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Last mission to Saudi

By Ochereome Nnanna

IN Nigeria, the law means nothing, both to the rulers and their subjects. The term, “rule of law”, is a misnomer here. It is not just the government that has a very poor grasp of rules and laws. Everywhere you look in Nigeria, you will see evidence of the rule of indiscipline and lack of order.

When we say Nigeria lacks maintenance culture, it is another admission that we do not have discipline. But speaking for myself, I can confirm to you that I am a very organised person and I play by the rules. I insist on them. I have maintenance culture. But in Nigeria, people like us are often not very popular, but we don’t care!

The constitutional and succession crisis we are going through is nothing but another pointer to the fact that our leaders do not care about the constitution they swore to uphold. They are only interested in their narrow concerns, which they elevate over and above those of over 150 million people.

Both the Presidency and the National Assembly have done everything but what the law requires of them when faced with the challenge of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s health dilemma. Had the right things been done, Nigeria would have moved on without missing a step simply because her president is medically incapacitated.

The first wrong step was taken by President Yar’Adua when he refused to obey the Constitution and transmit a letter to the National Assembly informing it of his medical vacation. Let no one tell me that he did not have the opportunity to write that letter.

If my memory serves me right, on that fateful Friday, November 23, 2009, we saw on television President Yar’Adua at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, entering a presidential jet and waving to a group of officials and family members who came to see him off as he proceeded once again to Saudi Arabia, this time not for “Umrah”. Officials came clean, disclosing that he had acute pericarditis, a diagnosis that resulted after he complained of chest pain during the Jumat prayers that day.

Even if he was wheeled to the airport unconscious as some have said, that was no excuse for not transmitting the letter. At least, we were told that he gave an interview to the BBC informing Nigerians that he was recovering and would return when discharged by his doctors. If he wished to obey the Constitution, that letter would have been drafted and ready for his signature on that occasion. A man who is well enough to grant an interview must be able to sign his own signature.

From that failure on Yar’Adua’s part, a series of other unconstitutional acts followed. The Senate and House of Representatives, acting on the doctrine of necessity, unconstitutionally empowered Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President.

If the lawmakers had decided to follow the law, the proper thing to do was to impeach the President because his refusal to transmit that letter was a gross misconduct which precipitated a constitutional crisis and put the nation at the risk of a military coup.

Not impeaching the president was, however, not condemnable, as far as I am concerned. Solving a problem through an-eye-for-an-eye principle does not always yield the desired result. Obviously, an impeachment move could have hastened military intervention even further as a result of the flux and chaos that it would have brought about.

Furthermore, we now know that there are sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 that cannot be put into practice. It is unrealistic to expect the Federal Executive Council to take steps to sack the man that constituted it. An employee does not sack his employer. Tails don’t wag dogs.

The issue before us now is the six-man team set up by the FEC to Saudi Arabia to see the President and thank the Saudi authorities for their friendliness towards Nigeria in giving the president maximum cover when he needed it most. This mission came through a memorandum submitted to the Council last Wednesday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe.

The Constitution requires that this panel of visitants should be composed of medical doctors and created by the legislature. Only one medical doctor – Professor Babatunde Oshotimehin, who is the Minister of Health – is on the FEC panel. We are left to wonder exactly the constitutional status and real mission of this panel. What chance does the group have of being allowed access to the President, when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the House of Representatives, governors and other groups have sent emissaries to Saudi for the same purpose but came back unsuccessful?

The president will only receive this FEC panel if Turai Yar’Adua was telling the truth when she reportedly said her husband had recovered so well that he took a 30-minute exercise! But something tells me that Turai was merely selling us a dummy similar to the one her husband sold us in December 2006 when he challenged those questioning his fitness to a game of squash rackets. She is probably hoping to silence the President’s doubters as Yar’ Adua successfully did that time.

The truth is that if the ministers fail to see Yar’ Adua and extract a convincing evidence that he is coming back to his seat, this will be the last mission to Saudi. An avalanche of calls for his impeachment will be set off, and the lawmakers may not be reluctant this time. The North will want to produce a Vice President immediately for a President Goodluck Jonathan. The post-Yar’ Adua era will be effectively in place.
Perhaps, that is what the FEC has in mind.


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