By Emmanuel Aziken
WEDNESDAYâ€™S decisive resolution urging President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua to comply with the constitutional provision requiring him to transmit a letter of his medical vacation was hailed as the finest hour of the David Mark Senate.
Even theÂ critical opposition alliance, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) found cause to congratulate the Senate.
â€œCNPP commends the Senate for coming to patriotic, democratic and judgment in the resolution of the unwarranted constitutional crisis imposed by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his handlers. We call on the House of Reps to follow suit,â€ the CNPP said in a press statement issued by its national publicity secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu.
Within the Senate even normally harsh critics of the Senate President were effusive in their commendation of the Senate resolution.
The Senateâ€™s adventure in power engineering one Senator noted was only achieved because of the determination of the Senate President that all Senators must speak on the issue.
It was, however, not easy overcoming the stern stance of the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark that issues bothering on Sections 143, 144 and 145 of the constitution should not be raised in the Senate. Sections 143 pertains to the impeachment procedure for the President, section 144 pertains to the powers of the Council of Ministers to declare the incapacity of the sitting President or his vice while section 145 pertains to the absence of the President from his duty post on account of illness or holiday.
Since the brouhaha over the Presidentâ€™s condition broke out last November, Senator Mark had firmly identified himself with the President rallying all manners of prayer on his behalf and also calming the frayed nerves of Senators worried over the Presidentâ€™s absence.
When the Senate resumed at the beginning of the year the issue immediately came to fore but Senator Mark was forceful in suppressing mention of Sections 143, 144 and 145. His efforts were, however, partially successful as Senators regrouped to take positions on the issue of the Presidentâ€™s absence.
The determination of the Senators was also forced on them by the landmark judgment of a Federal High Court on January 13 mandating the Vice-President to execute the functions of the President even in the absence of a letter from President Yarâ€˜Adua. Senators incensed by the judgment immediately grouped themselves into the Nigeria Interest Group (NIG) to fight their battle.
The NIG became the first informal group of Senators to advance a cause in the life ofÂ David Mark Senate. It was a crucial point that was not lost on the Senate leadership.
From an initial twenty something Senators, the Senators meeting in various sections of the federal capital city rose in their numbers to eighty by last Wednesday. The groupâ€™s major demand was that the President should be made to comply with Section 145 requiring him to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to enable the VicePresident perform the office of the President.
The NIG group was immediately countered by presidency officials who were bent on sustaining the status quo. As pressure mounted on the Senate leadership from the NIG the Senate penultimate Wednesday mandated all lawyers in the Senate to meet with the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) with the intent of obtaining a correct legal interpretation of the issues surrounding the Presidentâ€™s absence.
The meeting promptly held that Wednesday and the AGF according to many sources affirmed that the court judgment vesting the Vice-President with the authority to carry out the functions of the President was enough solution to the problem at hand.
Many of the Senators including the chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Senator Umaru Dahiru Vanguard learnt, agreed with him. There were about three dissensions.
The Senate also followed up the matter when it asked the Secretary General of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed to brief it last Thursday on the issues pertaining to the Presidentâ€™s absence from the country.
The briefing of the SGF in a closed session of the Senate penultimate Thursday according to many sources gave no serious clues on the Presidentâ€™s condition as Ahmed claimed not to have spoken to the President since his departure from the country on November 23, 2009.
Following the closed door session, the Senate through its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze promised that the Senate would take a decisive position on the issue of the Presidentâ€™s absence from his duty post last Tuesday. The decisive decision was, however, suspended to Wednesday after Senator Mark ruled that all Senators present at the session must be given opportunity to speak during the unprecedented five hour closed door session.
The Senate was forced to suspend deliberations on the issue to allow Senators take a belated lunch at 4.53 p.m. While the session lasted a couple of Senators came out to make orders for lunch while many others came out to cool tension outside chambers.
It was indeed the longest closed door inÂ David Mark era and the longest since when the Anyim Senate deliberated on the plot to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Once the Senate entered into closed door session, Senator Dahiru, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary presented the report of the ad-hoc committee of Senate lawyers on the issue.
The report based on the ad-hoc committeeâ€™s interaction with the AGF opined that the court judgment mandating the Vice-President to assume the functions of the President was sufficient.
Once Senator Dahiru made his submission, Senators belonging to the Senator Bala Mohammed led National Interest Group (NIG) raised their objections to the report presented by Dahiru.
“The report was rejected because as many of us argued we were not part of the court process, the Senate was not served and we are not bound by it,â€ one Senator told Vanguard at the end of the closed door session.
Senators belonging to the NIG in their argument articulated their minimum demand to be the transmission of a letter from the President transferring power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan.
At least 90% of the more than 30 Senators who spoke were said to have spoken in favour of the demand articulated by the NIG.
The President of the Senate, Vanguard gathered, demurred on their demand and his objection was said to have led Senator Mohammed to rise up to announce his custody of the signatures of seventy-four Senators in support of his motion.
Remarkably, Senator George Akume (PDP, Benue North-west) a one time rival of Senator Mark for the Senate presidency was said to have risen up to denounce the demand by the NIG as he submitted that the court judgment mandating the Vice-President to execute the job of the President should be sufficient.
