By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
One man with a gavel changed the course of Nigerian history. Tuesday, May 16, 2006 was Nigeria’s date with history. The climax of the debate for the review of the 1999 Constitution was up for a final decision, and the most controversial issue in the entire pack was the granting of what had come to be known as a Third Term for President Olusegun Obasanjo. Senate President Ken Nnamani presided over the momentous session with uncommon leadership acumen such that the constitutional review was comprehensively rejected alongside the poisonous third term clause.
It’s a landmark decision of standing strong by the constitution and insisting on term limits. The history of Nigeria would have been changed to the odious course of tenure whims of incumbent presidents, much as had led to the doom of many African countries in the past. Ken Nnamani obviously deserves gratitude for courageously saving Nigeria from the dangerous pass.
The former Senate President has documented for posterity his tour of duty as the leader of Nigeria’s 5th National Assembly in his book Standing Strong: Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate. The 491-page book is not just about the third term imbroglio but delves exhaustively into the upbringing, grooming, character, grit, integrity and personality of Ken Nnamani.
Born Kenechukwu Ugwu Nnamani on Tuesday, November 2, 1948, to the family of Chief and Lolo Nnamani Nwugwu of Umuedenta kindred in Amechi-Uwani in today’s Enugu State, the man more simply known as Ken Nnamani started his primary school education in his village and completed it at Central School, Awkunanaw. He was admitted into Isienu Community Grammar School, Nsukka in 1964 but the Nigeria Biafra War of 1967-70 disrupted his education. He completed his secondary school education after the war in 1971 at Union Secondary School, Awkunanaw, graduating with a high-flying Grade One in the school certificate examinations and distinguishing himself as the Senior Prefect and Sports Captain.
He then had to travel well over 500 kilometres by road from Enugu, the capital of the old Eastern Region, to Ibadan, the capital of the old Western Region, to study for his Higher School Certificate at Ibadan Grammar School, and his leadership forte continued to shine forth as he was appointed the House Prefect of Akinyele House.
Standing Strong: Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate By Ken Nnamani; InterPares Media Ltd, Lagos, Nigeria; 2021; 491pp
He applied for admission to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in Nigeria and Ohio University, Athens in USA and was remarkably offered admission by both universities. He chose to study business administration at Ohio University in place of political science at UNN. He took a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in 1977 and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Ohio University, Athens in 1988.
After graduation, he wrote to as many as 55 companies in the United States for employment and got a job with the transnational company, Du Pont De Nemours International in Wilmington, Delaware, USA in 1978. He did his initial orientation and training at the Du Pont Headquarters before being sent to Geneva, Switzerland for further training. He was thenceforth given charge of the product distribution and industrial marketing activities of Du Pont in English-speaking West African countries that included Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Gambia and Sierra Leone. It was in 1999, after 21 years of service, that he left Du Pont to go into private business.
Nigeria has suffered many military coups, and what always gets dismantled is the legislature while the executive somewhat forges ahead. Ken Nnamani reveals that “before I was elected senator, the legislature had already acquired a rather poor public image.” Due to executive manipulation, for instance, senate presidents were changed at will but the blame was always put on the ethnic group of the victims!
Ken Nnamani was elected into the senate in 2003 with the support of his native Enugu State Governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, whom he had known during their stay in America and who incidentally comes from the same senatorial zone. Even as Governor Nnamani preferred Senator Ike Ekweremadu to become the senate president, Ken Nnamani emerged victorious with support from Northern senators led by Senator Idris Kuta.
As senate president, he undertook fundamental changes to reform the legislature by restructuring the administrative processes, remoulding parliamentary conduct, ensuring transparency by putting cameras on the chamber floor, and leading by example. He tackled the executive-legislature conundrum with gusto under the imperial presidency of Obasanjo. He dwelt admirably on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, State of Emergency in Ekiti State, the Bakassi cession etc.
In Standing Strong, Ken Nnamnani boldly states: “The battle against the third term bid of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 was certainly the most defining task of my tenure as president of the Fifth Senate of the Nigerian legislature.”
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Amendment) Bill, 2006, that later became tagged as the Third Term Bill, proposed 116 amendments to the 1999 Constitution including provisions for handling the process of local government creation, the independence of the third tier of government, the nature of immunity for public officers, the rights to residency privileges, the rotation of power, and an issue very dear to Senator Nnamani, to wit, creating a new state in the Southeast to put it at par with the other geo-political zones.
As the respected veteran journalist, Ray Ekpu, writes in the Foreword to Standing Strong, “The Constitution review was overwhelmingly rejected because of the third term clause. So the baby was thrown away with the bath water.”
Senate President Ken Nnamani and the other senators who stood tall to thwart the third term bill paid the prize of not being allowed to return to the senate by a vengeful presidency.
With the defeat of the third term project, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was shoed in to contest for the presidency with all the catastrophic consequences.
Ken Nnamani is a courageous leader that Nigeria needs, as he stresses: “I believe it is important to call out former President Obasanjo for his constant denial of what was very glaringly an attempt by him to elongate his stay in office, rather than watch from a distance and allow him rewrite history to cover that blemish on his record. The former president continues to deny any involvement in that bid to procure himself a third term, against the constitution which brought him into office, and which he swore to uphold. He has codified this untruth by publishing it in a book and this is dangerous for posterity. So, it is important to clear things up and call them what they are.”
*Ken Nnamani has offered Nigerians and the world at large a truly historic book in Standing Strong: Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate. The book and the man deserve celebration.