By Clarius Ugwuoha
WE are all disturbed that somebody â€“ the veryÂ first citizen of Nigeria â€“ is hospitalised in Al-Faisal Hospital in Saudi Arabia for acute pericaditis, a health condition marked by inflammation of the membrane lining the heart.
This recent health impairment seems to be one too many for Mr. President, whose brief stint so far was full of hospitalisation and medical trips abroad. Expectedly, the lacunae in leadership thrown up by these frequent medical vacations have generated debates with the opposition calling for the Presidentâ€™s resignation and even instituting court actions.
The ruling Peopleâ€™sÂ Democratic Party, on their side, have insisted that Mr. Presidentâ€™s was normal health repose, that he was mentally fit and could rule (sic) from any corner of the globe.
I commiserate with the Presidentâ€™s immediate family and fellow Nigerians in general.Â Kidney and Heart conditions are not very good combinations for anyone. The President is in dire need of our prayers. While we carry out this humanitarian obligation, it is pertinent to objectively examine the scenarios to determine whether calls for Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s resignation were timely or ill advised.
On the one hand, the proponents of Yar â€˜Aduaâ€™s resignation advance many reasons, claiming that his case lacked precedence, that he was unfit to administer the affairs of a country as diverse and challenged as Nigeria. They readily cite the wobbling state of affairs since his assumption of office, the numerous cancellations of important state matters due to unexpected health fallouts, and â€“ not easily verified â€“ his having to attend functions with a battery of doctors on hand.
The opponents, on the other hand, refer to what in their views were precedents: Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the USA who had to execute a world war on a wheel chair, Mr. Abdulrrahman Waheed, the blind president of Indonesia, Woodrow Wilson, the former US president who was severely dyslexic, Mr. George Washington, also a former US president who had a learning disability, among others.
A disinterested analysis will easily isolate the fact that Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s case is distinct. He has no physical disability as had Roosevelt and Waheed, no learning disability as with Woodrow and Washington. His was a crippling health condition. Only competent medical personnel can say per se, if this condition renders him incapacitate vis-Ã -vis his duties as president and Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Fortunately, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is clear on conditions for removal of president from office and successions.
The problem â€“ we suffer from collective amnesia, in the words of Prof. Wole Soyinka. We can avoid a constitutional crisis as obtained in 1965 when the United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) boycotted the federal elections with the Northern Peopleâ€™s Congress (NPC) coasting home to overwhelming victory; and the then president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had refused to invite Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, then Prime Minister elect, to form a Government. The spiral effect of that crisis is still telling on us today. The problem at hand should transcend parochial considerations. It is not a Yarâ€™ Adua issue, not Dr. Jonathanâ€™s or PDPâ€™s but Nigerians’.
We understand that some concerned citizens in the like of former Senate president, Dr. Ken Nnamani, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, Chief Olu Falae, Dr. Tunji Braithwhite, have since opened a petition to compel Mr. President to resign.
Methinks this is unconstitutional. The petition should have been to compel the Federal Executive Council to convene an extra-ordinary meeting on the status quo. Section 144 subsection (1) clauses (a) and (b) is unambiguous about removal of office of president by incapacitation.
If a resolution passed by two-thirds of the members of the Federal Executive Council declares the president permanently incapable of discharging his duties, and a highly credible medical team constitutionally empanelled as per subsection (4) verifies and certifies the declaration as true, in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker Federal House of Representatives; a notice issued and signed by the Senate President and Speaker and published in the official gazette renders the office of the president vacant. Section 146 is clear on succession in the event of this situation.
From the foregoing, is the President permanently incapacitated? We cannot say. The immediate action is not to compel Mr. President to resign, but the Federal Executive council to sit, empanel a medical team credibly selected, which shall thereafter make their findings public. It is only after shedding light on theÂ issue will we be in a position to know which actions are admissible constitutionally.
It is incumbent on the FEC to start the processes of official verification of the Presidentâ€™s fitness to rule. When this is not done, extra-constitutional measures might come in place leading to a cataclysm of untold dimensions. We can avoid a constitutionalÂ crisis. The conditions and circumstances are touchy and must be addressed with utmost caution. The shrubÂ is thorny and the goat must graze with care.
Grave too is allegations that some interest groups have been piling pressure on the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to resign in anticipation of constitutional take-over in the event of the Presidentâ€™s incapacitation. This too is uncalled for as he is not himself incapacitated or in anyway constitutionally entailed to resign in the circumstance.
The argument that the North must complete two constitutional terms is untenable as this was a PDP in-house affair. Our elected representatives must look at the issues on hand objectively for the overall national interest.
Mr. Ugwuoha, a public affairs analyst, writes from Ezeali Palace, Egbema