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Jonathan Presidency: The inconvenient truth

By Kunle Oyatomi
Do our good readers remember the above title? That was the theme of the controversial documentary by former Vice President of the United States of America, Al Gore on climate change.

It was meant to rudely awaken skeptics to the reality of the disaster looming over mankind if we did nothing to curb our carbon emissions that is heating up the planet. The inconvenient truth (which America eventually had to admit) is that due to man’s industrial and other activities, global warming is laying waste a good deal of planet earth in a life threatening proportion. The world must rise up to the challenge or face extinction!!

However, on a smaller scale, Nigeria has had to face the “life threatening crisis” of a vacuum in the presidency from a standpoint of “the inconvenient truth” that if we had failed to resolve the crisis the way we did (through a resolution of the National Assembly), the very existence of our country was at  risk. We are all so familiar with the crisis, it is pointless to recap details.

But at the core of the problem was a constitutional log-jam in which certain powerful people in ailing President Yar’Adua’s cabinet were manipulating the constitution to prevent Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from being sworn-in as Acting President, to the extent that the ship of state was left without an effective pilot.

Every nasty, if not ignoble trick was sprung to perpetuate the vacuum in the presidency for 78 days and keep the nation adrift on dangerous waters until reason prevailed and the national assembly had to face the inconvenient truth that the crisis was “life threatening” enough for the nation to pull back from the brink. However, in doing so, the choices were difficult.

Difficult because the constitution manipulators in Aso Rock had frozen all lee ways open for a constitutional solution by pre-empting the application  solution by pre-empting the application of section 144, 145 and 146 under which the National Assembly could have acted to forestall the crisis!!

But on  Tuesday February 9, 2010 the manipulators of the constitution were out-manoeuvre by the law makers who applied the doctrine of  necessity to side step the constitutional obstacle in order to stop the drift.

Since the Federal Executive Council base of the pro-Yar’Adua’s hawks who were bent on preventing Jonathan from becoming Acting President would not facilitate the application of section 144 of the constitution, the senate had to depend on events which had close connotation to the prescription of the constitutional clauses  of section 145 to declare Jonathan, Acting President.

The National Assembly action was as unprecedented as the crisis. It resulted in a political solution devoid of strict constitutionality. Are we to address this crisis politically or constitutionally? If we had opted for a political solution (as the National Assembly did), should we have rightly ignored the  constitution?

These were grave questions to answer. The inconvenient truth is that we would still have been in that crisis if our objective was to save the small clause of the constitution that was infracted. However, the very life of the country was at risk, so we had to make a choice between saving the country or the constitution.

Our option was obvious for the constitution would be dead anyway without a country in which it was supposed to have been applied. Concerns for a united country prevailed over that for a constitution that was terminally under abuse by manipulators who were out protecting their personal interests rather those of the country.

Those who did not want Jonathan as Acting President will now have to swallow their pride and work with him or ship out of the FEC. Their failure is the victory for common sense and democracy.

But this victory, if care is not taken, could be phyrric, for the cause of the crisis has not been addressed – which is the absolutely fraudulent and flawed 1999 constitution, which Nigerian politicians and the general public knew nothing about until when President Obasanjo was sworn-in.

Unless and until a fundamental rework of that document is done by the federating units of this country, we are bound to contend with greater crisis in the future which could signal the disintegration of the country. The call for this is not new, but we have been ignoring it to our own peril. If we persist, we could be inadvertently on a suicide  mission.

Having said that, it is only appropriate to point out that this victory does not by itself mean a solution to our political crises. A lot will have to depend on how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan steers the ship of state in the coming days, weeks and months.

We can only hope that he has got all it takes to make the difference between the PDP disaster and the previous government’s (of which he was an integral part) lack-luster performance. Can Jonathan have the decisiveness (and bring to bear) to do what is right to move the country forward? Can he bring to order the level of disorder that has characterised the last 78 days before he won the right to act as President?

Or would he continue with the PDP “Family Affair” approach to governance or we would see a man calm but firm and focussed to address the country’s many potentially explosive problems? These question are apt because the future will be determined by what Jonathan does or fails to do. Therein lies the greatest of the challenges confronting  him.

Lessons from the crisis are stark. Unless we want to remain in denial of the inconvenient truth, our constitutional  democracy and its institutional infrastructure is  fragile and unstable; and it would be the greatest risk for a  nation to rely on the calibre of politicians we have at the moment to effect change.

That it took 78 days before a majority of them could see reason and ack to save the country is a mark of incompetence; but more importantly it is evidence of both incapacity to cope with the enormity of work involved in governance, and the intellectual tardiness that impede their capability.

This, I admit, is a strong indictment but isn’t it true that what took 78 days to fix could have been resolved in two weeks if the political class had been alert and focussed on matters bordering on the unity and good governance of the country?

We are lucky to have scaled over this crisis. However it is doubtful if we would be as fortunate in the event of another major crisis, (many of which treacherously lie in wait for us along the way to 2011 and beyond).


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