By Tony Momoh

They have emerged again with rerouting of constitutional provisions to achieve ends that will definitely backfire.  But the one I am sorry for, if he falls for the trap, is Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

I hear he has warned officials that they would be dealt with if they became lax in performing their duties which, with due respect, he has no power to assign.  He may be thinking of the ruling that the Federal High Court gave in Abuja on January 13 that he can perform the duties of the President under the Constitution which those promoting that viewpoint have made heavy weather of.

In the latest circus act, they went to court, a Federal High Court, and in record time, had a ruling that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan can perform the functions of President while the President is away where he told the world through a foreign radio station that he is recovering and would soon be back at work.

The soonest will be determined by his doctors! It could be one week, three months or until the end of his tenure in May, 2011!  Until the doctors say he can be back at his desk, he will have to superintend directly or by proxy, yes more by proxy than directly, those who perform his functions under sections 5(1) and 148(1) of the Constitution.

Those who went to court to ask the court to tell them and the world what sections 5(1) and 148(1) of the Constitution provide for, know what they were doing.  They know and the court has told them in clear and unambiguous terms, that those who exercise the President’s powers under the sections would do so in the name of the President.  In other words, the President is still in charge of affairs on his sick bed in Saudi Arabia!  Has the Attorney General not told us that the President can rule Nigeria from Siberia or Honolulu?

The implication of this ruling is that the Vice President has no more powers to exercise for the President than a minister of any of the ministries has!  Which is, as far as I am concerned, a clear warning to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan not to push his luck too far. Directly or inadvertently, someone is pushing him to exercise powers the Constitution does not grant.  Yes, only the Constitution can grant powers that the President, the Vice President and ministers can exercise.

The Vice President is there, mainly to act if the President is not there, and in assuming that position, a procedure is settled; and that is through a communication to the heads of both houses of the National Assembly.  It is clear that the Vice President can even be less powerful than a minister because, outside his role to act, and this is a role no other person outside the Vice President can perform, the Vice President is a spare tyre!

In spite of the celebration that has been the outcome of  Justice Abutu’s ruling on a motion that seemed to have been filed to outwit those who had gone to court to ask for the interpretation of the section that provides for the Vice President to act in the absence of the President, there is really very little to pop the champagne about. So what is there to celebrate in what the judge said about the Vice President performing only those functions the President permits?

Has there been any doubt that the Vice President can perform those roles only as Vice President and not as Acting President? And let me repeat, what is there to celebrate? And why are people quietly leading the Vice President into a trap by giving the impression that he can do more that the sections interpreted so clearly provide.  Are these not the same sections that give the ministers the power they exercise on behalf of the President today, and are they responsible to the Vice President under the sections? An emphatic NO.

The buck stops on the table of the President in interpreting the provisions of sections 5(1) and 148(1).  What they say is that the functions of the executive inhere in the President and he can ask the Vice President or any of his ministers to perform them.  And in doing so, they report to him.

The truth of the matter, therefore, is that the Vice President can have and exercise powers as Acting President only when we activate the procedure under section 145 which is the demand on the President to send a communication to the National Assembly leadership that he is going away in respect of his health.

If our President could not do so because he had to be rushed to hospital, we now know that he can sign a communication, as he did with the supplementary appropriation bill, and that he can speak, as he did with a foreign radio station that his health is improving and that he would soon be back home.  But why would the President who anchored his administration on the rule of law, undermine the supreme law of the  land by refusing to inform the National Assembly that he is not well enough to continue to perform the functions of his office? Please note that we are not asking for a president who is alive, but one who is fit to perform the functions of his office.

Those close to him are in a quandary, aren’t they?  This is my reading of their minds -do they opt for an Acting President by asking the President to communicate his health status to the National Assembly; or they should advise the President to resign so that he can go home to take care of his health?   A yes to either of the options has profound implications.  If the President resigns, a Vice President will have to be appointed.

That Vice President should be powerful enough to monitor what the new President would be doing because he would have to be reminded that it is the Northern slot that he is sitting on!  But what if the President then recovers?  Did Obasanjo not inform us during the campaigns that Yar’Adua was ill when he was governor of Katsina State and that he miraculously recovered from the ailment?  So, let that position remain for the President to return to, if he miraculously recovers.  But what of opting for the Vice President to act as President?  This is what the cabal finds most difficult to accommodate.  Why?  You see, the Vice President as Acting President is more powerful than a President and an active Vice President!

There is no provision in the Constitution for an Acting Vice President when the Vice President takes the position of President in acting capacity.  So in that position, Goodluck Jonathan can have his own kitchen cabinet, reshuffle the cabinet, dismiss any operative the President has power to dismiss!  And more!

The President may be away for the remainder of his tenure and until he returns and informs the leadership of the National Assembly that he is back and ready to work, no one will be bothered about our President wherever he may be because the buck will stop on the table of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan!

In that capacity, he can send out the warnings that the papers were trumpeting during last week.  Before then, he should be mindful of the pit that managers of chaos are leading him into. It may be necessary to comment on the bashing the Senate is having on what they can do in respect of the situation we find ourselves in.

The National Assembly has power to impeach the President for gross misconduct which is defined in section 143 (11) as “a grave violation or breach of the provisions of the Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.”  But, as I have always asked, who will bell the cat?

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