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NIGERIA’S POWER TRANSITION : Jonathan’s first step

*File photo of President Umaru Yar’Adua, (r) with his Predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo (l) and the acting President Goodluck Jonathan (c) on May 29,2009.

By Jide  Ajani, Deputy Editor

* How acting president is taking charge
* Ministers fall in line
* The sealing of a deal

A report on how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is taking charge.  While the 1999 Constitution, problematic as it may appear, makes specific provisions on what a President going on vacation should do, and in his absence, how the Federal Executive Council, FEC, can salvage a situation of stasis or lacuna, the resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives, last Tuesday appears to have made a mockery of democracy.

February 10, 2010, was a slight contrast from Wednesday, November 25, 2009. Unlike that morning in 2009 when the ministers did not know what to expect from a Goodluck Jonathan chairmanship of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, last Wednesday’s was different for many reasons.

First was the fact that just barely 48hours earlier, two ministers were locked out of a meeting chaired by Jonathan – as mere Vice President of Nigeria.  Then his first chairmanship of FEC saw proceedings starting at exactly 10 am.

Therefore, it was not surprising as ministers started rushing into Aso Rock Presidential villa as early as 8:52 am.  Before the commencement of FEC meeting, Jonathan had met with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, and then Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN).

His task was simple:  Get started with the backlog of payments and approvals. But the FEC meeting of last Wednesday was to become markedly different from the FEC meetings that Jonathan had chaired and has been chairing since President Umaru Yar’Adua left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on medical grounds.

First, the seeming air of freedom expressed by most ministers during presentation of memos at FEC meetings appeared to have shifted for another paradigm which bothered on the anxious and fearsome. Although most of the ministers felt very free to express themselves in times past, last Wednesday was different. One of the reasons is the fear of the unknown.

In an environment of bare-faced power tussle between the pro-Yar’Adua ministers and the pro-Jonathan ministers (see box for details of a president’s itinerary), most ministers were said not to be particularly free as they were pre last Wednesday when Jonathan chaired the FEC meeting in the new toga of Acting President.

*Acting president Goodluck Jonathan is as he takes office in Abuja on February 10,2010

Sunday Vanguard gathered that “ministers appeared to be ready to take their cue from the body language of the Acting President.  In fact, the problem that may arise now is that it would be difficult to actually know those who are just playing to the gallery from those who are really interested in moving Nigeria forward with the Acting President”. Instructive was the information that “the plethora of pressure being brought on the Acting President may become counter-productive”.

One source said, “whereas the Acting President is expected to take charge fully, the man has decided that he would do all within his powers to ensure that he does not unnecessarily get himself bugged down by politicking.  A good example is the way he handled the Anambra governorship elections by not playing his hands as a partisan leader”.

How the deal was struck
It was, on the face of it, a supposedly creative way (by the National Assembly) of getting out of a bind which President Yar’Adua put Nigerians.

Sunday Vanguard sources in Abuja, said Acting President Jonathan was only briefed about the strategy of the National Assembly after the deal had been consummated. Senate President David Mark, initiated the deal. In consultation with some past presidents of Nigeria and the leadership of most of the important groups that visited the National Assembly on the possible way forward, Mark got the nod.

It was after the series of informal consultations were further carried out with a view to carrying his
colleagues in the Senate along on the deal.

Mark was sited at the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, last Monday.  Whether he visited the INEC chairman to discuss the Senate resolution could not be ascertained at press time but he was said to have visited the Commission’s headquarters at a time when Professor Maurice Iwu was meeting with members of the Anambra State Election Monitoring Board.

* Is this the best deal?
Was this the best possible deal in town regarding the transfer of power? The devil is in the interpretation. It is perhaps for the same reason that section 419 of the penal code which deals with obtaining by false pretense, the National Assembly resolutions transferring power to Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Acting President, should be viewed as and punished for transferring power using false interpretation of the 1999 Constitution.
* Questions:
How does an interview of 58 seconds duration with President Umaru Yar’Adua on British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, automatically equate to transmission of a letter informing the National Assembly of a vacation? How does a transcript of same translate into a letter written and signed by the President? How does the posting of same on the World Wide Web, become a transmission to the National Assembly?

But because Nigeria is a nation of ingénues leaders, anything can and does happen. Omo Omoruyi, a Professor of political science, in his view, does not believe that what the Senate and the House of representatives have done is legal or proper.

“Respect the Constitution – Section 1(1),(2)(3) is very clear that the Constitution is supreme and that no one shall come to power other those provided for in the Constitution and that any law that is inconsistent with this isVoid.

“ISSUE: If the President is ill and cannot govern the Federal Executive Council acting through a two third can say so by a resolution;   This resolution must be validated by a Medical Panel put together by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“PDP AN ISSUE “What baffles me is the inability of the governing party to act ie govern.   After all, all the people involved including the ailing President, the Senate President, House Speaker, the Ministers   are members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).   Why can’t the PDP as  the governing party govern?
“GO TO SECTION 144 OF THE CONSTITUTION Let me go back to what I have been saying since I started to air my view on the matter is that the mode of dealing what looks like a political crisis is contained in Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution.    That Constitution makes no provision for the Senate to act one way or the other.

