By Dayo Benson, Political Editor & Emmanuel Aziken
ABUJAâ€”THE Senate, yesterday, said it was helpless on President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s ill-health and his capability to continue in office, arguing thatÂ the constitution does not empower it to act in suchÂ situation.
But, Senator Ganiyu Solomon, (Action Congress, Lagos West Senatorial District), disagreed, stressing that the National Assembly is not helpless. HeÂ added that it has power under the constitution to salvage the situation.
Senateâ€™s spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, said this at a briefing in Abuja,Â while Senator Solomon spoke to Vanguard on telephone.
The continued absence of President Yarâ€™Adua from the country in the last 45 days was also a major agenda at the Peoplesâ€™ Democratic Party,Â PDP,Â governorsâ€™ meeting yesterday.
Although the Senate appreciated the concern of Nigerians on the continued absence of the President, it affirmed that it had received assurances that the President was recovering and would soon return to work.
Eze,Â who spoke on behalf of the Senate President, Senator David Mark, at an emergency briefing, notedÂ that the 1999 Constitution did not make provisions on such a situation that Nigeria hasfound itself.
He had called the briefing to address the enlistment of Nigerians among those to be subjected to increased security screening by the United States.
The briefing later dove-tailed to Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s absence from the country even as Eze parried most of the questions including a question as to whether the failure of the President to give indication of his whereabouts and circumstances amounted to gross misconduct.
Eze, who claimed that the Senate had received assurances on the improving health of the President, rebuffed questions as to the authority for his claim on the Presidentâ€™s recovery.
Our hands are tied on Yar’ Adua â€”Senate
Expressing the Senateâ€™s frustrations with the 1999 Constitution which he said limited its powers on the absence of the President, he said:
â€œIt doesnâ€™t give us any leeway to compel him to do that. And,Â the other option which the constitution will may be give the National Assembly theÂ leeway will be such a contentious and rambunctious and problematic route for anybody to travel in a democracy that is so tender and so young.
â€œI think that you are misplacing this question because the legislature does not have a compulsive power, the legislature does not have a compulsive power. The constitution has stated from Section 141 to 145 clearly what should be done in each case and the National Assembly is maybe the port of last resort and I think that we have gotten assurances that Mr. President is doing very well and he is on his way back.
â€œWhy donâ€™t we give him the benefit of doubt…time has a way of healing things like this because there are things that you cannot heal by running your adrenaline and I believe that time will heal this problem. Those who have seen him have assured us that he has done a tremendous recovery and we have no reason to doubt that he has not recovered and that he is on his way back. We have no reason to doubt that.
â€œI think that the concern that the absence of Mr. President is generating is quite interesting and quite healthy because it shows that Nigerians are actively interested in what those who govern them do. I donâ€™t think that anybody will take away your right to express yourself the way you are doing, expressing anxiety, especially when not too much information has been made available.
â€œAs I said earlier, time will heal this situation and the constitution has not, and, I repeat, has not specified made a section or any pronouncement on the situation in which we are in today. There is no such section in the constitution which says the President cannot be out of his seat away somewhere or can be, the constitution is quite silent on it.
And, if we do anything outside what the constitution says we will be committing an illegality, so, I call for restraint, I call for caution, time will heal the situation.â€
Saying the situation on hand necessitated a review of the 1999 Constitution, he said:
â€œThere are a lot of things that we need to take care of in the constitution. The present constitution which we operate and we donâ€™t have any other one until we amend it talks about the President assenting to the bill, it didnâ€™t describe the theatre, it didnâ€™t describe the theatre where this assignment will be undertaken, that is what the constitution says.â€
Senator Solomon disagrees
According to Senator Solomon, â€œIt is very important we identify where we are now. A situation in which the President is indisposed and there is nothing to suggest that his Vice is handed over to. It means the constitution is not being followed.
So, that means that everything that has been done so far is illegal. So, it is an issue that should be discussed.
â€˜â€™The constitution does not envisage a situation where Mr President and the VP will not be in charge. I can tell you that there must be a solution to it in the constitution. Are we saying that we should go as we are now. What Senate Ayogu Eze saidÂ cannot be the aggregate opinion. We cannot claim to be helpless. We should actually do something about it.
There is a lot the ruling party can do. IfÂ they are helpless should the National Assembly be helpless too? Whoever says anything now is expressing a personal opinion,â€˜â€™ he declared.