Body of Attorneys General and Dodgy question of Yar'Adua's Absence

2010-01-31
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper


THE Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa (SAN) last Tuesday convened an emergency meeting of the Body of Attorneys General, which is made up of himself and the Attorneys General of the thirty six states of the Federation. In spite of the short notice, it was well attended with the chief law officers of twenty-eight states in attendance.

Although, the convener of the meeting, Aondoakaa was late for about two hours and without offering any explanation as is customary of 'big' government officials, his lateness to kick-start the meeting did not detract from the impressive turnout of members.

However, the Federal Attorney General was quick to set the tone of the meeting when he said "this meeting is holding at a most auspicious time in the life of our nation, both socially and politically. We are meeting at a time of significant political and socio-economic challenges which need our urgent consideration and patriotic action."

As the AGF spoke, it was clearly not lost on members and reporters who were there that the major political challenge was the perpetual absence of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua from office, thus suggestion a heated interactive session.

But a recourse to the agenda on the programme of the meeting suggested the contrary as it merely had on it four issues for discussion, excluding any discussion relating to Yar'Adua's absence. The four issues included; on-going legal case on deductions from Local Government Accounts for Comprehensive Health - Care Project; update on current efforts to de-list Nigeria from the United States of America Terrorism List; discussion on Prosecution of religious based disturbances in the country and Reactivating the General Council of the Bar.

As people wondered why the most crucial issue in Nigeria would be missing at a meeting of Chief Law Officers of States and Federation, Aondoakaa put an end to their amazement in his eight page welcome address when he declared thus: "we have been confronted with a unique legal situation concerning the temporary absence of His Excellency, President Umaru Musa Yar'adua, GCFR from the country since November 23, 2009 on medical grounds." He proceeded to deny, albeit unsuccessfully, the existence of a vacuum in government owing to the failure of Yar'Adua to comply with the provisions of section 145 of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution in handing over to Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

According to Aondoakaa, the judgments of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Daniel Abutu have successfully addressed concerns and claims of some Nigerians that there was a power vacuum in the Presidency, adding that the Vice President had thus been lawfully empowered to carry out the duties of the President in the case of Christopher Onwuekwe Versus Attorney General of the Federation & Anor as well as the case of Hon. Farouk Adamu Aliyu and the Attorney General of Federation and.

The AGF told the Body of Attorneys General that Abutu's ruling in the Christopher Onwuekwe case had "helped to clarify the basis of the Vice President's exercise of the powers of the President in the interest of 'peace, order and good governance pending when the President returns to assume duty as held by the court."

But The Guardian can authoritatively report that Aondoakaa's views did not go down well with a good number of the states' Attorneys General as they clearly disagreed with him on the ground that sentiments had no place in the interpretation of law or constitutional provisions. The source said several states' Attorneys General particularly across the six geo-political zones urged the Justice Minister to, as a matter of course, immediately advice the President to transmit the necessary letter to the National Assembly so as to properly empower Jonathan as an 'acting' President. Some argued that it was a constitutional breach for the country's President to go on A-W-O-L (Absent Without Official Leave) for even a day as they argued that that was what his (Yar'Adua's) sudden departure from the country amounts to. "Some of the Attorneys felt that Nigeria is bigger than any person. The President cannot take us for a ride. Even in our family, the head of the family has a moral duty to notify his people of an impending journey if he is not to be perceived as abdicating his responsibilities. For the President the demands are higher as he has both moral and constitutional duties; if he ignores the moral, which is optional, he is duty bound to perform the constitutional duty," the source said.

According to him, the ultimate constitutional duty has been spelt out by section 145 and failure to comply with it will foist on the country a situation where there will be no captain to steer the ship of state. However, Aondoakaa insisted that the said judgments of Chief Judge Abutu represented best the position of the law and all and sundry must abide by it until such a time that another judgment to the contrary emerges. "If we are to build a viable democracy founded on respect for the law, we cannot afford to treat judicial pronouncements with levity or subject them to undue denigration on partisan grounds," he argued. The source said the body was unable to reach a consensus on the debate over Yar'Adua's absence, hence the clear absence of any resolution to that effect in the - four page communiquŽ signed by the Attorney General of the Federation and seven Attorneys General from Kaduna, Plateau, Lagos, Bayelsa, Katsina, Borno and Imo States.

But while the meeting could hardly fly on the Yar'Adua debate, it is imperative to observe that some successes were recorded by the Body in other crucial areas of interest, which included ongoing legal case on deductions from Local Government Accounts for Comprehensive Health - Care Project, update on current efforts to de-list Nigeria from the United States of America Terrorism List, discussion on Prosecution of religious based disturbances in the country and Reactivating the General Council of the Bar.

The Body was saddened by the recent orgy of violence in Jos, Plateau state which Aondoakaa in his opening remark had described as "senseless, inexcusable and national shame". It condemned in clear terms and resolved, "to support the Attorney General of Plateau State in the prosecution of all suspects involved in the said acts. The Body also resolved that where the State Attorney General is unable to prosecute, it will "assist the AGF in the prosecution of suspects involved in the breakdown of Law and Order in Jos, Plateau State." During the discussions, the Body realised that intolerance in all its ramifications was responsible for the sad recurrence of violence in Jos and resolved to draw attention to the constitutional provision of section 42(1)(2)(3) and section 43.

While commending the Body, it must be noted that it failed to resolve by what means it was going to draw attention to these aforementioned constitutional provisions. And again, it did not query the delays by the Federal Government Panel of Inquiry as well as the Plateau State Panel of Inquiry into the Jos disturbances.

 

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