Governors, PDP take the extraordinary to douse polity

2010-03-05
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper

The Governors' Forum and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the week resolved that indisposed President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan should co-exist until 2011 when the Yar'Adua presidency will run out or when he (Yar'Adua) will be well enough to return to his job. Their reasoning is that the co-existence of Yar'Adua and Jonathan is one way of retaining the presidency in the north, which must hold it till 2015 under the party's zoning formula.

But the Governors and the PDP have again stood the National Assembly's resolution of February 9, 2010 on its head in their bid to maintain peace in the country, write ONAJOMO ORERE, JOE ADIORHO, WOLE OYEBADE (LAGOS), ADAMU ABUH (KANO), ABIODUN FAGBEMI (ILORIN), ISAH ABDULSALAMI (JOS), LAWRENCE NJOKU (ENUGU), INEM AKPAN-NSOH (UYO), HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE (ASABA) and SIMEON NWAKAUDU (MAKURDI).

THESE are unusual times in the country. The sickness of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua especially since his evacuation to Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009 for medical treatment, and his sudden return to the country on February 24, have thrown up challenges for the nation. The National Assembly, in trying to resolve the constitutional problems that tried the soul of the nation during the period, dug deep to rein back the nation from the brink of the precipice.

While the unconstitutional formula of "doctrine of necessity" the National Assembly employed to rescue the nation from looming anarchy was yet to the accepted by citizens, the Governors' Forum, a social grouping of governors of the 36 states and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) have again further complicated the matters of the transfer of power from Yar'Adua to Jonathan.

The two bodies on Tuesday said that Yar'Adua should continue in office as the President while Jonathan should also continue to function as the acting president until the former will be well enough to resume work. The PDP added that until 2015, the presidency must remain in the north in line with its South-North zoning formula adopted in 1999 for the office. The PDP has always believed it will produce the president of the country for 60 years.

It is the Governors' Forum's position that seems most contentious. According to Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, Chris Akiri, the position is eerie. But former governor of old Kaduna State and founding member of the PDP, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi who continues to see the doctrine of necessity of the National Assembly as unconstitutional, and member, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, see the Governors' position as reasonable act to guarantee peace in the country.

According to Akiri, the position of the governors, which was endorsed by the PDP goes against the grundnorm of the Nigerian legal system (the Constitution). He said that even the PDP's position appropriating the presidency to itself presupposes that it is the only party in the country.

Referring to Section 130(1)(2), of the 1999 Constitution of the country, Akiri said that there could only be one president and a vice president at a time. The President is the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C). The Vice President can only assume the duties of the former when the President is away or unable to function as spelt out in the Constitution. "The import of this is that there cannot be two presidents at the same time. An 'Acting President' is, by definition, a temporary President and C-in-C, who is everything that his boss is, until the re-appearance of that boss for whom he/she acts.

"Both in logic and in legal philosophy, the idea of a President operating cheek by jowl with an acting President offends against commonsense and reason. That arrangement can only make sense if the governors and the PDP have divided Nigeria into two (North and South, with two Presidents and C-in-C), or have fashioned a new constitution, in which governance by proxy is the defining rule".

Akiri said that the order of the National Assembly of Tuesday, February 9, 2010, is "a double-pronged resolution asking Jonathan to assume the executive functions of the president and C-in-C of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until when Yar'Adua returns and writes a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly that he has returned from his medical vacation.

"Against this background, the questions thrown up by the strange and frightening resolution of the Governors' Forum and the PDP, that there shall be a President and an Acting President at the same time, are legion: Why would the authors of this illegal and unconstitutional resolution obey the resolution of the National Assembly selectively (that is, accept Dr. Jonathan as Acting President and flout the second arm of the resolution which requires the President to transmit 'to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in writing that he has returned from his medical vacation')? What is the legal backing for the Governors' Forum's resolution, concerning, in particular, the zoning of the presidency to the South, as a geopolitical zone (from 1999 to 2007), and to the North, as a geopolitical zone (from 2007 to 2015)? Does the PDP's constitution appreciate the democratic imperative or recognize the people's freedom of choice? And shall we equate a political party's constitution with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or even set aside the provisions of the latter in favour of those of the former? What is so spectacular about the South ruling for eight years, when the North has ruled this country for almost 40 years since Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became Prime Minister of Nigeria in 1957, or for over 36 years since Nigeria attained Independence, almost 50 years ago? Does the PDP's constitution recognize six geopolitical zones, comprising South-West, South-South, South-East, North-West, North-Central and North-East, or two political blocs, consisting of the South as a geopolitical zone and the North as a geopolitical zone? Are Nigerians now confronted with a situation in which the rulers obey neither the nation's Constitution nor the resolutions of the nation's National Assembly?

