Senator Matthew Mbu Jnr was a member of the Senate from 1999-2003. In this interview with Vanguard, he said that though the decision by the National Assembly to empower the Vice President to act as President has lowered tension in the country, the National Assembly must, however, move a styep futher to conform with constitutional provision to compel the Federal Executive Council to declare the president not fit to continue in office. Excerpts:
The decision by the National Assembly to ask the Vice President to Act as President has attracted mixed reactions . As a former Senator, what is your reaction to the decision?
I think we have to commend the National Assembly for what they have done to calm the country which was clearly adrift. However, I believe that the National Assembly has to go on to ensure that the right thing is done in the sense that there is no provision in the constitution that the National Assembly can ask the vice president to act as President.Â Since the president is not able to transmit a letter to the National Assembly asking that the vice president act in his absence, the National Assembly should explore other sections of the constitution by compelling council of ministers to act.
Since it is clear that no body knows the where about of the president, we cannot even talk about the transmission of a letter in compliance with section 145 of the constitution. And I keep asking, why are we afraid of section 144? Why are we running away from invoking the provisions of section 144? Why are we dwelling so much on section 145? Since the president is no where to be found, what of the ministers who are here? Why is it that the National Assembly cannot compel the ministers to invoke the provisions of section 144? We should not be putting the interest of one individual above that of the nation. President Yarâ€™Adua was elected to represent the interest of the entire nation and not his personal interest so he should at all times be guided by this.
Some people have argued that since the ministers refused to act according to section 144, the National Assembly ought to have impeached the President for failing to abide by the constitution..
I do not think that is the right thing to do at the moment. The problem is that Nigerian is not being run as a country but as a collection of aggregate interests. At every point in time people are thinking, whose interest are we protecting? We are not thinking about the interest of the nation. If the President cannot abide by section 145, then we should invoke section 144.Why should we carry on for almost three months without knowing the whereabouts of our President?
As the highest lawmaking body in the nation, the National Assembly can compel the ministers to act according to section 144. If we invoke that section, we will know the true position about the health of our President and we will take a more appropriate action. The ministers can be compelled through political means. The ministers were all nominated by forces and the National Assembly should use these power blocks to ensure that the ministers do the right thing for the interest of the country and not the interest of one individual.
The former president Olusegun Obasanjo who was instrumental to the emergence of Yarâ€™Adua asÂ president had called on the ailing president to resign, prompting various reactions from Nigerians. Do you think the former presidentâ€™s remarks were appropriate?
I think the former presidentâ€™s call was appropriate and it came at the nick of time. Before his intervention, this country was being overstretched and it could have snapped. As a leader, he had to be responsible. I do not agree with those who say that his call was self serving. I do not also agree with the argument that Obasanjo imposed Yarâ€™Adua on the country because he did not take the decision alone.
The irony of this whole matter is that now that it is obvious that President Yarâ€™Adua is sick, this same people who were condemning Obasanjo for knowingly imposing a sick president on Nigeria are the same people that are fighting that the man should continue from his sick bed even when they donâ€™t know where the man is. Where is the moral justification for blaming Obasanjo?
Regardless of the shortcoming that the former president may have as a human being, one thing we cannot take away from him is love for the country. He tried to ensure that all parts of Nigeria and every Nigerian who is competent is given an opportunity to contribute to the development of this country. Nigeria is a volatile country and for any leader to succeed, he must have the courage of Obasanjo. I am not saying other leaders are not courageous but what I am saying is that for you to succeed in Nigeria you must have the courage of an Obasanjo.
With the emergence ofÂ Jonathan as the ActingÂ President, will the South -South still talk about not being in the mainstream of the Nigerian politics?
This is not enough. It can never be enough. Acting President is not like the President. The powers of the Acting President are limited. He is just holding forte for the President because it is presumed that the President will come back. There is no way we from the South-South, especially the South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA) will accept that because the Vice President is acting, we are now fulfilled. He cannot make some decisions because every body knows that his powers are limited.
What are your expectations from the ActingÂ President for the period that he would act?
He should bring about sanity. It is unfortunate that our leaders have not led this country well. The Acting President should surround himself with able and capable people who are committed to the cause of this country. He should look for able people to assist him and he should be seen during this period to be a true Nigerian and not an ethnic jingoist. It is an opportunity for him to serve and make a difference .
His redeployment of the former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa is a good omen because many Nigerians feel that he was the problem because his pronouncements were heating up the system. It will help to calm down the nerves of many Nigerians.
With the benefit of recent political events in the country, do you think that the principle of power rotation between North and South as espoused by your party, the Peoples Democratic Party is still tenable?
Well, it is not the best for this country. It is something that we will have to do away with but right now it is difficult because, most people who find themselves in position are too narrow minded to do away with the zoning formula. If we had leaders of vision, we would have effectively done away with this obnoxious policy. Nigeria is a country that you can get to every part within one hour by air. If we had the best of road networks, some of the things that political leaders capitalize to hoodwink the people would have been reduced. The perceived difference between us is more in our heads than in reality.
Do you think that a reform of the electoral system would make a difference?
It would help but the change basically would depend on the leadership that we have. You can have the best of law but if the people donâ€™t make them work, there is nothing you can do. If our leaders were sincere in implementing the laws that we have today, things would have been different. The electoral reforms would help in the sense that if people’s votes count, the electorate would have the power to change a bad leader. The electoral reform should be the beginning of the change that we need.