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Nigerian Parliament Questions Constitution Review Process

Several Nigerian parliamentarians are pressing for a full investigation into an attempt to introduce changes to a draft bill before the assembly, which seeks to change sections of the constitution. The proposed amendments would grant President Olusegun Obasanjo the right to vie for a third term in office. Lawmakers poised for a showdown over the issue.

Opponents of proposed constitutional changes in Nigeria have accused the presidency of manipulating the legislature ahead of a crucial vote.

Both houses of the assembly had adopted the draft bill on proposed amendments and a debate is scheduled for the next few days.

Lawmakers Thursday rejected attempts to modify some aspects of the bill without recourse to established procedure.

Opponents of the bill have subsequently called for a full investigation. Usman Bugaje is a member of the lower house of parliament and a critic of Mr. Obasanjo.

"These are people who are committing a crime that in my opinion is next to felony, because you cannot tamper with sacred documents which have been placed on the table," he said. "In other words, they are the property of the national assembly. To tamper with them, to substitute them or do anything with them is a terrible crime. This goes to show that the presidency and the people behind this agenda are constantly moving in the direction of breach of rules, regulations, constitutions and rule of law."

Those in favor of extending the president's term have rejected the allegation. They insist that their campaign had been anchored on respect for the rule of law. Leading the pro-change lobby is Deputy Senate president Ibrahim Mantu.

"Thank God the proceeding of the national assembly is done in the open," he said. "Everything we do is in the open. So, there is no way anybody can stage-manage anything in a process or in a system where everything is actually done in the open."

Intense lobbying has characterized the build-up to the parliamentary vote. Opponents and supporters are already claiming victory.

Usman Bugaje says there is enough support in the lower chamber to defeat the bill.

"I have no doubt in my mind that we have more than the number," he said. "I can even go as far as saying if we really allow people to vote without intimidation, I don't think they will have one-third. I don't think they have up to one-third. If you remove all the intimidation and the harassment and the pressures, and you allow people to vote, because everybody knows that 90 percent of Nigerians are not in support of third term. They are against third term."

The so-called third term debate has become a national obsession. Analysts say the decisions made in the next few days could define the very existence of the West African nation.