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Eat your cake and have it

By Tony Momoh
They say you cannot eat your cake and have it.  This is what some people up North are trying to do, and I warn Acting President Goodluck Jonathan not to be trapped into a scapegoat position.  He must stand his ground that our President is ill and that as Acting President, he calls the shots, brooking no instructions or intrusions from anyone or quarters. 

Many thought this was a position of weakness, that we had two presidents in the country, one in acting capacity, the other in recuperating capacity.  But they err, and seem to be discovering that they erred, because there can be only one captain in a ship, and as at now, Acting President Jonathan is the captain in the Nigerian ship, not Umaru Yar’Adua, wherever he may be.

Because Jonathan is the sole administrator of Nigeria now, because that is what the position imposes, people believe the North is losing out.  Jonathan is calling all the shots!!  Why should he, they ask.    So, they want Jonathan to appoint an acting Vice President! But Jonathan cannot ask for a Vice President or acting Vice President when he is Acting President because all offices in the land are created by the Constitution.

There is a position of President created by the Constitution (sec 130);  a position of Vice President created by the Constitution (sec 141);  and a position  of Acting President created by the Constitution (section 145).  How these positions are occupied are settled and you need no doctrine of necessity or any other doctrine to escape the provisions.

If you listen keenly enough, you can hear the musings of two groups of lawmakers in the National Assembly – the National Interest Group (NIG) in the Senate; and the Nigeria First Forum (NFF) in the House.  Both have been agitating for things to be done to get things going.  But it seems to me that they want things to get going by using methods unknown to the Constitution when the way out is right there in the Constitution.

The National Interest Group wants to write a letter to the Executive Council of the Federation to, supposedly, initiate action for a medical board to be set up to establish the health status of the President.  That is running away from the problem.

It is like the Council of Ministers, instead of informing the leadership of the National Assembly that their boss has health problems that had made him unproductive, calling on the National Assembly to invoke section 143 of the Constitution so that their boss can be impeached!

What the National Assembly can do is to impeach the President if he refuses to resign because of his health problems, the impeachment being grounded on the fact that the notification the National Assembly was entitled to had not been given since November 23 when he left the country unceremoniously.

Those asking for the position of Acting Vice President to be filled, that a way to do this has to be found, are wanting to eat their cake and have it.   The way out is simple.  Make Jonathan President and then he must have a Vice President.

They do not want that because they expect the President to go back to his work if he recovers.  But they want someone to be there with Jonathan so that the Acting President does not “corner” all the powers of the executive!   The ball is in the court of the North, but the threats coming from them do not seem to show that there is a serious thought given to how a Vice President can emerge.

The recuperating President cannot come back if Jonathan becomes President and then appoints a Vice President.  But if he is well enough to resume duty and he follows the procedure for doing so, then Yar’Adua will be back at his desk and Jonathan will revert to the position of Vice President.  With the politics some elements from the North are  playing now, asking Jonathan to appoint an acting Vice President when there is no such provision in the constitution, you see, I insist that we want to eat our cake and have it.

The implication of the North having a Vice President should be clear to those who are monitoring.  The PDP should get out of the dilemma, if they decide that Yar’Adua should go, by insisting that anyone who assumes the office of Vice President would not contest the 2011 elections.

Since, as the PDP seems to be saying, the slot belongs to the North until 2015, if they win, then Jonathan and whoever becomes Vice President should be asked to give us credible elections.  We are going to be in trouble if we have those emerging from the PDP now as possible candidates being frustrated because of the ambition of a Vice President who may devote his time to secure the presidency instead of working with a “disqualified” Jonathan to help us out of the shame that Iwu and his INEC led us into in the 2007 elections.

It is obviously because of the advantage a Vice President from the North would have in getting the PDP slot that many have been asking that some zones, rather than others, be permitted to provide candidates. With a strong character accessing that office, we may have an unnecessary struggle on our hands, an unconstitutional claim by the Vice President that because the position Jonathan is occupying as president is a northern slot, therefore the Vice President from the North should have more powers than the constitution endorses.

And the powers the constitution endorses for the Vice president are those that the President delegates! And as long as Jonathan acts as President or becomes President if Yar’Adua disengages, he stands under that umbrella to call the shots.

But I must urge Jonathan not to be tempted to push, through council, the requirement that the President disengages on health grounds.  That step would brand him as hungry for power, but he would also have encouraged the coming into office of a Vice President who would assert more authority than the Constitution grants but which the rotation arrangement of the party would quietly endorse.   Jonathan has been a man of destiny.

Things have always worked in his favour, and if he will be president, it should come.  He must not go for it. But where people want to eat their cake and have it, then we must all stand up and resist the pressure.  The Constitution is there and what everyone can do to achieve whatever objective they have must accord with due process settled in the Constitution.

No group should henceforth be encouraged to push others to do the dirty job when the clean way out is right there in the procedures that we have chosen to regulate our walk on the democracy highway.


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