A bill to restrict the age of presidential candidates to 70 and below elicited intense acrimony on the floor of the Constituent Assembly in 1977 that it pitched the members into different camps.
Although the bill was eventually passed, it was removed by General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the head of the military regime at the time.
Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State, stated this in his new autobiography titled ‘My Participations.’
“The anti-Awolowo lobby in the Assembly worked very hard on this and the bill was passed. It was apparent that it was aimed at aborting the presidential ambition of Awolowo, who would be 70 by March 1979,” he wrote.
The Constituent Assembly was convened in 1977 to deliberate on the report of the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by Rotimi Williams, who was the first Attorney-General of the defunct Western Region. It was part of Mr Obasanjo’s Transition to Civil Rule programme and was headed by Udo Udoma, a retired judge of the Supreme Court.
According to the book, the Awolowo camp took its revenge when some prominent northern leaders attempted to insert Sharia Law into the proposed Nigerian Constitution and bring it at parity with every Act of Parliament.
The group “vigorously opposed” the move, the book stated.
“It was a most acrimonious debate and when it was defeated by the majority, its proponents, led by the duo of Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto State and Malam Aminu Kano from Kano walked out.
“Justice Udo Udoma was not deterred by their walk-out and the Assembly proceedings continued un-adjourned.
“With that, the Sharia lobby stayed away from the Assembly until they were persuaded back when Obasanjo intervened and addressed the plenary session of the Assembly.
“He warned that the military would not hesitate to intervene in the interest of the nation if the politicians continued to fuel tension and unnecessary division.”
Mr Akande said Mr Obasanjo’s threat strengthened the hand of Mr Udoma and there were no walk-outs or sustained protests till the Assembly wound down.
However, the failure suffered by the Sharia proponents suddenly galvanised the Northern Peoples Congress (founded by Ahmadu Bello) and their old foes, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (led by Aminu Kano) into an alliance.
“The sudden romance led to speculations that the radical Aminu Kano was being considered for the presidential ticket of the group.
“However, when the NPN was formed and he was elected the National Publicity Secretary, he felt humiliated and angrily left to form his Peoples’ Redemption Party.”
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