By Emmanuel Aziken
THE Senate decision empowering Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President last Wednesday signaled the dawn of reality to the legislators. It was especially so for some elements in the leadership who had fought and mobilized to no avail to stop the move.
Remarkably, the Senate resolutionÂ relied on a BBC interview with President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua as a notification of his ill-health, a point its presiding officer, Senator David Mark interpreted as flowing from the â€œdoctrine of necessity.â€
The Senate enforcement of section 145 recongising the Vice-President as Acting President in the face of the continued ill-health and absence of President Yarâ€˜Adua also demonstrated the determination of the Senators to reach a concurrence on opinion where national security converges with their personal interests.
One of the issues that drove many Senators to back the move to empower Jonathan was the unending tension in the polity which many Senators feared could have triggered a military coup that may well have thrown them out of work and wealth.
The fear of a military coup was one of the selling points that drove many Senators to sign up for the motion conceived by a group of young Senators drawn from various parts of the country.
Though the group of Senators styled as the National Interest Group (NIG) led by Senator Bala Mohammed from Bauchi State were mostly moved by the need to safeguard the nationâ€™s integrity, a number of the Senators were also inspired by the need for personal preservation. So it was not difficult for the activists in the NIG to stoke the fears of the undecided to claim their signatures.
Not only would a military coup have led to a loss of job and influence, a military takeover the Senators were told would also have led to great financial losses for many Senators who were presently committed to banks in mortgages and other personal loans that were facilitated on account of their positions as Senators.
â€œIf there is a military takeover the bank will not only takeover my house they will also force me to lose what I have paid back,â€ one Senator involved in the NIG told Vanguard.
The move of the NIG was initially opposed by the Senate leadership, notably, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark who it was claimed did not want to be seen as encouraging the removal of President Yarâ€˜Adua.
It was as such not surprising that Senator Mark at the onset of the crisis called for all manners of prayers for the ailing President. When Senator Victor Ndoma_Egba (SAN), the Senate deputy majority leader first introduced a motion to discuss the absence of the President last December he was ruled out by the majority of Senators.
Again when the deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu introduced a motion on the issue, the Senate President specifically ruled out comments on any issue concerning the impeachment or the remaking of the Vice-President as Acting President.
However, as time wore on the President despite his state of ill health began to lose support as more and more Senators blamed the logjam in the country on his close aides and family members.
Senators were especially peeved by the dithering procrastination of the President and his kitchen cabinet to transmit a letter of his medical vacation to the National Assembly which would have allowed the wheels of government to proceed unhindered.
So it was not surprising that the NIG which started from about twenty Senators increased numerical strength reaching eighty on January 27, 2010. On that day the Senate by a unanimous resolution passed a motion urging President Yarâ€˜Adua to transmit a letter to the National Assembly of his medical vacation in compliance with section 145 of the constitution.
A week after that resolution a number of Senators were convinced through the body language of some elements in the kitchen cabinet that the motion would not be heeded. It was as such not surprising that hard line elements within the NIG started to canvass for the impeachment of the President.
At that stage the number of the NIG had climbed to about 90 a number that led the closest associates of the Senate President to compel him not to continue his opposition to the major thrust of the NIG.
Incidentally as the compulsion was being brought on the Senate President by some of his close associates in the Senate, Governors, former Nigerian leaders and the civil rights community were also piling pressure on the National Assembly.
By last weekend a group of Governors called on the Senate President after which it became clear that the Governors who were once firmly in opposition to the empowerment of Jonathan had changed stance.
By last Monday when the Senate leadership met to take a stand for the next dayâ€™s deliberation, the NIG was also meeting to take their own stance.
Vanguard sources disclosed that emissaries intercrossed the two meetings leading to the unanimity of the motion that was brought to the fore the following day.
The motion it was learnt was couched by the NIG, specifically two Senators from Bauchi State.
On Tuesday with tension enveloping the country, the Senators began to congregate in the Senate chambers one after another. In no time the Senate moved into a closed session where the issue was again informally rehashed for the benefit of all.
Very few Senators opposed the quest for national convergence on the issue as Senators worked to concoct a motion that would be adaptable to section 145 of the constitution.
During the 50 minute closed door session Senators were said to have agreed to rely on the BBC interview the President reportedly granted on January 12, 2009 on his ill_health as the notification to the National Assembly of his ill_health.
