Yar'Adua: Nigeria in the throes of darkness

THE PUNCH Newspaper - Mudiaga Affe

Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution states that whenever the President transmits to the President of the senate and the Speaker of House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the vice-president as acting President.

President Umaru Yar‘Adua left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia since November 24, 2009 for medical treatment at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, without complying with the above section of the constitution.

The public outcry that trailed this act by the President and the obvious damages that had been incurred for almost one month, may have thrown the country into a state of complete standstill.

Although it was gathered that before President Yar‘Adua left Nigeria, he had instructed that all files that needed his attention be forwarded to the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, but the lapses resulting from non-formal communication with the National Assembly had dealt unquantifiable damages to the polity.

Jonathan, in the last one month had been unwilling to take any decision that could raise constitutional problems.

He had been unable to sign the supplementary budget or other sensitive decisions requiring the President‘s approval.

The Vice-President also withheld approval of the list of the 2009 National Merit Awards presented to him by the Governing Board of the Nigerian National Merit Awards at a meeting on December 1, 2009.

Again, the amnesty programme being personally coordinated by the President has run into a hitch and had led to protests by ex-militants and resumption of hostilities by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

In the same vein, the appointments of the new President of the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of Nigeria have been confirmed, but they would not be able to assume offices because their oath of office that should constitutionally be administered by the President cannot be carried out in his absence. The effect is that technically, very soon, only two out of the three arms of government would be headed by constitutionally recognised leaders.

Although, the Federal Executive Council had been meeting under Vice-President, but by virtue of section 148 of the 1999 Constitution, only the President can preside over such meetings, while contractors taking approvals from such meeting were running the risk as decisions taken at such meetings may not hold sway.

It is also worthy of note that critical meetings of ECOWAS of which our president is chairman have been cancelled.

The list of the costs of not handing over to his vice, as constitutionally stated, could run on and on and it may continue to have some far reaching effects on the polity.

According to the Deputy Minority Leader of the Senate, Senator Olorunimbe Mamora, the cost of the President‘s absence cannot be quantified because of his non-compliance with section 145 of the constitution before embarking on his medical trip to Saudi Arabia.

He noted that decisions taken at the highest decision body of the country might not be binding because the constitution stipulates that it is only the President that can endorse it.

Mamora said, ”There is no doubt that Yar‘Adua‘s absence has caused this country a lot and it will be difficult to quantify it in terms of decisions taken at the highest level when he is not there. All these are happening because he has not complied with section 145 of the constitution.”

The Senator stressed that because all buck passing ends at the President‘s table, the situation in the country at the moment was drifting towards standstill- a situation that had further plunged the country into wilderness.

He queried those members of the Federal Executive Council who said the President could function from any part of the world, saying that such comment was easier said than done.

His reason for the query was that once a decision was taken at the highest level, it becomes that of the President, but in this instance Yar‘Adua may not accept all decisions taken behind him since he was neither present physically at the venue of the meetings, nor privy to debates leading to such major decisions.

He said, ”Once a decision is taken, it becomes that of Mr. President because he is answerable to the country. For decisions to be taken when you are privy to the debates leading to it is different from that taken when you are not around.

”So, for some spin doctors to start making unguided statements, is unfair to the country. When one is privileged to occupy such position he should be seen to serve the country with all sense of patriotism.”

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Luke Emejulu, explained that the President‘s inability to communicate with the National Assembly before leaving the country had created vacuum in the Presidency, noting that such vacuum does not exist in the constitution.

He accused the President of leaving the mantle of leadership to be drifting aimlessly, adding that such action has great consequences for the country.

Specifically, Emejulu pointed out that if there was an external aggression from any neighbouring country, the absence of the President, who is also the Commander of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, would stall any response from the country.

He said, ”What the President has done is to have left the sheep of the state drifting aimlessly. It has grave consequence because if Cameroon for instance attacks us today, there will be no response from Nigeria because we need a leader (Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) who will declare war.”

Emejulu noted that before Yar‘Adua travelled on this medical vacation, the country‘s political terrain was already heat up, adding that the vacuum created by his exit had further compounded the situation.

”He had unwittingly compounded the political instability of the nation,” he said.

The human rights lawyer also pointed out that Jonathan‘s inability to endorse the appropriation bill had far economic effects on Nigerians in the face of global crunch.

Although he did not blame the vice-president for that decision because it had negative legal implications.

He said, ”The vice-president has rightly refused to sign the appropriation bill because he does not have the powers to do that. He wisely declined to do that as there would have been avalanche of court cases if he had taken that step.”

Emejulu explained that Yar‘Adua would have thought of the country first because he is the President of all Nigerians, not an individual. He said the president‘s action portrays the feeling that he (Yar‘Adua) is greater than the country.

The same position was held by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Capital Market, Senator Ganiyu Solomon, when he said, ”The situation on ground now is quite worrisome. If for instance a budget is passed today, nobody can assent to it given that he is not around.

”What the ruling party ought to do is to ensure that there is communication, no matter how they want to do it, to the National Assembly, informing us of the non-availability of Mr. President for the time being so that the vice-president can take full charge.”

Solomon further argued that as the President of the country, Yar‘Adua ought to be on top of every issue, arguing ”a situation where ministers are seen to be running their ministries the way they like, it is because there is no President to direct them. We hear often times of different people running the show in the Presidency; we did not vote for those people, it is Yar‘Adua that got the vote.”

While condemning the lapses already caused by the President‘s, a group of 53 has called on the President to either comply with section 145 of the constitution or resign within a stipulated time.

In a statement issued on behalf of the steering committee of the group by Messrs Yinka Odumakin; Osita Okechukwu; and Buba Galadima; the group said it took that decision in the interest of the country.

The group noted that the standstill position of the country at the moment had plunged it into further crisis, noting that it was time for the country to move ahead.

All sectors of the country‘s economy appear to have grinded to a halt, an urgent step would therefore be needed to address the situation.

As the unfolding scenario continues to open contentious areas for debate, the ability of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to take urgent steps in addressing the situation would bring relief to the already bewildered Nigerians


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