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How long will this lull last?

By Kunle Oyatomi

Every day, since Jonathan was circumstantially made to stand in as “Acting President”, new developments have been popping up that make the current calm a very uneasy one. The latest is the issue raised by the President of the West African Bar Association, Mr Femi Falana, that constitutionally, Jonathan can only “act” for three months after which the law stipulates that an election should be called.

In other words, if at the end of these three months, we still cannot determine that the President is unfit to govern  we will be faced with a much bigger crisis that will put into critical jeopardy whatever respite we might think we have at the moment.

The current situation that leaves gapping holes for people to scuttle Jonathan’s position as “Acting President” through a probable decision of a court of law leaves the polity in a state of uncertainty because as things stand, Jonathan is only hanging on to his position by the thread. Nothing in the constitution says that anybody acting as president should do so for longer than three months; and the truth is that the law itself does not envisage that a healthy and fit president should be on sick vacation for this long. So for anybody to emerge as “acting president”, it means that position has become vacant.

However, we have a very dangerous situation on our hands where there is a fit Vice President who cannot become president even though the substantive holder of that post is to all intents  and purposes practically unfit to govern.

In this circumstance what our constitution provides is for the VP to take over as President. But because the Federal Executive Council could not make the declaration that Mr President is unfit to govern, the National Assembly had to by-pass the constitution to let Jonathan perform duties of an “acting president”, pending when it could be determined whether or not the President has  indeed become unfit to govern. Whose responsibility then is it to start this process of determining whether or not the president has become unfit to govern? It is none other than the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria (FEC).

That Council met on Wednesday and took the positive decision to find out what’s really going on with Mr President is a mighty step forward. Without doubt, it is an indication that they are in full grasp of the urgency of the situation.

There is a respite alright, but only just. Surprises can still be sprung by enemies of democracy to terminate this lull, and set off what could well be a more serious crisis than the one that has just abated. That is why the FEC has to act, and do so decisively. Until this is done, we are not yet out of the woods, in spite of the “doctrine of necessity”, which is rather too thin a thread to hang on.

The question to ask now is, do we have enough grounds on which the FEC can justify a declaration by it that Mr President is unfit  to  govern? I have no doubts whatsoever in my mind that there is solid basis on which to premise  that kind of resolution without hesitation. The history is clear.

Mr President left the shores of this country presumably for just medical check up in Nov. He disappeared from anyone’s sight in government and was incommunicado until Jan 4 , when a mass rally was planned to demand that  Jonathan should step in as “acting president” pending when the president was fit enough to return to his duty post. But to the surprise of the whole world, on that fateful day,  Mr President just popped up from nowhere to announce on the BBC that he was on his sick bed in Saudi Arabia, and that he wasn’t going to resume work until his doctors declared him fit to do so. Since then till this moment, silence; and Mr President’s doctors in Saudi Arabia still do not think that he is fit enough to leave hospital, not even talk of being fit enough to govern!!

However, more significant is the fact that since the President slipped into that hospital, he disappeared from the radar of the world political scene. Not a single member of the Federal Executive Council has seen him since. The National Assembly sent a delegation on condolence visit (at least to wish him quick recovery and God’s love), but they were prevented from seeing their president and head of the executive arm of government. They returned to Nigeria in shame. A representation of the 36 governors in Nigeria also went to Saudi Arabia to get first hand information about the president’s health, and convey the nation’s solidarity with him on his battle for life.

They came back home not just sad but furious that they were not allowed to see their president. Then the PDP as a party on whose platform Yar’Adua became president thought it could make the difference.  They spent over five  days in Saudi – they  could not see the president.

The only logical conclusion one can draw from this tragedy of preventing Nigerians from seeing their president for  about 90 days, or even having information on his health and treatment is that Mr President must be in a very bad, perhaps even hopeless state; which should convince any  reasonable person that the most “dreaded” thing has happened, and he can no longer be considered fit to take charge of the excruciating responsibility of governing Nigeria.

At least, this is part of what the visit by Federal Executive Council members will be expected to determine like nobody else had been able to do in the past. Hopefully, they will not suffer a similar fate like all other delegations before it to Saudi Arabia.

But if they do, then the council will be left with no other option but to perform its obligatory responsibility to declare Mr President unfit to govern, which should then pave the way for Jonathan to be sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Excepts of course there is a plot to drive the ship of state on the tragic lane of the infamous Interim National Government (ING) of Chief Earnest Shonekan that was declared illegal by the courts, to pave the way for a palace coup that brought Sani Abacha to power.

Our experience in this delicate interim of Jonathan functioning as “Acting President” is patently unstable, especially so as many people for as many reasons have gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of Jonathan acting in this capacity. With the courts,  there are no sentiments, and we don’t have the magic of knowing in advance whether the doctrine of “necessity” (on which the Senate predicated it resolution to have Jonathan function as “Acting President”) will be upheld by the courts!!

We must prevent at all costs any act of omission or commission that will return us to the catastrophic era of Shonekan’s Interim National Government and the aftermath. The dangers ahead are real; the possibilities are  frightening.


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