Odumakin: I do not see FEC, NASS doing the needful regarding section 144
What is your take on the controversy surrounding the absence of the president?
Here is nothing wrong with anybody being sick, as we are all mortal. And it would be wrong for anybody to wish another human being dead because he is ill. As Pastor Tunde Bakare would say, only God knows who will die first between the patient in the Intensive Care Unit and the Doctor treating him. I think what has brought about so much controversy about the absence of the President from the country since January is the primitive approach with which his aides have been handling the issue. Instead of them coming straight to inform Nigerians on the true state of Mr. President’s health, they were doing otherwise, which generated empathy for the leader of the country.
The manner they handled the issue whipped up anger. They told the nation lies upon lies. First they said he was going on a 10- day vacation during which he would do his medical routine. He left about four days ahead of the scheduled time.
Next they said he would not return at the end 10 days, which he ought to have come back because he had to wait for some medical reports. It took 22 days for those reports to come. The details of those reports have now necessitated an indefinite stay in London.
In between these were all sorts of photo exhibitions, assurances from guided tourists that the president is hale, hearty and witty. Yet he didn’t return to do the job for which he is elected. The only reason why there has not been the kind of reaction we had when the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua’s handlers staged low quality film, was speaking was because the President did the most sensible thing by handing over power to his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo before he left the country. This is the only difference between the two episodes.
Do you think section 144 of the constitution can work out in this circumstance?
I don’t see section 144, which deals with setting up a medical board easily coming to play in this circumstance. First, the leadership of the National Assembly that should activate that section is already part of the London Safari. It was actually “hale and hearty” until the Senate President added “witty”. On what basis can the same people now activate section 144 for a “hale, hearty and witty” man? Even if they were not part of the show, they must first receive a letter from 2/3 of members of the Federal Executive Council, to the effect that the President is unfit and this can never happen in Nigeria, even for a president that is certified dead. But beyond that is the clumsiness of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 144 talks of constituting a medical board to examine the health of a sick President, but section 145 says once a president transmits a letter to the National Assembly that he would not be around, the Vice President would act for him until he sends a contrary message.
Therefore, a President can send a letter to the National Assembly a week after his inauguration, take a new wife on cruise and return on the day his tenure would end without committing any offence, as per section 145. It does not say how long he can be away for. It is worded as if the President is a sole owner of a supermarket.
Do you foresee any stalemate in the country over this issue?
The only stalemate I foresee is the power tussle that will ensue if he tarried longer than necessary, as the cabal would now see this as an opportunity to run a superior parallel government in the absence of the President. There would be a lot of “as previously approved by the president.” There would be many “the president said “ what he did not say. They would put his signature on blank sheets and begin to fill in what suits their fancies. And they would be saying he would arrive very soon, so the Acting President would not be independent in his actions. Ultimately, this would factionalise the government with internecine battle for control, ensuing and leading to a fractured polity.
Do you trust the party, National Assembly, FEC to do the needful?
Politics would never allow the party, FEC and the National Assembly to move near section 144. The absence of nationhood complicates issues. The mentality of “it is our turn” or “it is our power “ would so much heat the polity in a situation where it becomes necessary to do the needful, though we pray it doesn’t get to that.