MOMOH: Nigerians Need A Working President, Not A Sick One

WHAT is your position on the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua from the country and the controversy surrounding his health and the presidency?

The President is the centrepiece of the entity, Nigeria. He’s the embodiment of the country’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that he’s the President. You cannot separate the President from his job. It is because the job is there to be done that the Nigerian people put someone there to do the job. The pre-condition, therefore, is that the job must be done. But if that work is not being done or properly done, for one reason or the other, the options are very clear; it’s either you are defeated in an election, you resign or you die. Those are the ways of leaving office.

The truth is that we all know that our President is sick and every Nigerian is concerned about that illness. But we want a President who works and not a President who is sick.

But what type of sickness does our President have? Is it the one that will capacitate him forever; in which case he must have to resign or the one that enables him to come back to work when he is well or he must have to handover to the Vice President?

He can handover to the Vice President but the time the Vice President will continue to act, as the President, is not defined by the Constitution. So, we cannot say that if the President hands over to the Vice President and the Vice President is there for three months and the President has not returned that the Vice President automatically becomes the President.

The Vice President merely becomes Acting President when the President has written to the leadership of the two Houses of the National Assembly – the Senate President and the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives. And until he writes again that he is back, the Vice President remains the Acting President, performing all the duties of the President.

The proper thing to do now is for the President to write a letter and then the Vice President will become the Acting President. That is designation of constitutional duties. The one on resignation is needed for him, the President, to go and take care of his health.

However, we have not heard the details of that health. If it is a curable disease, the best option is to handover to the Vice President. That is the latest option. The Vice President can act the unexpired term so that the President can take care of himself.

There is so much pre-occupation about the President’s access because of his health and not just because he is not working. Even if he is well and comes to Aso Rock and he is not working, then that pre-occupation discussion would be three. So, the best thing is to take care of his health and the health of Nigeria is for him to hand over to the Vice President, not necessarily to resign. Of course, if he discovers that he cannot cope, then he should resign.

But feelers from the President’s Saudi Arabia hospital are that he’s not in a position to write. And even if he can write, is it fair to ask him to do so on his sick bed?

He does not have to sign anything; he can give instructions for communication to go to the National Assembly. Besides, who says he cannot write or sign?

In some instance, you hear he cannot talk; in another, you hear he can talk. That is the tragedy. The tragedy is that we were never told that he was not talking. To tell us that he can now talk will only promote rumours.

The truth is that we have managed information surrounding the health of President Yar’Adua very poorly. In other jurisdictions, you have day by day reports on the state of the President’s health. Even when former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was ill, this kind of insidious information management did not take place. You have to tell the people what and what is really happening.

Yes, you are not supposed to give as much detail so as not to make the people to panic, but the truth is that you should give as much detail as possible so that the people will know that the man is not just well. You cannot just say the man is recuperating; what does that mean? If he’s recuperating, is he recuperating enough to come to work? He’s in the office because he has to work. He’s not there because he has to sleep.

As a former Minister of Information, do you think information flow regarding the President’s health is handled well, especially by the Minister of Information and Communications?

Let me tell you, the Minister of Information is not in the inner Cabinet of the President and not responsible, in strict sense, for information on the President’s activities. That’s one mistake many people make.

When I was the Minister of Information, I was responsible for the country’s image. And I was also responsible for the Presidency, not the President. The Special Adviser on Information, Duro Onabule, was directly responsible for the President’s image and not the country’s image. So, we could work together in harmony without quarrelling.

In this case, the person who is responsible for President Yar’Adua’s image is the President’s spokesman, Segun Adeniyi. And he’s the one we should ask and not the Minister of Information.

But the unfortunate thing is that Adeniyi cannot know what he’s not told. He can only give out information on what he has access to. If he does not have access to certain information, he cannot give it. And there is no way he can be telling Nigerians that ‘I’m sorry, I have not been told.’ That will mean there is no organisation internally. The whole thing is a problem of organisation.

We have this insular arrangement at the presidency where the President himself was not prepared for the position and he had to move to Abuja and the only people he trusted were the people he moved with to Abuja. These are those who worked with him in Katsina, and these people, in fairness, may not be that exposed.

So, you see this insular approach to rulership, which is not healthy. Incidentally, nobody can rise above his or her level of enlightenment. If you think that your Local Government is the centre of the universe and there are no other place outside and then you later discovered that there are other places outside; that will only expand your horizon, but not necessarily cure the defect in understanding others.

There has been argument that, for the sake of national interest, everything about the President’s health may not be published. Where do you place such line of thought?

You are not protecting any office when you say the President is not sick whereas he’s sick. When you are giving out information, you give information in such a way that you don’t cause panic. But you don’t deny the truth.

How you walk the tight rope determines what the people do. If, for instance, you say the man is not sick, that he went for Ummrah and then later, Ummrah is over and he does not come back and you later hear the man is in a hospital receiving treatment, then you are not managing the information properly.

The last time, we were told the President was going for medical check up. That is adequate information. Later, ‘he is suffering from one, two, three ailments.’ That is also adequate information. Then what the doctors are doing. But what is the present status?

The other day, they said he was coming back on Friday and that he would even speak to the people. But he did not come. Now, the rumour mill seems busier. So, it is all about adequate information.

But it is not the Minister of Information that we should ask about the President’s health. Though she can talk, but that information should flow from the person in the inner cabinet or in the household.

Who is supposed to be holding fort for President Yar’Adua: his Vice President or the Federal Executive Council (FEC)? What is your advice to those holding fort for him?

No one is holding fort for President Yar’Adua. There is only one President at a time. All the bucks stop on his stable. I heard that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, is saying that the President can rule from anywhere in the world, and I denied it. He did not say so; he could not have said so. He must have been misquoted or something.

It is true Mr. President can take decisions in anywhere he is because the President is a person like you and me. But there are no two Presidents. He cannot relocate to the Caribbean or the Scandinavian countries or to Tokyo and start ruling from there. He cannot stay in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, for two weeks and be ruling from there. No way!

Consultations, which he must tend to on a daily basis, number at least a dozen. Routine consultations like security situation, economic situation. In fact, all the security heads report to the President on daily basis. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when he was in power, was having about 25 of such meetings. There were times he would have up to 30 engagements in a day and then dinner meetings.

The work of a President in Nigeria is very heavy. There are 93 areas where the National Assembly makes laws on the Exclusive List and the Concurrent List. And then there are about 43 areas where the President executes laws. It’s a very top-heavy thing in our federation; even those who are not sick cannot cope.

From the look of things on your end, what has been the cost to the country of President Yar’Adua’s absence?

Every second counts in the tenure of a President. Every second lost, every minute lost, every hour lost, every day lost, every week lost, there are areas where decisions are not taken. It is a dent on the nation’s economy and even on the nation’s psyche.

What should be the most reasonable option out of the dilemma?

The President is the President of the country and you can only have one at a time. His tenure ends in 2011 and nobody can deny that. As I said, there are ways of leaving the office. It is either:


    • He dies, but he is not dead yet; he remains our President and we pray that he lives long;


    • He resigns, but he does not have to do that unless the illness is terminal and the possibility of coming back does not arise anymore; or


  • He hands over to another person to act for him. That is the most advisable option now.

    If he hands over by reaching out to the National Assembly, then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan becomes the Acting President and can perform all the roles of the President, without dictation from anybody or consulting with the President who is on leave.

    He performs the duties of the President totally for that period the President is away. But when the President comes back and he is well enough, then, of course, the President takes over by writing to the National Assembly again.

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