Tortuous Path to Jonathan's Acting Presidency

THIS DAY Newspaper-Omololu Ogunmade

After almost 80 days of uncertainty, Nigerians eventually heaved a sigh of relief last Tuesday, when both chambers of the National Assembly passed resolutions empowering Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to become Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Jonathan, ascended the seat of power following the long absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who has been receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia for acute pericarditis, (an inflammation of the membrane covering the heart).

Since Yar’Adua proceeded on medical vacation on November 23, last year, things had virtually fallen apart in the polity, while the centre could hardly hold. The president’s decision not to transmit a letter to the National Assembly as stipulated in Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution had generated debates among concerned citizens who viewed the situation as a breach of the Constitution which he swore to uphold.

This had resulted in series of protests by civil society organizations, social critics as well as public commentators, who staged a number of mass actions within and outside the country in expression of their grievances against the trend. However, as Yar’Adua’s stay in Saudi Arabia became idefinite, the polity also became more and more heated up just as anger among the people attained a boiling point.

Thus there were several calls for the resignation of the President, just as a number of legal actions, all aimed at compelling the President and others at vantage positions to comply with relevant constitutional provisions, were instituted. The high point of the matter was the mass protests by clerics, leaders of thought, political activists and elder statesmen on January 12 and 21, 2010 respectively in Abuja and Lagos, where they demanded for the installation of Jonathan as Acting President as well as the impeachment of Yar’Adua over alleged breach of the Constitution.

The leadership crisis rocking the country culminated in the emergence of several pressure groups with the intention to compel authorities concerned to save the nation from collapse.
A few days after Yar’Adua embarked on vacation, a group of eminent Nigerians, known as G53, met on December 1, 2009, and passed a resolution demanding for the resignation of the President over alleged incapacity to discharge the functions of his office.
Membership of the group included former Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae, former presidential candidate, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Masari, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasir el-Rufai, among others.

Citing verifiable reasons for their actions, the group cited so many issues of national importance which it said had become a heap in the archive of government as a result of the absence of the President who solely had the authority to carry out such projects.
They listed such issues to include: the amnesty programme, which according to them, had run into a hitch and thus prompting the resumption of hostilities by militants in the Niger Delta; the 2009 National Honours’ Award which could not be conferred because the office of the President was not functioning; the swearing in of the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, which could only be done by the President; critical meetings of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had been cancelled because of the non-availability of Yar’Adua, who is the chairman of the body, among other issues.

Based on this reason, the group said: “ we call on President Yar’Adua to immediately comply with section 145 of the constitution, which requires him to write to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that he has proceeded on medical vacation so that the Vice President can assume presidential powers and run the country while he is away.”
The polity became heated up the more when the 2009 Supplementary Budget passed by the National Assembly laid fallow in the office of the President without anyone to give assent..

This further intensified calls for the President’s resignation by those who expressed fears that the ship of state was sinking. While pressure mounted the more on members of FEC to play their constitutional roles in addressing the situation, former Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, claimed on December 28, 2009, that the Principal Secretary to the President, David Edevbie, had returned from Saudi Arabia with the signed copy of the supplementary budget by Yar’Adua on his sick bed.
This sparked off another rage of anger from the public.

While some remarked that if Yar’Adua could read and sign such a voluminous document on his sick bed, it became apparent then that he was deliberately holding the nation to ransom by refusing to write a one-paragraph letter authorising his deputy to act; others, such as the G53, doubted the claim and demanded for the video tape of the exercise to affirm its authenticity.
Agitation and clamour in the polity however, climaxed on December 30, 2009, when former CJN, Justice Idris Kutigi, swore in his successor, Justice Alloysius Katsina-Alu, a day before the expiration of his tenure, while he remained the CJN, implying the existence of two CJNs in the country simultaneously.

The situation in the country provoked the emergence of yet another group, “Lawyers of Conscience,” on December 30, 2009. The group which comprised 100 lawyers, drawn from the six geo-political zones of the country, gave Yar’Adua January 31, 2010 ultimatum to resign or face monumental civil unrests. The group described the perceived deliberate attempt to hold the country hostage as nothing but a sheer display of wickedness.

The group said: “That in view of the above, it is a great act of wickedness for the innocent Nigerian masses to be made to suffer the negative consequences of this premeditated leadership failure as a result of the greed of a political cabal in the country. That the already impoverished Nigerian populace should not be made to bear any further, the brunt of the President Yar’Adua self-inflicted burden of rulership which has worsened his health condition.