"Realizing that this anomalous arrangement (that is, that both the Acting President and the President should share the same office together) may last till 2011, a clique is now suggesting that the general election for April, next year, should be fast-tracked to hold in October, 2010, contrary to section 132(2) of the Constitution, which provides that, 'an election to the said office (i.e. of President) shall hold on a date not earlier than 60 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.' In view of this, President Yar'Adua's term of office expires on May 29, 2011, and no presidential election can take place either 60 days earlier or 30 days before then".

He therefore asked the Executive Council of the Federation to invoke Section 145 of the Constitution in handling the matter. "It is immoral to politicize the ill-health of this gentleman (Yar'Adua) who was just about to solve the gnawing problems in the Niger Delta. Additionally, the feuding legislators in the National Assembly should bury the hatchet and work either for a brand new constitution or at least illuminate the penumbra and umbra's of irrationalities in which the 1999 Constitution abounds".

But Rimi disagrees that the arrangement is faulty. He said that the idea of rotational presidency of the PDP that produced a southerner as president in 1999 till 2007 must be respected to produce a northern president for eight years till 2015 before the south is given another chance. He however said that the rotational principle of the PDP is undemocratic but it is the only guarantee for peaceful co-existence.

"Nigerians who are yearning for the unity of the country must be ready to chew this bitter pill for the next 48 years", he said.

Rimi added that when the South-East and South-South have taken their turns under this rotation to produce the president for a period of eight years apiece, which will last for 48 years, then the "rotational presidency idea" could be jettisoned for the best candidate from anywhere.

He sees nothing wrong in having Yar'Adua and Jonathan holding offices concurrently as president and acting president.

Prof. Pam Sha of the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Plateau State also faulted the zoning arrangement of the PDP as not constitutional. He said that the party is ramming its internal policy through the throat of all Nigerians.

"Nigerian citizens should have freedom to choose their candidates or choose people who would lead them. And the way the PDP has behaved is basically telling Nigerians that they can do and undo...It should not be a position for Nigeria. Nigerians have the right and freedom to choose their own candidates. We know political parties do provide guidelines. But it should not be like coercing Nigerians to continue to vote for the north whether they like it or not", Sha said.

He believed that the PDP and the governors had actually goofed on the interpretation of the ruling of National Assembly of February 9. "I think the position of the National Assembly is the correct position in order to save this country", he said.

He charged the national legislators and the Federal Executive Council to access the medical report of Mr. President and see if he can function now that he has returned".

Babatope, like Rimi, justified the zoning arrangement of the ruling PDP, saying the convention and tradition were carefully planned to strike a political and power balance in the nation's geo-political zones.

He called on Nigerians to appreciate the initiative by the party in finding a solution to political conflict, adding that since independence, the issue of the person who exercises power at the centre and his geographical location within the context of the federation has remained a thorny problem.

He urged Nigerians not to bother themselves much about the constitutionality of Acting President Jonathan insisting that the National Assembly should be praised for rising up to the occasion when a vacuum on national leadership was foisted on us.

Babatope observed there was nothing wrong with Jonathan's acting presidency when the substantive president is already in the country stressing that the important thing is for the two persons involved in the leadership to demonstrate nationalistic tendency.

''I don't see the situation as a problem at all, after all the Acting President himself has said it openly that once his boss is healthy enough to return to his desk as president he would revert to the status quo".

But the disputed National chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Part (CNPP), Dr. Olapade Agoro insisted that it is unconstitutional and unlawful for the nation to have a substantive president and an acting president at the same time. He said the development amounts to political confusion and constitutes a time bomb, which should be carefully handled.

''While it is unlawful and illegal to have a sitting president and at the same time an acting president, it will be a blatant denial of right to say that Jonathan can only act and not assume the full power office of a president when it is glaring that we are only buying the time".

He noted that Jonathan's presidency is the best option left for the country to prevent unpleasant consequences.

To Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Mike Igini the PDP zoning formula is wrong and unconstitutional.

"The party is displaying such a crass arrogance and an unbelievable ignorance to assume that it's zoning formula which has contributed to the crisis in which the nation is mired can be resolved by further projection of confusion of this formula into the near future.

"The questions I believe Nigerians want answers to right now are: Where is the PDP's last presidential candidate? Does PDP as a party merit the opportunity to present a candidate before Nigerians in the next election?

Those should be the questions that PDP should prioritize right now and not this display of childish preoccupation with loot distribution pattern".

The National Chairman of the Justice Party, Chief Ralph Obioha agrees that the zoning arrangement of the PDP is wrong and will not bring any good to the country.

He praised all Nigerians for the mature way they have handled the last 92 days Yar'Adua was away from the country for medical treatment.

Constitutional lawyer, Race Achara, said that the stand of the governors that the president and the acting president could co-exist was wrong. He said if Jonathan is confirmed the President because by the admission of the governors and the PDP, Yar'Adua is incapable of functioning, then the burden currently on Jonathan to combine the two offices would be lighter.

