April 8, 2010

What happens if Yar’Adua returns?

By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Pol. Editor
The widely reported visits by religious clerics to ailing President Umar Yar’Adua has generated  a fresh round of controversy over  the status of his health. The Islamic clerics who went first confirmed that they met the President and told the nation that even though he could not talk, he prayed with them. They assured the nation that Yar’Adua would soon resume duty.

Already the visit of the clerics has been generating tension in political circles across the country.  The question  that has been asked in many quarters is : “ Why is it that the Acting President and other political leaders who had expressed their desire to visit Yar’Adua had been disallowed from seeing him but clerics were invited to visit him”.

Media reports early in the week indicated that many members of the National Assembly were not happy over the recent the visits. It was also reported that  Senators belonging to the National Interest group ( NIG)  are  already agitating that the leadership of the National Assembly should also be allowed to visit Yar’Adua.

Observers of the political situation in the country have opined that if the leadership of the federal legislature formally demand to see the President and they are allowed access to him, it may be the end of   the controversy  if  they confirm that he is fit to continue in office. However, if the leadership of the National Assembly is not allowed to see the ailing President, this could be considered as a slight  on the law-makers  by  Yar’Adua’s handlers. It has been pointed out that such a development would not augur well for the ailing president’s kitchen cabinet as it could make the legislators angry that their importance is not being recognized.

Analysts have argued that if this happens, the National Assembly may decide  to wield its big stick and exercise  its oversight powers over the Presidency. Indeed, the 1999 Constitution empowers the President of the Senate to set up a medical panel that will examine the health of the President or that of the Vice-President.

Section 144  of the constitution which deals with declaration of the President or Vice-President as incapacitated states in subsection 4 “ The Medical Panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria- (a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of  the holder of the office concerned; (b) four other medical practitioners who have in the opinion of the President of the Senate attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of  the examination to be conducted in accordance with the fore-going provisions.

However, the same section of the constitution provides  a role for the Executive Council of the Federation.  In subsection (1) it states that : “ The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office if :  (a)By a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of  members of the Executive Council of the Federation, it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and the declaration is verified as may be necessary by a medical panel established under sub-section (4) of this section  in its report to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of  Representatives.

Indeed, the section gives the leadership of the National Assembly the ultimate power to declare the President or Vice-President incapacitated.

Section (2) of the same section further stipulates that: “Where the Medical Panel states  in the report  that  in its opinion, the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of Senate and  Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the official gazette of the Government of the Federation.

In sub-section (3) it states that: “The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to sub-section (2) of this section.”

This notwithstanding, the stage seemed to have been set for the exercise which would bring Yar’Adua’s era in office to a close. An Abuja High presided over by Justice Anwuri Chikere   last Tuesday  ruled that the Borno State Governorship aspirant of the Democratic Peoples party ( DPP) Alhaji Bukar Al-Amin  and  one Max Ozoaka could commence moves of declaring Yar’Adua incapacitated in line with constitutional provisions through the EXCOF.

The Judge specifically gave leave for the two applicants to apply an order of mandamus for Yar’Adua’s removal on the grounds that he is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. Their prayer is for the court  to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) to convene a meeting of the EXCOF for the purpose of considering and passing a resolution declaring Yar’Adua incapable of discharging the functions of his office. The applicants had earlier prayed the court for an order of injunction compelling the responden
ts to carry out and discharge the duty imposed on them by provisions of section 144 of  the constitution.

Nevertheless, Yar’Adua may spring a surprise after all. There are rumours that he might recover soon and resume duties as President of the nation. This was the view of the muslim clerics who visited him last week. They expressed the belief that his health had improved tremendously.

Chairman of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties ( CNPP)  and former Governor of Kaduna State Alhaji Balarabe Musa told Vanguard in a telephone interview  last Wednesday  that Yar’Adua could just return to his office and resume duty without anybody stopping him adding that he did not even need to grant an interview or address a press conference before doing so. However, he observed that this would constitute another breach  of the constitution since the law provides that he should write a letter informing the Senate President of his resumption of duty.

Said he: “Legally President Yar’Adua could come back and resume duty at anytime without any formalities; even without informing the National Assembly as he did when he traveled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. But the implication of this is that the National Assembly would have additional reason for impeaching him on the ground of gross misconduct.” .

However, the President of Nigeria Bar Association ( NBA) Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu does not share Musa’s views. He maintained that it would be insufficient for Yar’Adua to simply write the National assembly or grant another interview to indicate he had recovered and was ready to resume duty. He insisted that he must appear in the public and be seen before he could resume duty.

Another Lagos lawyer Mr Tayo Oyetibo, dismissed the idea of a rejuvenated Yar’Adua resuming duty after merely granting another BBC-type of interview. He maintained that the nation had gone beyond that stage. He stated that the National Security  Adviser Gen. Aliyu Gusau (rtd). ought to have determined the true health status of Yar’Adua by now instead of allowing a tiny clique to continue to undermine the security of the nation.