Yar'Adua Government Setting Dangerous Precedent, Says Duke
Two former colleagues of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who served as governors along with him between 1999 and 2007, Mr. Donald Duke of Cross River State and Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto State yesterday reviewed the state of the nation and concluded that some of the measures taken so far by the presidency in response to the absence of the President from the country on health grounds are setting dangerous precedents.
Duke identified some of the wrong measures to include the statement by Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) that the President can rule the country from anywhere; the decision of the administration to make the out-going Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi to swear-in his successor, Justice Alloysus Katsina-Alu and the refusal of Vice President Jonathan Goodluck to effectively take charge of the administration in the absence of President Yar'Adua.
Also, Bafarawa dismissed the calls for special prayers for Yar'Adua and said instead what the president needs is quality advice that will make him abide by the oath of office which mandates him to ask his deputy, Vice President Goodluck to act for him in his absence.
“This is a dangerous precedent…The Chief Justice of Nigeria swears-in his successor. In line with the doctrine of separation of powers, the head of an arm of government does not swear in his successor in the same branch. The Chief Justice swears in the president who in turn swears in every other member of the executive arm and vice versa.
“But now a precedent has been set. Perhaps, a president in future may swear in his own successor. Even the legislative arm requires a proclamation signed by the President before it commences sitting in accordance with section 64 (3) of our constitution. But moving beyond that, institutions are breaking down and the National Assembly is unable to even ask the right questions but has the temerity to threaten the United States. What a joke!” he said.
Duke noted that the 1999 constitution did not foresee the current situation that the President of the Republic would travel out for so long a time and that government officials like Aondoakaa would exploit the lacuna to create confusion in the administration.
“When there is no provision in the constitution, conventions take over and the convention is that the President will govern from his home country, preferably from the capital.
“But when the Federal Attorney-General tells us that the President can rule from anywhere, that is an insult to us as Nigerians. Medical records (of the President) are sought and he says he can't produce them because the President is a private citizen. But the President is a Public figure who is paid by the tax payers. So, all these things are happening and nobody or institution is able to call the attorney-General to questions,” he said.
The former governor said the effects of the maladministration following the absence of the president from the country are becoming glaring as manifested in the blacklisting of Nigeria by the United States in the aftermath of the Abdulmutallab attempted airline bombing incident.
He blamed Vice President Goodluck for not exercising the authority of his office as the man who should naturally take control in the absence of the President, irrespective of any formality being alluded to by some government officials.
“Vice President Goodluck Jonathan's position confuses me because his duty is to stand in the gap when the President is unavailable but he says he is waiting for a letter. What if something happens and the President loses consciousness and cannot read nor write? This letter business is a courtesy and formality to the National Assembly…The issue of stepping-in does not arise because as vice president, he is already in,” he said.
He said it was contradictory that members of the Federal Executive Council were awarding contracts during their meeting presided by the vice president but when it concerns other substantial state issues, the issue of the vice president not having full executive powers would be raised.
“Decisions are being taken but they are selective. In the situation that occurred on December 25, 2009, the vice president ought, immediately to have sought audience with the US ambassador and the vice president of the United States. This would have commenced the process of engagement but we sit back and do nothing.
“Regardless of whatever circumstance we find ourselves, the state must run. When President Bush went in for a routine colonoscopy, anxiety of state was ceded to vice president Dick Cheney. In an interview, former vice president Dan Quayle states an instance where he ordered an air strike against Saddam who had breached the no-fly zone while President George Bush Snr. was airborne and couldn't be reached,” Duke said.
He also chided the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for not speaking out in defence of national interest while seeking to pander to the individual interest of President Yar'Adua.
Meanwhile, Bafarawa in an interview with THISDAY said the only way to avoid the looming constitutional crisis thrown up by the absence of the president from the country for several weeks is for Yar'Adua to follow the guideline in the constitution which required him to instruct his vice to act on his behalf without further delay. He said prayers alone cannot avert the attendant confusion the present scenario could bring.
“As the president and as a Muslim, he took the Holy Quran and swore that he is going to abide by the constitution.
“The only thing he needs is that people who are asking for prayers should also advise him to abide by the oath of office of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria so that he can ask Jonathan to act in his absence. But for him not to do that and Nigerians are still asking for prayer, people should not misinterprete issues,” he said.
He said contrary to the claim by some government officials that the president's absence from the country does not affect governance, Nigerians are already feeling the impact of the president's health condition which has kept him away from the country.
“Yar'Adua is a national property. If Yar'Adua is sick, the nation is sick. In the last 35 days that he is sick, you can imagine how many Nigerians who are in the hospital in millions looking for attention. Maybe it is because the budget had not been signed or whatever it is, they are suffering there,” Bafarawa said.
He said the controversy over the signing of the 2010 budget by the President on his sick bed wouldn't have arisen, had the event been recorded on video and shown to Nigerians.
He said: “When he was signing the bill, in order to give Nigerians the impression that Mr. President is feeling better, they should have brought camera people to record him while he was signing that supplementary budget so that we can feel happy that our president is feeling fine and all the rumours we are hearing is not true.”
The former governor said there is no truth in the speculation that a certain part of the country does not want Jonathan as acting President.
According to him, there is no cause for fear because the constitution has made it difficult for any part of the country to take others to ransom.
“What is the fear? This is democracy. Even if the President wants to do anything, he will take the matter to the National Assembly. The Southerners are there. The Northerners are there to approve it. The president doesn't have any executive power per say without getting the consent of the national assembly.
“When we are talking of north and south, it is not a question of north. What we are looking for is good leadership,” he said.
He recalled that a document asking the president to resign based on his health condition was signed by 53 people drawn from all parts of the country including the north.
“Even the letter, which was signed by 53 people (calling on him to resign), it's not only the southern people that signed the letter.
There are a million of northerners whom I know that have the same ideology and belief that he should act as prescribed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, I don't want this thing to create problem between North and South,” he said.