For Close associates and even those who have followed the politics of Senator Udoma Udo Udoma [above] throughout his eight years tenure in the Senate, his invitation by President Muhammadu to serve in his cabinet did not quite come as a surprise. In more ways than one, the two Nigerians share a lot in common. Both are sticklers for strict political principles that must not be sacrificed on the altar of avarice. Both are men who have brought relative moral integrity into public service.
Not too long ago, at the height of the atrocious campaign for third term during the twilight of Obasanjo presidency, one man in the Senate from the South South who stood against the campaign was Senator Udoma. In his now famous statement, ‘Why I am against third term’, Senator Udoma posited: “Even if we pass the amendment and the President decides to contest, a decision, we understand he is yet to make, all we could have achieved is a maximum of four more years for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. But at what price?
His successor will be able to rule Nigeria for 12 unbroken years! A period long enough to enable such a president entrench himself, and using the precedent already established, supported by the powers of incumbency, to even contemplate doing away completely with term limits, a common occurrence in Africa”. Indeed, most of the arguments that eventually convinced the National Assembly to drop the amendment of the constitution to extend the tenure of the president and the governors were eloquently in support of his position.
At a time a lot of legislators and politicians from his clime were falling over themselves to benefit from the deep pockets that followed the campaign, Udoma refused to be compromised. His position may have jolted his party and the presidency but not Nigerians who identified with him and many other legislators who opposed the third term and saved Nigeria from yet another needless crisis.
Udoma again demonstrated his steadfast to political principles in 1999 when he, as a Senator turned down an offer of a minister of state for what he felt was a slight on his status as a senator and the fact that the portfolio he was given was outside his field of specialisation.
In the Senate, he was Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, a committee considered one of the ‘juiciest’ in the upper house, yet he kept an unblemished record for over three years he chaired the committee. Not so for his successor who got enmeshed in the cash for Education budget scandal not long after he relinquished the post; yet when he was re-elected, he refused all entreaties to continue as chairman of the committee – a fact revealed at his 50th birthday by Senator Ibrahim Mantu. In the fourth and fifth Senate, he was truly its doyen as he was given very challenging tasks, all of which he left trails of accomplishments.
He was at various times ad-hoc chairman of the many Senate committees and chairman of various harmonisation committees that fine-tuned provisions of many bills before its passage, namely NDIC Amendment Act, Offshore-onshore Bill, Fiscal Responsibility Bill, and a Bill seeking to provide for the monitoring of Revenue Allocation to Local Government Councils from the Federation Account (a bill later killed through the conspiracy of state governors in 2007). Udoma capped his eventful career in the Senate when he headed the National Assembly team that went round the world to canvass for debt relief for Nigeria, a campaign that contributed to the granting of debt relief to Nigeria by the Paris Club of creditor nations to the tune of $18 billion.
Again, when the ovation was loudest, Senator bowed to his conscience to return to his private sector business. He was not intoxicated with political power as is the case with the typical Nigerian politician. Even when pressured to run for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State, Udoma, a top notch graduate of corporate law from the Oxford University, prefers to be a professional in politics rather than being a professional politician. He preferred rather to return to his chambers in Lagos.
Udoma’s brand of politics especially his opposition to third term did attract the attention of many Nigerian leaders, chief among them were Buhari and the then Vice President, Abubakar Atiku. Both Nigeria leaders wrote a letter to salute the courage of Udoma. Buhari in his 2006 letter to Udoma had written: “I would like to congratulate you personally and the Senate collectively for the peaceful and successful outcome of the debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill. The resolve of the Senate has at once averted a crisis through a disastrous descent to dictatorship and has given meaning to the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
Distinguished Senator, I assure you that the stand you have taken against the “third term” is supported by the vast majority of Nigerians in all constituencies. Rest assured that you have my support in your efforts to safeguard democracy and entrench the principles of constitutional order and respect for constitutional rules and the protection of public interest. Best regards”.
Surely, with such an emotion-laden compliments, it was no surprise that inspite of party differences the president found in Udoma an ally that he deems competent to make his team he intends to set up to re-invent Nigeria. Udoma did not mince words when he told the Senate during his screening that the president personally invited him to be part of his cabinet. Surely, Udoma and Buhari represent a unification of political principles and integrity. We hope Nigeria will benefit from this relationship.
Victor Effik, a journalist, who lives in Abuja was one of the media aides to the then Senate Chief Whip, Senator Udoma udo Udoma. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +234837004365.
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