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Yar’ Adua’s health: Will the Constitution be followed?

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
On assumption of office May 29, 2007 as Nigeria’s third democratically elected President, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua made adherence to the rule of law a mantra of his administration. It was a needed breather considering the raw deal the polity had under his predecessor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.  For the eight years of his rule, Obasanjo stood the time honoured  tenet of democracy on its head. On countless occasions, the constitution was flagrantly trampled on.

So  much was the rape of the constitution under the regime that the National Assembly members at a point made attempts to impeach the former President. A glaring instance of the administration’s disregard for the rule of law was selective obedience of court judgments. Sometimes when court orders were obeyed, it was at the convenience of Obasanjo and his chief law officer.

Vice-President Jonathan
Vice-President Jonathan

Witnesses: When the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government lacked constitution power to with hold local government funds belonging to Lagos State, the former President refused to release the money, insisting that Lagos State must revert to the original 20 local government areas from which  the 37 additional ones were created. Then  Governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had dragged the Federal Government to court when the latter withheld local council fund of the state on the ground that Tinubu created additional 37 local councils.

Similarly when the apex court ordered that the former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja be reinstated in 2006, following his impeachment by the state House of Assembly, the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo had said the government was still studying the judgment when asked whether Ladoja’s security details would be restored immediately.

Enter Yar’Adua. One of his populist actions on assumption of office to demonstrate the regime’s commitment to the rule of law was his pronouncement that Lagos State withheld council funds would be released. President Yar’ Adua actually had a meeting with Governor Babatunde Fashola to that effect.

Also, in October 2007 when the Supreme Court judgment ordered that Mr Rotimi Amaechi be immediately sworn in as Governor of Rivers State to replace Sir Celestine Omehia, President Yar’Adua ordered that the judgment be peremptorily carried out . With these two actions, President Yar’ Adua left no one in doubt that his administration would be a clear departure from that of his predecessor in terms of human rights observance.

Of late however, some actions or inactions of the President seem to suggest that  his rule of law posturing bears a question  mark.

At the moment, the nation politically appears to be at a cross-road and at its root is non-adherence to rule of law. In the last one year, the president, on account of his health challenge has travelled out of the country for treatments about four times.

While he was away he did not hand over to the Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan even if the latter performed some state functions on his behalf. Constitutionally, the President is expected to write to the National Assembly and notify the law makers that the Vice President would act as president.

This is the spirit and letter of Section  145 of the 1999 Constitution which says “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.

But the fundamental issue now is President Yar’ Adua’s current state of health which has necessitated strident calls for him to resign. Since he left the country for Saudi Arabia penultimate Friday, reports indicate that Yar’ Adua’s health situation calls for grave concern and prayers by all.

It was against this backdrop that some unamed people allegedly asked the Vice President to resign. Those who want Jonathan out are believed to belong to a  cabal  and  their  intention has been said to that  preventing him from assuming office in case of any eventuality. The  Peoples Democratic Party PDP had however denied the report.

Receiving a delegation of the Moslem Community in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed and the Deputy Chief Imam of the Abuja Central Mosque, Imam Abdusalam Mohammed, at his residence, Aguda House, Presidential Villa, Abuja;  the Vice President reassured Nigerians of the state of health of President Umaru Yar’Adua who was recently diagnosed of Acute Pericarditis, an inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart, saying that “he is okay”; and described those who fanned the embers of the rumours of the President’s death as “mischievous characters” .

The Vice President said he personally spoke with Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia on Friday and reassured Nigerians that the president was okay.

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan said he has been in constant touch with the president since he departed Nigeria for treatment in a Saudi hospital five days ago and noted that Yar’Adua was doing well; stressing that “this morning I personally convey Mr. President’s personal greetings. We spoke yesterday and even this morning. After this time I will even speak with him. He asked me to convey his personal greetings to all Nigerians”.

Speaking further, he said “There are some rumours about some stories, but let me assure Nigerians that the president is okay. We spoke before he left this country and we have been speaking. So, discountenance any form of false rumours being spread by mischievous characters in this country.

I assure you that Mr. President is doing well. I want to thank you especially for your prayers for the President, your prayers for the government and your prayers for the country”, he stated.  However spokesman of the Vice President, Mr  Ima  Nibiro in a statement last Saturday  denied  reports that some people are putting pressure on the Vice President to resign.

The national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party , in a statement signed by the national publicity secretary condemns the growing insinuations on the president’s health  “For the avoidance of doubt, the PDP wishes to state categorically that the Party is not in any way involved in, neither is it contemplating any move to persuade or force any office holder to resign his or her office under whatever guise as it is being erroneously insinuated in some sections of the media. There is no basis for such a wicked rumour as the circumstances warranting such a speculation have not arisen.

“We also wish to advise those working themselves into frenzy on the basis of an illusionary vacancy in the Presidency to calm down and pray for the peace and stability of the country rather than dissipate energy on a wild goose chase.

“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has observed with amazement the hype and tension being deliberately generated by so called members of opposition Parties over the medical checkup currently being undertaken by the President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua in a Saudi hospital.

“We consider it particularly shocking that some Nigerians have chosen to over-sensationalize the situation and magnify it out of proportion in order to satisfy their selfish prejudices.

“Under normal circumstances, even in politics, we owe it a moral duty to each other as human beings to wish our fellow human beings well irrespective of the extent of differences that may exist. Regrettably, recent events in the country have shown that for some Nigerian politicians, this is not so.

“We find it utterly unacceptable that instead of demonstrating selflessness and patriotism in moments like this, some politicians are engaged in creating undue and banal sophistry in the name of an imaginary succession crisis in Nigeria.

“Reports reaching us have it that the President is improving steadily and will soon return to continue the good work he is doing. We pray for the safe return of the President and Pray that the Almighty God touches the hearts of those peddling these rumours to repent from their evil ways”.

Two days ago a group of 56 eminent Nigerians called on the president to resign on account of his ill health. According to a statement released by the group which included names like Chief Olu Falae, Alhaji  Balarabe Musa, Alhaji Masari, Prof Itse Sagay, Prof Pat Utomi and Lt Gen Alani Akirinade , “As President Yar’Adua’s compatriots and part of his larger Nigerian family, we sympathize with him and believe that his health should be given priority attention.

At the same time, the need to provide effective governance for this nation of over 150 million people cannot be compromised. Indeed, the Constitution has rightly envisaged the situation in which the country has found itself..  In any event, we are of the view that the President should immediately and unconditionally hand over to the Vice-President, Dr Goodluck  Jonathan to complete the current term of office, and conduct the next general elections on the basis of the report of the electoral reform committee headed by Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais.

On the heels of this a group19 northern elite drawn from the three political zones in the North  made up of senators, retired senior military/police officers and other politicians also insisted that constitution must be followed.

According to the group, which included former national chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party ( PDP), Chief Audu Ogbeh (Benue); former Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum  (ACF), Colonel. Hamid Ali, rtd, ( Bauchi) and Action Congress (AC) National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Kwara), in case of any eventuality over the president’s health, the constitution must be followed

“In the event the president is unable to continue in office, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan should immediately be sworn-in as president as provided by Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution. Any other ploy to bypass the constitution will have grave consequences for the evolution, unity and integrity of Nigeria.

“Conventions and devices such as rotation are strictly non-constitutional and any attempts to becloud  issues by mixing political party administrative devices with constitutional imperatives would be unhelpful in the situation we find ourselves.

“All the state institutions should show loyalty to the constitution at all time,” the group stated.

According to section 144 of the constitution (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 Vie-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.  The question is if anything happens will the constitution be adhered to?


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