When the Senate moved into plenary and the Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin, moved the motion Senator Garba Lado was one of only two persons that raised opposition to the motion. Senator Lado (PDP, Katsina South) and another Katsina Senator, Ibrahim Ida were, however, overruled by the Senate President with the agreement of the majority of Senators.
Moving the motion, Senator Folarin said:
Notes that the President, Commander_in_Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation, His Excellency, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, GCFR, left Nigeria for medical attention in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the 23rd November 2009.
Notes that the entire country, particularly the Senate, prayed for his quick recovery and expected his early return from the said medical vacation.
Notes that on the 12th of January 2010, His Excellency, President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, GCFR, transmitted to the whole World through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a declaration that he is receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and consequently will be unable to discharge the functions of his office until his doctors certify him fit to return to Nigeria to assume his duties.
Notes that the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives read the Presidentâ€™s declaration transmitted through the BBC and further published in several print media.
Satisfied that, in the interest of our nation, Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 has been complied with by the said declaration.
Before the motion could be seconded by Senator Ike Ekweremadu who had raised his hand to support the motion, Senator Lado rose up to oppose the motion saying:
â€œI want to call on the attention of this Senate to be very cautious in handling this issue of Mr. President being the most respected law making body of this country. The entire nation is watching us. We should not do something base on sentiment. We should not do something that will create constitutional problem. A court judgment has been given on this issue.Â I cannot join this Senate as far as this motion is concerned,â€ he said before he was shouted down and the Senate President ruled him out of order.
Support for the motion came from Senators Joy Emodi (PDP, Anambra, North), Iyabo Obasanjo_Bello (PDP, Ogun Central), Chris Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) among others who contributed to the motion through proposals for amendments to the two legs of the motion proposed by the Senate leader.
Following the amendments, the Senate adopted the following resolutions:
1.Â That the Vice President, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCON, shall henceforth discharge the functions of the office of the President, Commander_in_Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation as Acting President.
2. That the Vice President shall cease to discharge the functions of the office of the President when the President when the President pursuant to Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in writing that he has returned from his medical vacation.â€
Following the resolution, the President of the Senate read out a speech justifying the Senate action.
â€œMy distinguished colleagues and bosses, shorn of legalese and technalities, the intendment and spirit of the Constitution, as far as Section 145 is concerned, is that the legislature should have foolproof and irrefutable evidence that Mr. President is going on vacation, or is otherwise incapable, in the interim, of discharging the functions of his office.â€
â€œA rigid and inflexible interpretation will not only stifle the spirit and intendment of the Constitution, but will also affront the doctrine of necessity.Â The doctrine of necessity requires that we do what is necessary when faced with a situation that was not contemplated by the Constitution.Â And that is precisely what we have done today.Â In doing so, we have as well maintained the sanctity of our Constitution as the ultimate law of the land.â€
â€œViewed from an ordinary reading of Section 145, we came to the conclusion that the President, through his declaration transmitted on the BBC, has furnished this parliament with irrefutable proof that he is on medical vacation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and has therefore complied with the provisions of Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me re_emphasise the import of prayer two of our resolution.Â The President will automatically resume office as President and Commander_in_Chief once he is well enough and returns to the country and informs us accordingly, pursuant to Section 145.â€
â€œI have re_emphasised this salient constitutional provision to dispel the obvious disinformation and distortion which both mischief and ignorance will inevitably spawn.
In accordance with this solemn resolution, in this extraordinary time, the Senate shall henceforth receive and accept communication from His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCON, as acting President, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.â€
â€œThe fact that we have resolved the logjam democratically is a measure of the depth that democracy has attained in our polity.Â This is not the time for winners and losers, but the time to remain united as a people because as a nation, our voyage is on the same tide and we cannot afford a drift.â€
â€œToday is indeed a historic day for Constitutional development in our country.Â The wisdom, patience, endurance, tenacity and understanding of the Nigerian people have strengthened us to attain this milestone and to resolve a seemingly intractable political and constitutional conundrum.Â We salute the patriotism and unalloyed support of the Nigerian people, even as we pray for the quick recovery and return of Mr. President.â€
â€œWe recognize and appreciate the patriotism and devotion of our elder statesmen, particularly General Yakubu Gowon, and President Shehu Shagari of the Eminent Elders Group (EEG).
We salute the untiring efforts of General Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, we appreciate the Concerned Elders Group led by His Excellency Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the Civil Society led by the illustrious Prof. Wole Soyinka, and all Nigerians who did not relent in the search for a solution to the Constitutional crisis.Â Let me also thank the Governors for supporting and identifying with us.â€