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Dilemma of an acting President

* Should new cabinet effect section 144 or not?
*Jonathan doesn’t want to be seen as power monger – Dropped minister

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor

As the Senate prepares to commence, later this week, the screening of ministerial nominees, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is now weighing diverse options on how to handle the situation of President Umaru Yar’Adua who has not been seen in public since November 23, 2009.

The immediate concerns mainly revolve round the possible effectuation of Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution by the incoming members of the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF.

A good number of Nigerians, some of whom are from the North as the President, are prodding Dr. Jonathan to go the whole hog and assume full power as President and pick his deputy from the North.

Yar’Adua’s loyalists remain unrelenting in frustrating any such move and appear desperate to show that he is on his way to recovery and able to continue his rule.

Sources in Abuja cited the rumour in Abuja on Friday that the President would be showing up at the Jumat Service at the FCT that day as an indication of that desperation.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that despite the battle of opinions on how he should handle the situation, the acting President is yet non-committal to any possible effectuation of Section 144 by the incoming EXCOF.

This, a source said, is because he does not want to be seen as a power monger.

The section states:
“144. (1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
“(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
“(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
“(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
“(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
“(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
“(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
“(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.”
Some opinion leaders in the country had expected members of the dissolved EXCOF to give effect to Section 144 in the wake of the long absence of Yar’Adua.

Sunday Vanguard has discovered that while Acting President Jonathan wants to focus on good governance, some of his supporters want him to be firmer on the issue.

An influential source from the Niger Delta said: “The truth is that the Acting President is focused on more important things.  His concern is how to rescue the country from the power outages, the roads are bad, the amnesty deal is being reworked for effectiveness.

“On the issue of giving effect to Section 144, don’t you think it is pre-emptive?”, he asked.

But he answered the question himself: “Whereas he is not interested in that, some of us believe that he would need to deliver but if he’s constantly reminded that he’s just an Acting President that would create its own problems of distraction.

“You know, there is the issue of the North, wishing to have a foothold in the presidency via a Vice President which can never come to pass unless the Acting President becomes substantive.  No matter how long it takes for the Acting President to carry that moral burden of being seen by some as ambitious and desperate, the North would not want to keep having just an Acting President without a Vice President”.

Sunday Vanguard also learnt that just before the appointment of General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as National Security Adviser, NSA, he was being primed to take the position of the Vice President.

Now that members of what a source described as “rebranded EXCOF” are set to be screened and set to work, the refusal of the last EXCOF members to apply the provisions of Section 144 which became an issue before the sudden re-entry of Yar’Adua into Nigeria is bound to be tackled.

The fear of a possible application of Section 144 weighs heavily on the minds of the rump of the Yar’Adua loyalists who were dropped penultimate week.

Sunday Vanguard was told by one of the dropped ministers who insisted that his own concern was about the state and not political appointment that “the Acting President may have unwittingly created an unnecessary challenge for himself and that is the fact that had he simply dropped those he felt were either not competent or had questionable sense of loyalty, it would still have not been much of a problem to apply Section 144, at least, if only to allow for a northerner as Vice President.  With these brand new members of EXCOF, getting two third would be a piece of cake.

“My position remains that even if I had been re-appointed, that matter would still have had to be carefully handled because as it is, the north wants a vice president and yet, the Acting President does not want to be labeled a power monger”, the former minister told Sunday Vanguard last week in the federal capital.

It was gathered that for purposes of stability and consequent upon the possible security implications, some senior government officials of northern extraction are not averse to the emergence of what a source described as “a full presidency”, an emergence of which can only come about via the instrumentality of a pronouncement that the former President is certified incapacitated as stipulated by the provisions of Section 144.


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