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Sole administration as a booby trap

By Tony Momoh

I said last week that by his assumption of duty as Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has become, de facto, the sole administrator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.   This means that he is right up there being the only person in the executive arm that was elected.

The other one, the President, is away on a medical vacation. While the President has a deputy, because our constitution says so, and when the President is away he is the one who stands in, the Acting President has no deputy, because the constitution does not so provide.

So like a tree on top of a hill, the Acting President is technically a lone ranger and can be cornered into a closet by those whose interests may not be in the public good.  This frightening position has its good parts and its bad parts.  The way to resolve the problem also has its sensitive and emotional implications.

But we must resolve the problem or we may find ourselves in a blind corner where we may want to rush for another application of the so-called doctrine of necessity.  For the simple reason that those who address the future are advised to take every possible event into consideration, what have we been thinking of the Jonathan acting presidency?  In matters of this nature, I opt for looking at the full moon, not just the crescent.  The crescent reflects one side of the coin, the full moon both sides.

The Acting President will act until the President returns from vacation.  This position is complicated where the President is not likely to return to that post.  And we should be honest enough to accept the bad news that our President, for his own sake and for our sake, is unlikely to return to that post.

If members of the House went to Saudi Arabia, with the tax payers’ money and were there for one week without seeing him; and the national working committee of his party sent a delegation to see him and waited for a week without gaining access to his ward or even being spoken to by him on telephone, then we should wake up from the effect of blatant lies about his wellbeing.

The latest fib came from one of the  members of the House who  was quoted by a newspaper as saying that they were told in Saudi Arabia that the President was “recuperating and would soon return to work …” And he drove home the point by asserting that the President is ok!

That is the President that he neither saw nor spoke to!  It is difficult to swallow, but the truth is that even if the President returns today, it will be wicked and greedy of us to ask him to go back to work to attend to 30 routine chores a day, starting work as early as 7.30 and rounding off after 6pm.  Only crooked and evil minds would contemplate such slave labour for one whose health should be their concern.

By accepting the fact that the tenure of Yar’Adua is over, the question of sustaining  the position of Dr. Jonathan as Acting President becomes untenable.  We must therefore take the next step of ensuring that Dr. Jonathan assumes the position of president. We will come to the two options open to us at this stage.

But Dr. Jonathan becoming  President will give the North the opportunity to appoint a Vice President because that is what the constitution says. I have no doubt in my mind that a northern Vice President will feel more like a co-President than a Vice President!  Don’t roast me.  I am telling you about feelings and what people can make of them.  You see,  in the arrangement of the PDP, Jonathan is serving the northern slot occasioned by Yar’Adua’s exit!

The new Vice President would want to feel in the shoes of an absent President rather than the position of a deputy who can be sidelined. So, he may well be like Atiku Abubakar between 1999 and 2003 who as Vice President ran what could be described as a parallel government with President Obasanjo; rather than between 2003 and 2007 when he became a non-person in the administration.

With the understanding that Dr. Jonathan is not likely to be in the reckoning for the top post or any post for that matter  in 2011, he would likely be more at home doing those things that would  be there to speak for his presence when he leaves – his record on electoral reforms and supervision and conduct of the 2011 elections; the Niger Delta rehabilitation programmes;  energy, infrastructural developments, and jobs.

So what do we do to make Jonathan President.?  We have passed Option A which is the President sending a written communication to the leadership of the National Assembly announcing his absence.  What is on now, an Acting President that has assumed office through heavily questionable and now being questioned means, can be president without any problem, unless we want to wait to have to resort to measures that are dictated by necessity.  One of such measures is what happens if Jonathan is not there.  He can be ill or may want to travel. Who will be there to be seen to be in charge?

While the Vice President, in his capacity as Vice President can be seen to be in charge when the President is not there, as happened for almost 80 days before the Vice President was declared Acting President, no one can be seen to be in charge when the Acting President is not there, for whatever reason.  We expect he will be there until latest May 29, 2011.

But what if he is not available to be there?  In the absence of the President and the Vice President, the Constitution says the Senate President will assume office and preside over elections within three months.  We can prevent this scenario by having Jonathan assume office of President and then create room for the appointment of a Vice President.

The only neat way to do this is for the Federal Executive Council to report the health condition of the President to the National Assembly leadership so that a medical team would be put together to investigate the obvious. With this option, no one can stop the team from seeing the President in his secluded ward in the Saudi Hospital.  The outcome of the report is that the Acting President will assume office of President for the remainder of the term of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan tenure.  This position will automatically overshadow the actions in court to question the  way the Senate and the House brought in Jonathan as Acting President.

The only other option, where the Federal Executive Council does not pass a resolution to activate the incapacity of the president to continue to perform his duties, is to impeach him for the gross misconduct of undermining the provisions of the Constitution and abandoning the functions he swore to perform when he took the oath of office on May  29, 2007. What a traumatic and emotional end to service in the public domain that step would be!  And if both steps are ignored, we should know that we have again created room for the application of the escapist doctrine of necessity.


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