By Okey Ndiribe,Â Asst. Political Editor
There are strong indications that the intense pressure that has been mountedÂ on the Federal Executive Council this week may be extended to the Senate PresidentÂ this weekend.
This may become imperative since section 144 ofÂ the 1999 Constitution provides that it is the president of the Senate who should establish the five memberÂ medical panel that is vested with the constitutional power to examine the health of ailingÂ President Umar Yarâ€™Adua.
The section further stipulates that if the panel – whose membership must include the presidentâ€™s personal physician[-submits a report which indicates that the President is incapacitated to the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and these two officers of the national assembly go ahead to publish the report of the panel in the official gazette of the federal government, the president would then cease to hold office.
Indeed, sub-section fourÂ of section 144 reads in full: â€œthe medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the president of the senate and shall comprise five medical practitioners in nigeriaâ€¦â€
However, subsection I (a) of the same section provides that â€œthe president or vice-president shall cease to hold officeÂ if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of the executive council of the federation (same as fec) it is declared thatÂ the president or vice-president is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.â€
Indeed, the severe pressureÂ that has been piled on fec in the last few weeks by different groups and individuals is based on this provision of the constitution.
Already members of the body which is composed of ministers appointed by ailing president yarâ€™adua have been threatened with jail sentences for failing to comply with an earlier orderÂ that was made by an abuja high court presided over by justice dan abutu. The judge had ordered on january 22 that fec within 14 days fec should investigate and pass a resolution on theÂ health status of president yarâ€™adua in line with section 144 of the constitution.
Two of the litigants who filed the suit which led to the order that was handed down to fec last tuesday went back to same the court to file contempt proceedings against the federal ministers. The litigants- a former minority leader in the House of Representatives Alhaji Farouk Aliyu and Sanni Gabbas, chairman of the Jigawa State Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA)-Â want all the ministers jailed for failing to comply with the order.
Although nobody is sure how events would unfoldÂ next week, the prevailing situationÂ is clearlyÂ a fall-out fromÂ last weekâ€™s proclamation of Dr. Goodluck JonathanÂ as Acting President by the national assembly.Â However, the proclamation which was anchored on the doctrine of necessityÂ has generated diverse reactions across the nation.
Ever since the controversy erupted many have hailed the move by the national assembly as politically expedient but others have condemned it as legally defective. For instance, former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olisa Agbakoba SAN) said he endorsed the proclamation of the federal legislature even though it was based more on political expediency rather than a sound legal foundation.
Said he: â€œthe resolutions passed by the national assembly were more based on political expediency than constitutional law. I think it represents a good way to move forward to get us out of the cul-de-sac in which we were. We couldnâ€™t move forward or backward.â€
He expressedÂ confidence that those who have gone to court to challenge the resolutions would not succeed.
â€œIn my view the role played by the national assembly was in order and I donâ€™t see how a court of law would rule that it was outside the spirit of the constitutionâ€ he said.
Former Governor of Edo State John Odigie-Oyegun shared Agbakobaâ€™s views.
Commenting on fears that have been expressed in some quarters that the jonathan presidency could be terminated through a court ruling similar to howÂ the interim national government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan was booted out in the heat of the crisis which trailed the annulment of the June 12 1993 Presidential election,Â Oyegun had this to say:Â â€œThe Interim National Government that was headed by chief ernest shonekan and the present administration headed by acting president Dr. Goodluc Jonathan are not comparable.â€
He continued: â€œunder the Shonekan arrangement we had a contraption controlling an illegal government. It was very different. What is happening now is totally different. We had a situation in which the public interest was being severelyÂ injured by the inability or unwillingness of a public official to do his duty.â€
The factional chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) Mr Maxi Okwu expressed a similar view.
Said he: â€œthe resolution of the logjam by the national assembly came 87 days too late, but it is better late than never. Yes, following strictly, the letters of the constitution, it is a little bit untidy, but laws are made for man and not man for law. The National Assembly especially the Senate, invoked a part of the law which we know in jurisprudence that is applicable to countries that practice common law whichÂ Â and that includes nigeria.â€
He further stated that what was important was that the National Assemblyâ€™s resolution were effective.
â€œNigerians have generally accepted it. It is only a few extremists that are saying no â€œ he said.
However, several prominent Nigerians have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the national assemblyâ€™s solution to the constitutional crisis which hasÂ pervaded the land as a result of the long absence of President Yarâ€™Adua. Among those who do notÂ agree that the federal legislatureâ€™s resolutions have moved the nation forward are the President of the Nigeria Bar Association Mr Rotimi Akeredolu.
He insisted that only the strict provisions of the constitution should be applied to resolve the logjam. The Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACT) Maj. Gen Ibm Haruna (rtd) also dismissed the national assemblyâ€™s resolutions as unconstitional.