BY CHARLES KUMOLU
The proclamation of state of emergency in three states without the removal of the governors of the affected states is a break from the tradition of the past.
Tuesday declaration of a state of emergency in three states was not a surprise given the descent to anarchy in the affected sections of the northeast.
What has surprised some is the decision to allow the executive governors of the affected states of Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa remain in their respective positions as chief executives.
This development is currently generating mixed feelings in the polity, given that not a few had wanted the governors replaced by Sole Administrators.
While some have argued that the President deserves commendation for acting within the ambit of the constitution by not removing the elected governors, others believe that allowing the chief executives to remain, has made mockery of the move.
In fact, it is the belief of the antagonists of the decision, that allowing the governors to stay during the emergency period, would be counter productive.
This is predicated on the arguments that the affected states, easily transformed into theatres of war in the presence of the governors, who were supposed to be the chief security officers of the states.
Guidelines for the removal of govs: That section 305 of the 1999 constitution where Jonathan derived his powers from, is silent on the removal of elected state governors, does not seem to make any sense to a large section of the county that wanted a change of baton within the emergency period.
Same as the fact that Section 188 and 189 of the constitution, provided guidelines for the removal of governors, which include impeachment due to gross misconduct; incapacitation as a result of illness and death.
Findings however, revealed that the historical precedents of removing state governors any time a state of emergency is declared, might have informed the divided opinion trailing the president’s refusal to follow the precedent set by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
For instance, the first time the nation experienced a state of emergency was in 1962 when the then prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa proclaimed emergency rule in the troubled Western Region. When he declared the proclamation, he ordered the removal of the then premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Akintola and the appointment of Dr. Moses Majekodunmi, then the Federal Minister of Health as Sole Administrator.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo the leader of the Action Group and of the opposition in the federal parliament railed against the decision, describing it as a dangerous precedent.
“A dangerous precedent is being set in this country. I warn the prime minister, who has been a faithful custodian of our constitution, to see that the precedence is not allowed to be created,’’ Awolowo said on the floor of the House of Representatives on May 29, 1962.Relatedly, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had on May 18, 2004, declared a state of emergency in Plateau State following sectarian crisis that claimed hundreds of lives and left many homeless.
Awolowo’s warning/ historical precedent
The highpoint of that move, was the suspension of the state governor and other democratic institutions. “The Governor and his deputy, by this declaration will go on suspension and cease to be in charge of the affairs of Plateau State for six months in the first instance. An administrator to manage the affairs of Plateau State in the person of retired General Chris Ali is hereby nominated,” Obasanjo said in his broadcast.
He also said, “The Plateau State House of Assembly also goes on suspension as the formal legislative body of the state, with immediate effect. Having a State Assembly in position under a state of emergency is incongruous and may not allow for the expeditious actions that the administrator will need to put the state back into a situation of peace, harmony, security for all, and maintenance of law and order throughout the state. Elected officials below the state level are not suspended. The federal gazette containing the declaration has been forwarded to the National Assembly in accordance with the constitution.’’
Ekiti was the next state to experience emergency rule. Obasanjo on October 19, 2006 declared a state of emergency in the state in order to “ensure that peace and orderliness returned to the state,” following a power tussle in the state triggered by the impeachment of the state governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose.
Like Plateau, the governor or acting governor in that case was removed while the State House of Assembly was also suspended and appointed a retired Major General, Tunji Olurin as administrator of the state.
The twin actions by the President triggered off criticisms particularly from those, who argued that Obasanjo lacked the constitutional authority to do so. For instance, Chief F.R.A Williams while lampooning Obasanjo on the Plateau matter on May 22, 2004, said, ‘’The major topic upon which I intend to address is the unconstitutionality and illegality of suspending the office of the Governor of a State or of suspending the House of Assembly of the State. There is no provision contained in any part of our Constitution which confers such a power on the President,’’ the legal luminary stated.
He also said, ‘’ It is a contradiction of all known principles of true federation operating in a democratic society. The Governor is elected by the people of the state. So are the members of the House of Assembly. It was a recognition of these facts that informed the provisions inserted in our Constitution relating to the exercise of emergency powers.’’
Till this moment, analysts have not stopped describing the replacement of the elected legislative houses and executive authorities in those states as an infamous move.
That explains why the President’s decision to allow the governors remain, seems to be attracting kudos even from his critics, despite the growing discontent over the matter.
Speaking in that regard, Human rights activist Mr. Femi Falana ,SAN, said, ‘’ President Jonathan deserves commendation for acting within the ambit of the constitution. Unlike President Olusegun Obasanjo who illegally removed elected governors under the guise of a state of emergency, President Jonathan has not dissolved democratic structures in the affected states. That is in order because an elected governor can only be removed by impeachment, resignation or on ground of infirmity of body or mind and NOT through a state of emergency.’’
What the constitution says
305(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by instrument published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation issue a Proclamation of a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof.