobodo
and the president of the senate, Anyim Pius Anyim. Also on this list is Orji
Uzor Kalu, governor of Abia State . They were perceived in government circles
as thorns in the flesh of the party. The hawks within the ruling party were
said to have reasoned that suspending these people or expelling them would show
to others that nobody was above the party’s disciplinary board.
Sources also said the presidency was bent on using the divide and rule tactics
to break the ranks of the members of the House. President Obasanjo met with
some of the members who were opposed to the motion to impeach him. In one of
his many remarks on the issue he told the BBC that he had not been served a
copy of the motion calling on him to resign. He promised to officially react
to it whenever he gets a copy. He, however, vowed not to heed the call for resignation
saying it is all a joke.
But last Monday, the president paid what is believed to be his first visit
to the headquarters of his campaign group. He told journalists he had come to
see how his re-election campaign is being run. Though the headquarters itself
is nearly empty, Akin Oshuntokun, the head of publicity said the president’s
visit would act as a boost to the morale of his men. He said such a boost is
given not as a result of melancholy but as a dose of energy to help them work
The president equally scheduled several meetings. Some of the meetings were
held August 16 with members of the House who were opposed to the motion. The
president also held his first meeting with Anyim since the crisis between the
two. Anyim’s image-makers said it was a normal meeting. But Newswatch gathered
that the president was only trying to mend fences with the senate president
so as to forestall the upper house from supporting the lower house on this issue.
Many senators believe that the move by the House was in order. J.K.N. Waku,
one of Obasanjo’s ardent critics in the upper house told Newswatch last
week that the senate would pass a similar motion when it resumes this week.
According to Waku, President Obasanjo ought to have resigned honourably since
the controversy, which dogged the electoral bill, which the president was accused
of doctoring. He commended the members of the House for acting faster than the
senators, saying that they did so because of their youthful energy, which stands
them in a good stead to take forthright decisions.
“They were only faster than we are because they are young men and women
who are able to act faster than we are. You know that with us being more matured
in age, we were bound to take the pros and cons into consideration before passing
such a motion. But I can tell you that we will do the same thing when we resume.
The president ought to have resigned when he committed the electoral act fraud.
I can tell you that Obasanjo is the easiest person to be impeached. I do not
believe that the House was influenced by any external forces in taking their
action. They are correct in what they did,” he said.
Waku also denied that the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, had a hand in the
affairs of the legislature. “Some of us members of the Senate who are members
of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, when we go to meetings, we do so as individuals,”
he said. Waku was worried about the spate of criticisms from some sections of
Nigeria saying it showed that Nigerians are not ready for democracy. He said
having been sworn on the constitution, the president ought to respect its dictates.
Awwal Tukur, chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Aviation
told Newswatch that the House was not being influenced by anybody from outside.
He also said the move against Obasanjo was not a Na’Abba affair. “The
speaker did not influence what the House is doing. In fact, the first meeting
where this idea was discussed, Na’Abba only sat in as a good listener.
He did not say anything. Tukur said: “We are doing what we ought to do
to stop the drift that the country is witnessing now.”
Abubakar Bawa Bwari, Chief Whip of the House spoke in similar vein. “The
president is due for impeachment. He has done a lot of havoc to the nation in
many ways. Bwari dismissed criticisms that the move by the House was one of
those strategies for making the executive to release funds to the National Assembly.
“We really mean business and we believe what we are doing is the right
way to go about the problems confronting this country,” he said.
If the Senate eventually pitch their tent with the views of the House this
week, then the problems of the ruling party would have just begun. Waku said
that the party is wrong in threatening to suspend anybody who refused to withdraw
its signature from the impeachment motion. Na’Abba told the BBC that he
has not flouted the party’s disciplinary order and, therefore, cannot be
suspended by its executive.
Said Na’Abba: “My constituency has a clear knowledge of what is going
on and knows that I have not disobeyed the party. How could allegations of constitutional
breaches against the president be served as an evidence of dismissing a party
member? We can’t sit and watch Obasanjo do whatever he wishes.”
Last week, the president invited all the 36 state governors to discuss “issues
of urgent national importance.” At the end of the meeting, Segun Osoba,
an Alliance for Democracy, AD, governor announced that he and five of his colleagues
representing the six senatorial districts of the country have agreed to intervene
in the crisis. The choice of Osoba is instructive. He comes from the same state
with the president. His experience as second-term governor is also being called
to use here. On the list of governors who held meetings with House members were
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Bayelsa; Abubakar Hashidu, Gombe; Achike Udenwa, Imo;
Saminu Turaki, Jigawa and Joshua Dariye, Plateau.
Osoba said after the meeting, which lasted several hours that the meeting was
not to interfere in the squabble but to act as a bridge on which either party
can walk to reconciliation. He told journalists: “Our mission here was
initiated last night (Monday August 19) by the governors’ forum, that we
should seek clarification, meet the speaker and his team. I want to say that
we had a very useful discussion, very prompt, very honest and wide-ranging discussions
with Mr. Speaker and the principal officers of the House of Representatives.”
