Ag PresidentGoodluck Jonathan and Rimi: No acting President

By Chioma GABRIEL, Deputy Editor
For about three months, President Yar’Adua was absent and remained incommunicado. Several trips made by different groups to see him yielded no results.

The trips to Saudi were not well coordinated. It is only a doctor who could have said the true situation of his health. The delegates obviously did not go through the right channels and the people are no-nonsense people.

They are not like Nigerian authorities and if the delegates did not go through the right channels, there would  be no progress. All those delegations could have gone through the Nigerian ambassador who would seek permission from either the Saudi Foreign Minster or the King.

This problem has continued to generate problems in Nigeria. We are gearing up for elections but some issues remain unresolved.

Whether the President is back or not, we must hold elections. There is no doubt about that. We have not given up on the President’s health. No, no, no. Far from it. The President is sick and there is no big deal about that because anybody can get sick. Even in Saudi Arabia where the President went for treatment, their leaders had been sick at one point or the other. Even Sharon of Israel has been sick for  months and was in coma when elections took place.

But in terms of information management, Nigeria did not handle things very well and that could portend danger.

Dora Akunyili is the Chief Information Officer. She is the one who should tell Nigerians what she knows about what was going on. All these talks all the while about lack of information was not necessary because Nigeria could have gotten in touch with the ambassador in Saudi Arabia who was in constant touch with the President.

So, what’s your opinion on the constitutional provisions and Senate resolution  on  section 145 of the Constitution?

You see, it is a misnomer to talk of acting President. There is nothing like that in the Nigerian Constitution and the Senate acted illegally by passing a resolution to appoint Jonathan as acting President because the Nigerian Constitution has no provision for such, just as there is no provision for acting Vice President, acting governor or acting deputy governor.

The President and the Vice President are elected on the same ticket. So, automatically, when the President is not there, the Vice President becomes the President and begins to perform the functions of the President. So, it is a superfluous resolution by the Senate to make Jonathan the acting President.

You cannot put somebody in a position which does not exist in the Constitution. And even if that is allowed to sustain, it means the Nigerian Senate or Assembly is amending the Nigeria Constitution unconstitutionally.

The constitution provides ways and methods of amending the Constitution. We have a formality for that and there must be a vote to that effect and two-third of the 36 states of the federation must agree to that, and that means that 24 states of the federation must approve. If that is not done, there is nothing like acting President because the President has no such provisions.

So, under the circumstances, what are you saying about Jonathan?

Goodluck Jonathan should continue to perform the duties of the President until the President is back but not as acting President because the resolution of the Senate is totally unnecessary and uncalled for. Once the President is not there, Jonathan is the President and not the acting President and he doesn’t need any resolution from the Senate for that.

And the Senate in any case has no powers to pass that resolution. and the resolution is not enough. Resolution is just a kind of suggestion, it is not a law.

It  is the Doctrine of Necessity that informed the action of the Senate.

It is the doctrine of necessity that enabled Jonathan to be performing the functions of the President. Once, there is a clear  provision in the constitution, then, the issue of doctrine of necessity does not arise. You don’t create something that does not exist. You should understand that Goodluck Jonathan is still the Vice President and not acting President because acting president does not exist.

Jonathan is not the president. He is merely performing functions of the president. He is not acting president because that does not exist. He is still the Vice President. If Yar’Adua confirms his inability to continue in office, then , we can  be talking  of Jonathan as President. He is still the Vice President, not acting President and the Senate cannot make him acting President because it does not exist in our Constitution.

And you cannot say that President Yar’Adua is incapacitated. He is not incapacitated. He has been in  hospital, receiving treatment. And that doesn’t mean he is incapacitated. The action of the Senate is wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is illegal and it is needless. If the President is not there, automatically, the Vice President becomes the President. There is no need for any resolution for that as done by the Senate.

You cannot appoint acting President. A President is elected and a Vice President can only succeed a President who is dead or wrote a letter of resignation or cannot perform the functions of his office. And in that case, then, the Vice President will make a nomination to the Senate for a Vice President, when he becomes the President but it is not so in this case because Jonathan is still the Vice President and never acting President because there is nothing like that in  our constitution.

There was an argument that not transmitting a letter to the National Assembly before the President traveled is an impeach able offence.

I don’t agree with that. If the President does not want to write a letter, he didn’t have to do it. As the President of Nigeria, he could lead Nigeria from Saudi Arabia because even if he was taking treatment in Saudi, he is still Nigeria’s President. He can sign bills into law from Saudi, he can make appointments and pass to the National Assembly through his advisers. He did not have to be around to do that and he can ask the Vice President to do certain things.

If you look at the Nigerian Constitution regarding the performance of the acting President, you will see that the Constitution makes a provision that the powers of the federation are vested in the President and the President can execute those powers through the Vice President, through his ministers, through his advisers, the civil service and anyhow he deems it fit.

So, the North is not  cooperating with Goodluck Jonathan?

That is not true. We had a meeting today (Tuesday) and we expressed support for the Vice President. We had a resolution. You seem to forget that the Vice President was elected on the same ticket as the President. It is the media and the National Assembly that are confusing Nigerians. There is no conflict in this.

It is false to say the North is not cooperating with the Vice President. People should stop creating confusion that does not exist. He was elected on the same ticket with Yar’Adua. So, why belittle him? Why is the media belittling the Vice President that he cannot perform his functions until he becomes acting President?

He doesn’t have to be called acting President to perform duties of the President. So, the media should stop creating confusion. The North supports the Vice President.

You support the Vice President, not the acting President?

There is no such thing as the acting President. The North does not recognise that.

Is the North entertaining fears about 2011 with Jonathan on the saddle? Does the North fear it will not get Presidency 2011 if Jonathan conducts election?

That will not happen. That issue does not arise. We will not cross that bridge before getting there. It’s still some months before the election and President Yar’Adua can comeback anytime.

What if Jonathan becomes substantive President?

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is alive, not dead. How can Jonathan become substantive President? Or do you want to kill the President?

All these speculations, fears, would only be doused by President Yar’Adua speaking with Nigerians or FEC members and communicating to us. We must see him to douse all the rumours.

You cannot blame the Saudi authorities for not allowing those who went to Saudi from Nigeria to see the President. They didn’t go through the proper channel and  the Saudis don’t know who is who. And the Saudi authorities have the right to protect the President of Nigeria taking treatment in their place. Did these delegates go through the right channel? They have to protect the Nigerian President.

The media should stop creating confusion because they know the provisions of the constitution. The Senate gave a wrong resolution which it has no powers to do. There was a court ruling on this. How come  nobody is following that or applying that interpretation? The Senate or the National Assembly ought to follow the constitution.

They are not supposed to breach it. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives ought to follow the constitution. They are not supposed to violate it like they did. They are not supposed to create a position which does not exist in the constitution unless there is a constitutional  amendment done through the proper channel.

So, the North is loyal to the acting President?

The North cannot recognise the acting President because it does not exist and cannot exist without amendment of the constitution. The elected people have done the wrong thing by making Jonathan  acting President and we must acknowledge that. And these are the people who swore with the Bible and the Koran to protect and promote the constitution and yet, they did not comply with that in doing what they did.

They created an acting President that is not in the Constitution. There is nothing like  acting President, acting governor or acting local government chairman in our constitution.

When I was the governor of  Kano State, on the occasions I traveled out of Kano, I wrote letters to the Secretary  to the government to inform the House of my intentions and my deputy took over immediately from there until I returned. It was not the issue here and that is what we are saying. And anyway, Yar” Adua could return anytime to assume his responsibilities.

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