From left; Acting President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Governor Bukola Saraki, Chairman Governor's Forum and Governor Mahmud Shinkafi of Zamfara state during the NEC meeting in Abuja.

State governors have been flip-flopping on the import of the incapacitation of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua since November 23, 2009.  This report examines what their role ordinarily ought to be at a time like this but concludes that self-serving interests and the bug of myopia have combined to create a blurry vision for the state governors.  Why?  The ambition of some of them for 2011 is at stake.

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor

In 2000, there was a major issue at stake regarding the tenure of local government councils in Nigeria.  Whereas it was a simple matter of tenure, the state governors of that era made the matter appear very difficult and cumbersome.

Not minding that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, expressly states in Section 7 (1) that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils”, the state governors went ahead to dissolve their local government councils.

That was the beginning of the gross disobedience which the 1999 Constitution was to suffer and continues to suffer.  The reason for their action was simple:  Push council elections forward to such a point that whichever party is able to install council chairmen would have an easy ride for re-election in 2003.  It was this same type of self-serving agenda which made the then Action Congress, AD, state governors lose their states to Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the South West.  Their collective folly as state governors knows no denomination along party lines. Fast forward, November, 2009.  An ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is flown out of the country without transmitting a letter as stated in the same 1999 Constitution in Section 145.

That Section is clear and states as follows:
“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”. Yar’Adua did not do that.

In the very first weeks of Yar’Adua’s absence, some state governors, led by Dr. Bukola Saraki of Kwara State flew into Saudi Arabia where they said they met Yar’Adua.  They came back and told an expectant nation that Yar’Adua was doing well.  But this turned out to be untrue, a ploy to hoodwink  a nation.

But if matters had been left at that, it might not have mattered much. State governors soon began to interpret the Nigerian Constitution in such a manner that lawyers were beginning to wonder the wisdom of the actions of the state governors. Matters got to a head when the issue of the true interpretation of Sections 143, 144 and 145 refused to disappear.

The state governors lobbied members of the National Assembly not to act at all and instead leave the running of Nigeria in the hands of a few people who had constituted themselves into a cabal, dishing out instructions to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.  It was a complex nay curious web of how Yar’Adua was said to be directing the affairs of state from Saudi Arabia with his wife, Turai, and a handful of people, holding forte and, in the process, creating what some have described as an illusion of governance – some state governors were involved in all of this. After one of their meetings in December, the state governors marched on the residence of Jonathan.  But a state governor from the North East Zone was said to have lampooned Saraki, accusing him of stalling the move to get out of what had become the Yar’Adua logjam.

The meeting with Jonathan was going to be heated.  But it was Jonathan who told the state governors that he had just spoken to Yar’Adua a day before. What Sunday Vanguard was able to discover later was that Jonathan’s intervention was nothing more than a political gimmick to create some illusions.

Jonathan, Sunday Vanguard was told, understood the colour of a Governors’ Forum which had two sons-in-law of Yar’Adua.  It was for him an opportunity to play along.  Upon making the disclosure to the governors, tempers cooled. However, the governors were to launch another offensive even after the February 9, 2010, resolution of the National Assembly empowering Jonathan to serve as Acting President. The governors all but made it known to Jonathan that he could not exercise executive powers of the President.

In fact, the scheduled arrival of Yar’Adua in Nigeria, partly because of the quit order issued in Saudi Arabia to the First Family, but more, too, because some state governors who had suddenly begun to see themselves as heir apparent to the throne wanted to use the smuggling of Yar’Adua home as proof-positive that the President of Nigeria was back and, therefore, Jonathan’s acting status, was of no effect.  That was to inform the first statement issued on behalf of Yar’Adua where Jonathan was referred to as Vice President.  It was the outcry of Nigerians which caused the issuance of another statement which then referred to Jonathan as Acting President.

The state governors came out again to say that Yar’Adua will neither resign not should a medical board be instituted by the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, to ascertain the health status of Yar’Adua.  They even carried the effrontery very far by saying nothing can remove Yar’Adua until the elections of next year.

To be sure, this is a position of the governors’ forum and not merely that of PDP state governors. Some of the state governors are looking for the opportunity of a second term while those who are finishing their tenure are not yet sure what fate awaits them. It is yet uncertain what the state governors want but at the end of the day, it is no more than a self-serving agenda,
Govs react …

Disturbed by the gale of public and media condemnation of their action, the Governors’ Forum reacting through its chairman, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said their motive was all about “the survival of our democracy”.
Dr. Saraki in a full page advert said:
“In the days leading to the proclamation of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, a cloud of fear and uncertainty hovered over the country. The complexity of the situation we have found ourselves had thrown everyone into a state of confusion.

“At the time, it was not certain if the constitution envisaged such a situation. No one was sure if the solution prescribed by the constitution was sufficient to resolve the problem.  It was obvious, however, that the solution we needed at the time was more political than legal.

This gave birth to what is now known as the ‘doctrine of necessity’, which may not have been 100% faithful to the letters of the constitution . We are glad to note that the action has doused the swelling tension and Nigerians are happy to move on again.

“It is important not to forget that the process that culminated in the so-called ‘doctrine of necessity’ adopted by the National Assembly was started by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which met to take the position that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan should be declared the Acting President. “It was the NGF that actively lobbied their various representatives in the National Assembly to convince them on the need to go that way.  They did, and the nation was relieved and everyone, saluted the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for rising above divergent partisan interests of its members to do what was best for Nigeria.

“The call for the Acting President to be declared the substantive president can neither be denied nor denounced in view of the uncertainty that still pervades the health of Mr. President.  However, as in the previous occasion, this is another untested area in this country. It is therefore an issue that calls for extreme caution and care in the interest of the country. “The Governors recognise the enormity of their responsibility to the Nigerian nation.

This is why they have not only intervened in critical and difficult moments, but have done so at the appropriate time too. And this is, why it is yet again possible for the Governors to rise above partisan interests and loyalty to vote for what is best for Nigeria and Nigerians.  We have no doubt that if, as the editorial suggested, the interest being served in this process is either that of PDP or self-interests as one or two persons in the Forum, such consensus would not be so easily forged. “We live in extra-ordinary times. Opinions are bound to differ, motives are bound to be questioned and, intentions are bound to be suspected.

Inspite of all these, patriotism and national interests must be placed above sentiments and self-preservation. This is the time that all those who have found themselves in leadership position, whether in government or in the civil society, must all rise to the occasion and play their parts in putting country above partisan, self-serving and populist interests.  Neither the fear of misunderstanding nor the fear of misrepresentation must be allowed to dissuade us from embracing the challenges of leadership.


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