“That in as much as we pray for President Yar’Adua’s quick recovery from his current ailment, we boldly state here that it is not at the discretion of the Federal Executive Council or the Attorney-General of the Federation to decide on what interpretation should be given to any of the sections of the constitution/our laws or when to apply sections 144, 145 and 146 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, but a duty they owe the country and which they must carry out.".
This heat in the polity, 45 days after, compelled some Nigerians resident abroad on the aegis of Nigerian Liberty Forum, to write the King of Saudi Arabia, demanding for the address of the hospital where Yar'Adua was being treated as well as the state of his health, whether he was still alive or not.

The letter reads: “We the under-listed concerned citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, address this open letter of appeal to your government to reveal to Nigerians the exact location and state of health of our President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who we believe has been your guest and patient in one of your hospitals since November 23, 2009. This open letter of appeal has become necessary because a nation of nearly 150 million has not seen or heard of its president for six weeks without any credible information.

“Your Royal Highness, Umaru Yar’Adua is not a private patient but our President and an employee accountable to millions of people. Information about his physical and mental well-being cannot be subject to the usual medical confidentiality of any ordinary citizen. This information should not be kept secret from the people he leads. Sadly, we must admit that our current government has failed to be truthful and transparent about the extent of infirmity of our president,” the group lamented.

Earlier, a group known as the Jubilee Group, led by former presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, had called on Yar’Adua to step down and ensure that Jonathan was sworn in within seven days. Okupe asked Nigerians to write their elected officers at the House of Representatives and the Senate with signature of constituents in each local government across the country, asking the lawmakers to take prompt actions in order to sustain the supremacy of the constitution.

Few days after, another group, ‘Save Nigeria Group,’ convened by Pastor Tunde Bakare, emerged. This group which consisted of notable human rights activists such as Mr. Femi Falana, Mrs. Mrs. Ayo Obe, Mallam Uba Sani, Mr. Yinka Odumakin and statesmen such as Professor Wole Soyinka, General Alani Akinriande, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, asked Yar’Adua to address Nigerians on radio and television to ascertain the notion that he had been speaking with some government officials. There had been reports that Yar’Adua spoke with Jonathan and the heads of the National Assembly earlier.

In response to this demand, Yar’Adua was said to have spoken through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on January 11, 2010, a day preceding the mass rally by Save Nigeria Group in Abuja. Contrary to the calculation of the organizers of the BBC interview, the development generated more criticisms by critics who described the decision by Yar’Adua to address the nation through a foreign medium as an insult on the collective intellect of Nigerians.

While uncertainty overshadowed the country, a group led by former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, and another led by former President Shehu Shagari visited the National Assembly, advising them to exercise the powers within their reach to end the impasse. While the Senate, in tis resolution, urged Yar’Adua to transmit a letter to the National Assembly intimating it of his medical vacation so that the Vice President can be made Acting President, the House of Representatives resolved to send a six-man solidarity delegation to Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia.

The situation got to a head when senators held a five-hour closed session trying to find solution to the impasse. It was during the attempt by the senators to resolve the imbroglio that the Governors’ Forum rose from a meeting penultimate week with a resolution that Jonathan be made Acting President. They also visited the National Assembly to lobby the lawmakers to back the move.

Perhaps realizing that they were not alone in their move, both chambers of the National Assembly passed resolutions authorising Jonathan to henceforth take charge as the Acting President on January 9, 2010. Since then, air of relief swept through the polity, despite criticisms of the National Assembly’s actions by some Nigerians who declared them as unconstitutional.
Given this long and tortuous adventure of the country in the past 80 days, Nigerians can only align themselves with the expression of Jonathan during his broadcast that this new development offers Nigeria the opportunity to move forward.

Jonathan said: "The events of the recent past have put to the test, our collective resolve as a democratic nation. I am delighted to note that our nation has demonstrated resilience and unity of purpose. Today affords us time to reconnect with ourselves and overcome any suspicions, hurts and doubts, which had occurred. In all these, there are no winners and no losers, because by the grace of God we have once again succeeded in moving our country forward. We have all shown that our unity as a people, our love for this country, and our hope for its great future cannot be shaken.”


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