OKECHUKWU: By Not Writing National Assembly On His Trip, President Violates Rule Of Law
BESIDES arguments that he might have breached the Constitution, what does the nation stand to lose by the continuous absence of Mr. President?
First and foremost, we have to categorize the unintended consequences. Governance stems from the confidence and the moral of the country. His absence has lowered the confidence of both local and international participants in whatever the Nigeria-State can provide.
The moral might be symbolic; it might not be substantial. But on the symbolic plane, it has seriously affected us. To the extent that a lot of issues that happen internationally like the Commonwealth summit that ended recently in Trinidad and Tobago, where most Heads of State, Prime Ministers of Presidents of the Commonwealth backgrounds participated, we are found wanting.
And think of the UN General Assembly before it, where even the President of America had a programme that included a one-on-one with the Nigerian President. Then there is the Summit on Climate Change that is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a country like Nigeria has a stake on what the outcome will be. These are what people can call symbolic or international plane.
On the substance, a few days away, the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) will retire fully. The President of the Court of Appeal has already retired. All these require confirmation. Their names have gone to the Senate and the upper legislative chamber has in fact, confirmed them and they require a presidential signature that will be gazetted before their swearing-in. That will not be done now.
The supplementary budget of 2009, with a heavy content of appropriated funds meant to address the post-amnesty programme, has been passed by the National Assembly but it requires a presidential assent to become a law. That is not the case now. In fact, it is one agitation by the ex-militants.
These are substantial unintended consequences of not simply transmitting a letter to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as provided by the framers of that Constitution. They envisaged that the President sometimes has to take a vacation and might be ill, since he is a human being.
So, as I said, it is on two legs: the symbolic and substantial aspects. If eventually he (Yar’Adua) didn’t come back (in time) and the 2010 budget is passed by the National Assembly, it will also remain in abeyance. The National Council of State was to meet; it didn’t meet. Even the Federal Executive Council that has been meeting is illegal because under Section 148 (of the Constitution), it is the President that convenes that Council.
And it shows that we do not yet possess the frame of mind to follow the due process of the law. The Constitution that created the President goes ahead under the 7th Schedule to provide him to take an oath of office, to uphold, protect this same Constitution. It’s not for you to decide which one to adhere to or avail yourself of Section 145 or any section for that matter.
The idea is that you are supposed to or shall, in fact, follow the Constitution as it is until you amend it. And the issue of the President is very vital because under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, the executive powers of the federation is vested in only one man, the President, which he can delegate to the Vice President, Ministers or anybody of his choice in this country.
That is why it became important that if he (President) had transmitted the letter, the VP could have started acting as a President and be conferred with the powers under Section 5. It’s not what the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ahmed Yayale, was saying; that issues that require his (Yar’Adua’s) approval would be taken to him. And you now ask yourself, let’s see them take the 2009 supplementary budget to him to assent to.
WHY do you think this important element in the Constitution was by-passed?
We wish Mr. President a speedy recovery; but remember that this is not the first time in the past two and a half years that he has been in power that President Umaru Yar’Adua had deliberately violated section 145. Whatever might be, why he didn’t (transmit that notice) is not our own to know but we say it is highly detrimental and antithetical to the growth of our democracy.
For a regime that prides itself as practising the rule, that its mantra is the rule; we had expected that the Attorney General of the Federation that serves as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, would remind Mr. President to avail himself of that section. There could not have been any concern or any controversy about his going into the hospital or his recuperation; nobody could have remembered. And the law provides that when he fully recovers, he comes back to his seat.
So, for anybody to start making imputations that he might come back and be refused the seat is not envisaged by the Constitution; it is a stranger to that Constitution. All he needs to do if he recovers, he comes back from the leave and writes to the National Assembly to say, ‘I’m back and he reclaims his mandate’.
Was there any instance, under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration, when the President had to go away for such a long time without properly transmitting the instrument of authority to the Vice President?
On the first note, what we were taught in English Language in the primary school was not about comparing bad and good. So, that reference does not justify any act. And going through as well into the details of Obasanjo’s movements, we had not known of any time he stayed over or he told this country that he was going on a vacation or that he was ill. His claims had always been official tours and we don’t know of any time he stayed up to a week in a particular tour or two weeks or one month; we had no idea about that.
The analogy does not actually hold water because, even if there was such a breach of Section 145 by former President Obasanjo, that does not justify a repeat performance. We should be advancing and not retrogressing.
But clearly, I could not remember a day Obasanjo told the Nigerian people he was going on leave or hospital. The claims he made, as documented by the late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), were about 400 trips abroad, which Obasanjo said were official. So, the two analogies cannot be the same.
The growth of democracy should be improving and not retrogressing to the extent of trying to paint the image of the country in bad light; to view us as law breakers and as people, who have little regards for the provisions of the Constitution that Mr. President swore to uphold, defend and protect.
Even if there is any similarity of analogy, I do not see any. As a journalist, if you are sick, you will not be as capable as when you are not sick. And if you are sick, the proper thing to do is to beg your employers to give you leave to take care of yourself and when you are okay, you come back. You do not expect that while you are on sick bed, somebody will bring you one article or one assignment for you to do or one interview to talk to a subject. You will not like to entertain that.
So, anybody who encourages President Yar’Adua to be burdened with state matters is first of all, his enemy, as a person. The person is mischievous, self-serving. It is the person that does not want the man to take out time to take care of himself, fully recover and come back to his seat. Why should he be taking papers to him and be telling him that the road going from Katsina to Maiduguri; the one from Calabar to Port Harcourt and from Ibadan to Ilorin have not been repaired. He does not require such yet.
Even on personal ground, the framers of the Constitution and its spirit and letters, envisaged that we are all human beings. That sometimes, we are entitled to a vacation; sometimes, we are entitled to be sick. And that was why such provisions were made.
As we said, the consequence of the President not handing over to the Vice President are that it made Nigeria looks stupid, internationally; it made us look like law breakers. It corrupted our image that had been dented for a long time; it made us lose enormously.
In the international community, we didn’t honour some obligations that we were supposed to honour. Some oil blocks had expired, and the oil companies had not seen anybody to dot the lines on the Nigerian side.
So, these are consequences.