Mr. Achile Atule, a Makurdi-based political activist believes that in the interest of fair play, the North should be allowed to keep the presidency of the nation till 2015.

And the Political Adviser to Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, Dr. Cletus Ityokyaa also endorsed the PDP and the governors' arrangement for power retention in the north for eight years.

He advised politicians who do not like the PDP zoning formula to try their luck with other political parties during the presidential election. Dr

Tyodzua Atim, a political science teacher at the Benue State University and a former Chief Press Secretary to former Governor Akume, said: "The struggle by the pro-Yar'Adua and pro-Jonathan groups is bereft of nationalistic ethos. If you go through the history of Nigeria, you will agree that the moment class conflicts over the sharing of national wealth, they resort to fanning ethnic and regional sentiments".

In Kwara State, the PDP is believed to be playing God, predicting the future of Nigeria, which only God has the right to do.

According to Chief Wole Oke, the Secretary of Egbe Afenifere in Kwara, Abeny Mohammed an Ilorin based Human Rights Lawyer and Alhaji Abdulkarim Olola Kasum, a former governorship candidate under the defunct People's Redemption Party (PRP), it would be a dangerous trend for the nation to be ruled by the PDP till 2015.

Oke said "Yar'Adua is not the issue in what is happening in Nigeria today; it is the judgment of God that has started seeping down on the ruling party", he said.

For Mohammed: "The power given to the Acting President is via a resolution (of the National Assembly) and can only be reversed by another resolution. So, the most constitutional thing to do now towards putting a stop to further uproar on this issue is to swear in the Acting President as the President."

Kasum, who is the President of Afonja Descendants Union (ADU) said, "if a simple inter-party transfer of baton of power between the President and his deputy under the same party can raise such a huge constitutional dust, what then should we expect when the controversy happens to be an inter-party affair between PDP on one hand and an opposing party, on the other hand? Would PDP accept electoral defeat and organize peaceful transfer of power in 2011?"

He, like Akiri, conversed for electoral reforms now before the next general elections.

The immediate past Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Akwa Ibom State, Ekanem Ekanem also faulted the PDP sticking to its zoning formula as anti-Nigerian Constitution.

He berated the party for equating itself to the nation because it rigged its members into office.

Member of the House of Representatives in Edo State, Mr. Patrick "Igodomigodo" Obahiagbon disagreed with the ruling PDP as regards who holds the reins of power between President Yar'Adua and Acting President Jonathan.

He said that the speeches and resolution of the lawmakers on the floor of the National Assembly on February 9 settled the controversial issue. Any attempt to act otherwise is a recipe for national disaster.

Taking a look at the Governors' Forum's position and the concurrence of the PDP on the arrangement of the presidency, Igodomigodo a member of the PDP from Oredo Federal Constituency, sees only "illogical absurdity that verges on vacuous pontification to posit that Yar'Adua is as at today the substantive President of Nigeria whilst Jonathan functions as Acting Vice President."

He added: "That position is completely at variance with the resolution passed by the National Assembly conferring the status of an Acting President on Jonathan. It is a fact too platitudinous to be contested that unless and until the President transmits a letter to the National Assembly intimating it of his willingness to resume office; we would continue to have only one Commander-in-Chief wielding presidential powers and that is Jonathan just now. Any contradictory opinion is a depreciable showcasing of crass and egregious nesciences."

He agreed that the PDP has the constitutional right just like any other political party to negotiate whatever "political cadence and configuration" that would assist it in its bid to ascend political power.

Lagos-based socio-political critic, Moses Gbadebo also faulted the position of the governors and the PDP. "As far as I am concerned, the entire process is fraud and tailor made for confusion. It shows that some individuals are selfish, as their personal interest is more important to them than the collective will of Nigerians".

Gbadebo who is also a teacher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, added: "It is all fraudulent and a serious indictment on all involved in the presidency. And if there is any that is not getting fat on the ground of the impasse, then, they must be in the minute minority. The point is that those clamouring for the present status quo, where we have a president and an acting president at the same time and in the same country, are enemies of the country. If Yar'Adua is so incapacitated to have been absent from the public scene for this long, then he should be allowed to go and take care of his health".

He said that if Yar'Adua were conscious of the happenings around him, he "would not have subjected the entire country to this jeopardy, as he would respect the rule of law, being one of his seven-point agenda".

Social commentator, Hammed Chekarao said that Acting President Jonathan is a prisoner of the constitution of the PDP to which he is a member. "As going by the rules of his party, he is supposed to give way to a northern candidate, who will be fielded in 2011 when the elections are due. He is a prisoner of his own political party, not that of the entire country. Moreover, it does not make any difference to an average Nigerian whether it is a northern or a southern that is in the presidency, as all are an elite political clique. What is upper most is progress, which often we hardly see."

 

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