Opposition in Togo skeptical of reform bill; Nigeria’s Obasanjo Weighs In

Former Nigeria’s president Obasanjo, left, and Togo’s president Faure Gnassingbe, right.

WEST AFRICA – Opposition groups and leaders in Togo on Sunday expressed skepticism about a political change in their country, as the West African nation’s lawmakers prepared to debate potential constitutional reform after days of huge anti-government protests.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets this week calling for presidential term limits and disparaging President Faure Gnassingbe and his family’s half-century rule.

Gnassingbe assumed control of the tiny West African nation in 2005 after the death of his father, ex-dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema, who took power in a military coup in 1967.

For the last several decades, opposition groups in the country have long demanded constitutional reform, but both President Faure Gnassingbe and his late father, ex-dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema have reneged on making those changes.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo during a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with, H.E. Faure Gnassingbe President of the Togolese Republic, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009.  Faure became president of Togo before Obama became president of the United States.   Obama left the White House after his second term ended, apparently, Faure, like his late father, wants to die in office. This is the difference between African leaders and the Western leaders. Clearly, this guys did not Obama’s advice during his (Obama) most famous African Union’s speech. 

In the wake of latest opposition’s demonstration, the Togolese government has proposed a new bill to parliament in what political observers described as an “apparent concession.”

Meanwhile, Eric Dupuy, spokesman for one of the main opposition groups, CAP 2015, described the bill as a “delaying tactic.”

“We don’t expect anything from it. We still don’t know the details of the bill. At this stage, it’s difficult to talk about it,” he added.

Presidency Faure Gnassingbe, who currently holds the revolving presidency of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, has won three elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015, and in an attempt to stay or die in power like his father, has been engineering to contain the opposition.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo is urging the Togolese leader to announce restrictions on presidential terms, after huge anti-government protests this week.

The retired Nigerian leader said, “Togo ‘should have new constitution.”

Obasanjo, like President Faure Gnassingbe’s late dictatorial father who was Togo’s longest serving president, said, was himself a one-time former military ruler in the 1970s who also became a civilian president from 1999 to 2007. The elderly African stateman in an interview with the BBC urged President Faure Gnassingbe to respond to the demands of his people.

“I believe he should have a new constitution that will have a limit to the number of terms that anybody can be president and he should abide by that,” he said on Friday.

President Faure Gnassingbe’s father, former President Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the tiny West African nation with iron fist for nearly 40 years.

The former Nigerian leader said, “I believe whatever he has to do in terms of development, whatever ideas he has, he must have exhausted them by now, unless he has something new that we don’t know.”

Police confronting anti-government’s demonstrators in Togo’s capital, Lome

Apart from Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Paul Biya of Cameroon, two ruthless dictators, African presidents who still in power after “12, 15 years, some of them up to 30” were becoming a “rare commodity”, the African stateman said.

Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR is a former Nigerian Army general who was President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Obasanjo was a career soldier before serving twice as his nation’s head of state.

He served as a military ruler from 13 February 1976 to 1 October 1979, and as a democratically elected president from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007. From July 2004 to January 2006, Obasanjo also served as Chairperson of the African Union.

As the protest continues, opposition leaders and their supporters are demanding for a maximum of two five-year terms for presidents and an adjustment to a two-round voting system in the country.

To meet the protesters’ demand, the Togolese government has submitted a bill on constitutional reform to the country’s parliament, which returns from recess for an extraordinary session on Tuesday.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.
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