Averting a grave constitutional crisis: An open letter to the FEC

President Umaru Yar’Adua has been a patient in a foreign hospital since 23 November, 2009. The day before he left, a public statement by the Presidency announced the President would travel to Saudi Arabia for a medical review. 48 hours later, the President was rumored dead. In response to the rumor, the President’s personal physician informed Nigerians he was being treated for “acute Pericarditis”.

This is how Nigerians learnt that the President had, in fact, been evacuated for medical attention abroad. 
No one has yet credibly confirmed to Nigerians the diagnosis that detains our President overseas. His prognosis is undisclosed. No one is
sure when or how he will return.
Since the President was medically evacuated, the public officials that he left behind have served him and Nigerians disreputably. Some
of them have claimed that they are in regular contact with him in hospital. Others have claimed knowledge of when he will return.
These claims are false. It is now reasonably clear that no one except the attending medical professionals and the President’s closest
family members have had access to him since his medical evacuation.
Their relationship with him is confidential. The prolonged absence of the President from the country and the mismanagement of public communication on his health by the federal government undermine the principles of constitutional and accountable governance.
As long as he leads the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President’s state of health is a matter of utmost public interest and national
well-being, which should be managed with utmost responsibility. This requires balancing the clinical needs of the patient and the well being
of the people he leads. 

While the President remains a patient in hospital, it is proper to respect the confidentiality of his relationship with his attending doctors and allow him and his family the loving care and professional attention his condition merits. We wish him full recovery..
Yet, few things, if any, demand greater accountability to Nigerians than the state of health or ill-health of the President.

Mr. President’s handlers do not do him or the country any good by harping repeatedly on religious sentiments or the universality of illness.
People of faith and goodwill have every right to pray for their President and country but public officers whose avowed preoccupation in
situation is prayer cannot be trusted to be of goodwill.

They could also be praying to hijack the levers of power.
The Federal Attorney-General is tragically and hopelessly mistaken in arguing that Presidential power can be exercised irrespective of the
President’s location or his state of health. He is wrong. 

While he remains our President, the country deserves candid disclosure as to his condition and prognosis. Credible information on the President’s condition is unavailable as are any images of the President since his evacuation. The inference must be that his
condition could be quite grave.
The people have the right to know whether their President is still able to provide effective governance. It now appears that there is a
determined effort to prevent us from knowing. 

Prior to his medical evacuation, the President did not transmit or execute any instrument temporarily transferring the powers of his
office to the Vice-President. As a result, Nigeria suffers an extraordinary leadership vacuum. Many public officers are profiting
from this vacuum, acting illegally and praying that it continues interminably. This must end.
The country deserves to know whether the President in fact has the cognitive capacities to delegate functions, instruct his appointees or,
indeed, execute a temporary transfer of the powers of his office.

If he does not, our country could be in uncharted constitutional territory.
Section 144 of the Constitution saddles the Federal Executive Council (FEC) with an exceptional responsibility. We understand the
natural reluctance of members of the FEC, as appointees of the President, to consider whether or not their benefactor is capable of
exercising the functions of his office. But inaction in the current situation is the ultimate act of betrayal of the President. It is also
treasonable because it causes grave danger to the constitutional order over which he presides and under which we are governed.
To avert this, we propose that the FEC should authorise as a matter of utmost national priority a seven-person official delegation to visit
Saudi Arabia to dispassionately verify the clinical condition of the

The delegation should comprise:
 a) the Secretary to the Federal Government as the head;
b) the National Security Adviser;
c) the Personal Physician to the President;
d) the Minister of Health;
e) two medical experts designated by the Nigerian Medical Association; and
f) an expert on medical law nominated by the Nigerian Bar Association.
This delegation should report in writing on its findings to the FEC and to both Chambers of the National Assembly within 12 hours of its
return to Nigeria. The submission of this report should trigger an emergency meeting of the FEC and, if necessary, an emergency joint
session of the National Assembly.

It will give the country the facts we need to find our way through this crisis.
We put forward these proposals in the belief that the situation our country confronts calls for principled commitment to the values of our
constitution and non-partisan defence of the well-being of its people.

Written by Sam Amadi, Bamidele Aturu, Salihu Lukman, Chidi Odinkalu & Uche Onyeagocha