By Tony Momoh
Tension is less in the land now that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has assumed office as Acting President.Â That is after 78 days when the simple procedure that would have led us to that position had been ignored. And what did we do?Â It seemed as if we dreamt that if we failed to do something, just anything, by the end of the 78th day of the Presidentâ€™s absence from officeÂ and out of sight,Â something would give. Â
We thank God we listened and did something.Â What weÂ did is not the issue.Â It is how we did it in spite of clear guidelines on how it should be done. I pleaded as long ago as December 27 on this very page that we have a clear road map to guide us in running the affairs of state.
I was not unaware of certain arrangements that had been reached on the basis of understandable interests, but there was a limit we could go advancing those interests in the face of a looming national calamity.Â In that piece of December 27,Â The Danger in Limited Delegation, I expressed my disgust forÂ the methods which the just reassigned Attorney General and former Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, was using to clothe political decisions in legal garbs.
This is part of what I said,Â â€œLetâ€™s not deceive ourselves, twist and turn as we may, there is only one way out of our situation today.Â The President is ill.Â He is in hospital.Â Even if he leaves hospital today, he will need time, a hell lot of time, to recuperate and be fit enough to assume office â€¦
The clear way out is for the President to divert attention from himself by writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Houseâ€¦ saying he is away on health grounds and he cannot now cope with the rigour of office…Â The good news about the provision of section 145 providing for acting president is that the only limit to the acting is the tenure of the president who is on leave.
But as Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan becomes the Acting Head of State of the Federation, the Acting Chief Executive of the Federation and the Acting Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. All the buck then stops on his table until the president returns and communicates to the bodies concerned that he is back from hospital and is ready to assume office. .. â€œ
More than one month after, because Nigerians were rising like a storm ready to swallow up everything on its path, our lawmakers panicked and passed a resolution that the Vice President should be Acting President of Nigeria!Â The House did the same, both bodies citing reasons that are strange to the operation of our written Constitution which clearly states that it is its provisions that are supreme.
This country cannot be ruled by the lawmakers passing a resolution that someone assumes office outside the clear due process of doing so.Â But since the Senate cited the so-called Doctrine of Necessity that has no place where there are clear constitutional provisions, we are wobbling along our democracy highway by taking a step the future will see only as a panic measure.
It is for that future to find out what caused that panic.Â I will not go beyond here to ask whether the Acting President was sworn in and who by.Â In countries with a sense of history, actors in the polity would have looked for and acquired more credible proof that the president had communicated his intention to proceed on vacation.
I refuse to accept that the broadcast by the BBC was a clear enough communication by the President to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House in satisfaction of the demand of section 145.Â But if the Doctrine of Necessity was a cover to do what the National Assembly could do where the President, for whatever reasons, had abandoned his duties, we should accept that we are presented with a constitutional albatross we must live with.
But before we leave this arbitrary act to posterity to judge us on, I must say that the so-called doctrine of necessity is no more than the routeÂ of expedience takenÂ by courts when they consider the overall interest of the people in deviating from the provisions of the law or manifest absence of it.
They then resort to precedents and the common law or some other legal maxims likeÂ that â€˜that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessityâ€™, and the Roman law maxim urged by Jennings that â€˜the well-being of the people is the supreme law.
Parliament makes law and should not be seen to interpret it. I would have been more comfortable if what the National Assembly did had been done by a court. But havingÂ said my say, we should get down to what we expect the Acting President to do with his office.
By his present position, he is the sole administrator,Â de facto, of Nigeria.Â He will not have an acting vice president because the constitution does not have such a position for anyone to occupy.Â So the earlier he knows that he is the boss of the country, the better.Â Â And the earlier he knows that his life span in that position is very short, from now until pata pata May, 2011, the better.Â Why?Â BecauseÂ he has come to the end of the political road and he must make the best use of this opportunity.
He cannot be president or vice president beyond May 2011 unless of course he wants to wait until the PDP is satisfied that the North has had its chance to do its allocated stint before power will return to the South.
But until then our Acting President must be politically grounded. So, I repeat, what will he do with this chanceÂ that may make him join the list of those who had an opportunity to work to create the environment for Nigeria to be counted among the most functional democracies on earth today?
First, he must send to the National Assembly, the Uwais report on electoral reforms, without amendment!Â He will therefore go down on record as one who provided the environment for democracy to work in a Nigeria whose future and mission are being undermined by greed.
Then he must work to pick on the Niger Delta, Energy and Job creation as key areas to attend to in the remainder of the tenure.Â Oh yes, he must know he has nothing to lose but his luck if he interferes with the security agencies that have a responsibility to fight corruption.
Finally, he should preside over the conduct of free and fair elections in Nigeria by ensuring that those who are qualified to vote are registered to vote, that when the time comes, they do vote where they were registered to vote.