Akume was, however, shouted down by the Senators according to multiple sources at the session. Akume in anger made to storm out of the meeting but he was stopped by Senator Mark upon the clamour of the anti-Yarâ€˜Adua Senators who demanded that Akume should not be allowed to storm out of the meeting.
The deliberation, Vanguard learnt, continued with majority of the Senators toeing the line of the NIG. The Senate President, however, insisted that since he wanted all Senators to talk that a definitive position would have to be deferred to the next day mainly on account of the fact that many Senators were tired and hungry.
Speaking at the end of the dayâ€™s closed door session, Senate spokesman Senator Ayogu Eze said: â€œWe have been behind closed door in the last five hours or thereabout to look at the issues before us especially the issues revolving round the health of Mr. President and the briefing we received from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and all other development surrounding the matter in the last couple of days and weeks.â€
â€˜As you can see, it was a very painstaking session and it was the determination of the leadership of the Senate that every member of the Senate who wants to speak will be given opportunity to do so. We had to extend our sitting period and yet we are not able to exhaust opportunity for every body to speak, so, discussions and deliberations will continue tomorrow (yesterday) also in close session and then we are going to conclude and come out with a position at the end of tomorrow (yesterday).â€
The following day the number of Senators aligning themselves with the proposal of the NIG had climbed to eighty up from the seventy four of the day before.
It was the handwriting on the wall that Senator Mark did not need to defend President Yarâ€˜Adua anymore. As the session continued that Wednesday Senator after Senator continued to toe the line adduced by the NIG.
There were, however, some moderations that were canvassed. Notably, the issue of giving a deadline for the President to transmit his letter of medical vacation was played down, though sources in the Senate have told Vanguard that a two week deadline was now being offered the President to extricate himself from the quagmire.
During the three hour closed door session, Senators also informally agreed that the principle of power shift to the North would be sustained in 2011. The Northern Senators Forum (NSF), Vanguard learnt, was charged with the responsibility of reassuring Northern stakeholders on the matter. Associates of the Vice-President were also expected to intimate him on the Senatorsâ€™ urge on him not to sustain his presidency beyound 2011.
The Senate resolution as articulated by SenatorÂ Mark is for the President to comply with Section 145 of the constitution which compels him to handover to his deputy and transmit a letter to that effect to the National Assembly.
Section 145 which the Senate asked him to comply with stipulates thus: â€œWhenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the 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.â€
The Senators, Vanguard learnt, expressed their regret over the Presidentâ€™s failure to transmit a letter to the National Assembly on his medical vacation and the need to remedy what they generally agreed was a mistake.
Senators were generally agreed that the President should be called upon to transmit a letter of his medical vacation to the National Assembly to enable the Vice-President to formally assume the office of President in acting capacity. Members of the NIG who were pushing the motion, however, drew back from giving a time limit for the Presidentâ€™s compliance with the motion.
â€œWe did not stress that point today but we will take it up from there at the appropriate time, it is one step at a time,â€ one frontline Senator involved told Vanguard.
The resolution by the Senate Vanguard gathered was an opening Senators said should be given to the President and members of his kitchen cabinet to enable them conform with constitutional provisions.
â€œThis is an opening for everybody to do what is right. If they claimed that the President was not in a position to have transmitted the letter before he went, now they have an opportunity to remedy the situation and to prove that the President is a statesman and not an ethnic champion as some people want to portray him,â€ another Senator told Vanguard .
SenatorÂ Mark read out the following as the resolution of the Senate during the closed door session.
i. Urge the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation, His Excellency Umaru Musa Yarâ€˜Adua, GCFR to formally notify the National Assembly of his medical vacation pursuant to Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999;
ii.Â Direct the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution to propose an amendment to Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to resolve the flaws exposed by the present circumstances; and
iii. Urge Nigerians to continue to pray for the speedy recovery of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federation, Umaru Musa Yarâ€˜Adua.
The resolutions were adopted unanimously without dissent.
Following the closed door session, Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze briefed newsmen on the issues articulated.
â€œFor the past two days, five hours Tuesday and about three hours Wednesday, the Senate was engaged in very intense debate and examination of all the issues involved, constitutional, social, political and at the end of an exhaustive deliberation, we have decided to speak like statesmen, because\ even though there are certain limitations we have in the constitution, we embodied the mandate of the people of Nigeria and we try to reflect their aspirations and their desires in what ever we do and that is what has guided the decisions we took today.â€
â€œI also need to emphasise that there has never been any division along the lines that have been speculated in the newspapers either politically, tribally,Â or even against personalities.Â The Senate has been threading carefully and looking at all the issues and has been united behind the constitution.â€
â€œWe are satisfied that what we have done now is what we think is in the best interest of the country to ease the tension and move Nigeria forward.Â Thatâ€™s why we resolved to urge the president to honour Section 145 by notifying the National Assembly that he has proceeded on medical vacation. Even though it is going to be in arrears as it were we have come to the conclusion that it is right that the spirit of that provision be respected.â€
The resolutions were indeed hailed as the finest hour ofÂ David Mark Senate. However, the adventure in power engineering as generally agreed is fraught with a constitutional fracture: The resolutions have no force of law.
However, the Presidentâ€™s failure to comply with the resolution would leave the Senate with only one window, to wit, section 143 which is impeachment. It is a long road that neither the fragile health of President Yarâ€˜Adua nor the fragile unity of the nation should be allowed to march on!