“The main reason of the meeting is to see how to break the ice. We cannot
resolve the problem immediately because we are not here as a judiciary, trying
to pronounce judgment on the case before the entire nation. We are here purely
as friends of both the executive and the House of Representatives. We do not
have the mandate to interfere on either side but at least we can break the ice
and create a window of opportunity for an amicable resolution of the problem
that we have on hand,” he concluded.
While the governors agreed to keep away from making contradictory statements,
which might exacerbate the problem, the views of some of the governors are bound
to irk the members. For instance, Hashidu, in a tone which did little to hide
on whose side he is, told journalists that the office of the president is a
very high one, which should be treated with respect. Dariye told the BBC after
the meeting that the meeting was frank and afforded the legislators the chance
of airing their own views and fears for the nation. He said: “I am sure
they’ll meet with the executive, discuss those areas with a view to resolution.”
Farouk Lawan, chairman, house committee on information, described their meeting
with the governors as ‘tremendously successful.’ Said he: “The
governors were to reason with us that the polity is not well and that it is
important that certain things are done. They recognise our constitutional responsibility
in doing what we are doing. They also believe that their role should be that
of peace-makers and that of bridge-builders and they want us to recognise them
as a bridge that can be used in finding resolution to the current situation
that we are in today.”
He, however, told the BBC that this meeting is not sufficient to make members
withdraw the motion and the ultimatum given to the president to resign. He told
the BBC: “What we did was to discuss, raise the issues, recognise the roles
they said they would play and appreciate that role and also assure them that
we are not averse to dialogue and peaceful resolution of the current situation
and that it is important that the president recognises that he is not the only
person who has the wisdom to run this country. That he must work based on the
provision of the constitution of Nigeria .”
On whether there was a quorum to pass the motion, Lawan described the president’s
remarks calling his colleagues jokers as most unfortunate and that the register
of members who attended the sitting is there for anybody to see.
Last Wednesday, the presidency, issued a 17-page statement denying allegations
of misrule and other issues raised against Obasanjo by the House of Representatives
which were the reasons adduced for asking him to resign. The statement described
the issues and accusations against Obasanjo as having been made in bad faith
and therefore “vexacious, malicious, mischievous, uncalled for and unconstitutional.”
It advised the House to face its business of law-making squarely.
In the statement signed by Tunji Oseni, chief press secretary to the president
and read by Jerry Gana, minister of information, the presidency said about 97
bills have so far been sent to the House but that only 20 have been enacted
into law, adding that a number of the bills passed were appropriation bills.
On the economy, the presidency said much has been done to curtail the depreciation
of the naira and inflationary rate in the country. He said the rate of inflation
was going down, contrary to what many people think and hinted that before next
year, the rate of inflation will reach a single digit.
The presidency denied that nothing was being done to curtail insecurity and
lawlessness in the country, explaining that President Obasanjo had already approved
that 40,000 police officers be recruited annually to strengthen the force. The
statement also denied that a loan was given to the Ghana Police Force.
The statement also said that the presidency has been implementing the national
budget “to the extent that the parametre encapsulated in the budget is
realised,” and denied ever reviewing the budget unilaterally but accused
the legislature of failing to honour its invitation to participate in the review
of the budget. The presidency confirmed that President Obasanjo has so far undertaken
113 trips abroad since 1999 but pointed out that 68 of the trips were one-day
return trip with no entitlements to either the president or his entourage.
On salaries, the statement denied that Obasanjo was delaying payment of salaries,
arguing that even August salaries were being paid now.
Some people had accused the military of involvement on the impeachment saga.
But Ibrahim Ogohi, an admiral and chief of defence staff denied the military’s
involvement. He said having left governance to the politicians, the military
has returned to its traditional role of keeping the nation’s territorial
integrity against internal and external aggression. He promised that the imbroglio
would not lead to a military incursion.
Said he: “If you think that you are going to incite members of the armed
forces against the government, you are just wasting your time. We will not budge.
If you think that some members of the armed forces of this country can be used
by anybody, politicians or no politicians, it will not happen. Members of the
armed forces of this country have witnessed a lot and it is our desire that
this democracy has to be protected at all cost. Members of the armed forces
cannot be dragged or be incited to do anything against the legitimate government.
You must also know that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is
the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of this country.”
Ogohi confirmed that the armed forces have been put on red alert to nip in
the bud any adventurous officer from truncating democracy. He advised soldiers
interested in playing politics to resign their commission before going into
Obasanjo was preparing to address the nation as at press time last week. He
is expected to address the issues raised by the House. Efforts to get Gana to
react to the impasse proved abortive. Dan Unimna, his press secretary, did not
return our calls or answer our messages until press time. Last Tuesday, the
police foiled an attempt by pro-Obasanjo protesters to storm the National Assembly.
Additional reports by Tobs Agbaegbu and Anza Philips.