“COUP: Any action outside the Constitution is unconstitutional and coming to power outside the provision of the Constitution is a COUP.   Simple!”, he said.

Goodluck Jonathan’s itinerary since becoming Acting President

Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan during the opening prayers at the meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation at the Council Chambers, on February 10,2010

Day One
*Wednesday: Jonathan arrives office 8:30, met with SGF and AGF at 8:50.
*Ministers start rushing to attend FEC as early as 8:52 as against 10:30 during Yar’Adua era.
*Ministers begin grouping along Yar’Adua /Jonathan interests and discussing
*Michael Aondoakaa, Abba Ruma and Tanimu Yakubu, Economic Adviser to the President in a prolonged discussion than other groups
*10:05am Jonathan arrives FEC Chambers, takes everybody by surprise when he walks past his former chair .  His ADC hurriedly pulls out the C-in-C chair bearing the seal/coat-of-arms.
*12:15 am, break time.  Even when many think that FEC shouldn’t have lasted longer as only two memos, in addition to Akunyili are billed for discussion.
Aondoakaa storms out, in a state of confusion, holding three phones, trying to make calls with all of them at the same time.  His aides rush to his rescue by helping him to take some of the incoming calls.
*As he talks, Jonathan goes to his office.
*Moments later Aondoakaa rushes to Jonathan’s office; Orubebe follows.
*Jonathan receives Kuwaiti envoy before returning to EXCOF meeting.
*Ministers resume their grouping openly while the 40-minute break lasts.
*EXCOF meeting gets underway.
*Handsets of reporters start rigging as their editors call to enquire about Aondoakaa’s fate.
*5:20pm, EXCOF ends meeting.  Aondoakaa’s redeployment confirmed.

Day Two:
*Jonathan receives Senate leadership at his residence at 8:30 a.m.
*He arrives office at 9.30 a.m. Receives presidential committee on remuneration in the civil service
*12:53, meets Niger Delta governors and Amnesty committee,
*More prominent Nigerians besiege his office.
*SGF, NSA and other cabinet members spend almost the whole day in the Villa .

Court must determine President Yar’ Adua’s health status —Aturu

By Bamidele Aturu

“The resolution of the two chambers of the National Assembly activating the provisions of Section 145 of the Constitution by making the Vice President  Acting President pending the return of the President from Saudi Arabia where he is undergoing medical treatment is without doubt one of political expediency.

“I have publicly taken the view that the resolution would have been unnecessary but for the gross acts of negligence by persons and institutions critical in the operation of our so-called democracy.

“First, the President failed or was unable to send the written declaration required by Section 145 to the leaders of the National Assembly. Now if he failed, that was negligence and the National Assembly ought to have proceeded against him under Section 143 by impeaching him. If he was unable to send the declaration as a result of his infirmity then he was either temporarily or permanently incapable to discharge the functions of his office. The National Assembly neglected to impeach him.

“The Executive Council of the Federation also neglected to declare him permanently incapable as required by Section 144 of the Constitution. Indeed the latter rather dishonestly and clownishly declared that the President who had been away for months was capable of discharging the functions of his office.

“It was these acts of negligence that made the political resolution made by the National Assembly on Section 145 unavoidable.   Though it may be possible to pick legal holes in the resolution, there is no doubt that it has emboldened the Vice President to perform the functions of the Office of the President. It was a political solution to a political problem. To the extent that it has helped psychologically and practically (Permanent Secretaries have been sworn in etc) to fill the vacuum created by President Yar Adua’s absence, I am sure a lot of people would be willing to live with it.

“But there is need to ensure that the health status of the President is fully determined. This would have to be done under Section 144 of the Constitution. The executive Council of the Federation would have to determine based upon medical evidence whether or not the President can still discharge the functions of his office. This may explain why our clients Honourable Aliyu and Mr Hussain Gabbas have not asked us to discontinue the cases we filed for them.”

Femi Falana on the resolution of the National Assembly

“I will have to watch the event as it unfolds. However, if the National Assembly goes ahead to amend the Constitution as it affects sections 144 and 145, that would be another thing entirely.

What we are fighting for is not an issue that affects the Federal Government alone. “This same practice goes on at the state level too. It has become a major constitutional issues which has to be resolved once and for all. The point I am making is that there must be clear provision, for the resolution of crisis of this nature whenever the situation arises.

About our matter  in court, I must tell you the case goes on.
“The ‘Doctrine of Necessity’, which I mentioned warranted that the former Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan becomes the Acting President. If something is very strange and there is no concrete solution on ground apart from the one available, the doctrine of necessity will save the day. That was exactly what the National Assembly did.”

*Falana and Aturu spoke with Abdulwahab Abdulah


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