Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, attorney- general of the federation and minister of justice, has been in the vanguard of defending the position of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is not incapable of discharging his functions. He spoke on the the controversial memo by Dora Akunyili, minister of information and communications, whom he also advised to resign if she disagrees with the council’s position on Yar’Adua. Excerpts:
Resign if you Disagree With FEC on Yar’Adua
Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, attorney- general of the federation and minister of justice, has been in the vanguard of defending the position of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, that President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua is not incapable of discharging his functions. He spoke to Tobs Agbaegbu, senior associate editor, and Anza Phillips, assistant editor, on the legality of the FEC’s position on the issue and the controversial memo by Dora Akunyili, minister of information and communications, whom he also advised to resign if she disagrees with the council’s position on Yar’Adua. Excerpts:
Newswatch: There is this impression among some Nigerians that as the attorney-general of the federation, AGF, and minister of justice, you are opposed to the vice-president becoming the acting president. How true is that?
Aondoakaa: That is false. It is false because the issue of the vice-president becoming the acting president is a matter that is discretional. It is not me. Even the vice-president has no control over it. It is a constitutional matter which has vested the president with discretional powers to make a voluntary transmission of power to the vice-president to act in his absence. So, anybody saying I am the person standing against the vice-president is grossly misinforming the populace. Since it is a discretional matter, it is the president alone who has decision over his discretion.
Newswatch: It does appear that the country is at a standstill following President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence due to ill health. Do you share this view?
Aondoakaa: It is not true that things have come to a standstill. I have tremendous respect for the vice-president because he is a man who has the interest of this country at heart. He is also a man whose loyalty to the president is not in doubt at all. Therefore, since the president left, the functions delegated to him, he has been carrying them out very well.
Newswatch: You are aware that many prominent Nigerians have come out to say that the situation existing now without the transmission of power to the vice-president is un-constitutional.
Aondoakaa: No Nigerian, not I as the AGF can conclusively interpret the constitution. One can allege that something is unconstitutional, but once such a matter is resolved by the court, it ends there. Let’s get this matter here clearly. And again let me point out another matter here. Since the president left on November 23, 2009, we have held 10 executive council meetings under the chairmanship of the vice-president. Even when the president was around, there were occasions where the vice- president presided over executive council meetings. But today, some people are saying that these 10 FEC meetings we have had while the president is away are illegal. So, will those meetings chaired by the vice-president when the president hadn’t travelled also be invalidated? Why blow hot and cold? Luckily, the courts have come out to say that the meetings and decisions are not illegal. People had gone to court to challenge the legality of the FEC meetings but they lost.
Newswatch: In all these, the vice-president has been quite calm, not saying anything at all. What is his disposition during FEC meetings?
Aondoakaa: The vice-president is doing his job and I am doing my job. Everybody is doing his job. Anybody who does not like this arrangement should resign and go. Anybody in the Federal Executive Council who feels that this arrangement does not sit well with his conscience, the only logical option is to throw in a letter of resignation and go.
Newswatch: That brings us to what transpired during the FEC meeting of February 3, 2010— The Dora Akunyili memo. Before now, she was one of the ministers who repeatedly told Nigerians that the president was fit. But she has, through the memo, come out to say that the president should transmit power to the vice-president.
Aondoakaa: Has she come out?
Newswatch: Has she not come out?
Aondoakaa: I am not aware that she has come out to say the things you are saying. After the Federal Executive Council meeting of February 3, she was there briefing the media at the end of the meeting and I didn’t see her talk of any such thing. I didn’t see her say this or that is her position on any issue. So I don’t think she came out like that. I don’t think so. I am waiting like every other Nigerian to hear her say this is her position. In that case, the logical thing she is supposed to do is to resign and go. I am not interested in the rumour about leaked or rejected memo. Let her come out and talk about what transpired in the FEC meeting.
Newswatch: We understand she circulated a position paper on the state of the nation during the FEC meeting?
Aondoakaa: As far as I am concerned, such an issue was not considered. We didn’t consider any issue like that.
Newswatch: That she did circulate a position paper of that nature is of public knowledge. Our question is not whether the council considered the matter. What we want you to confirm is the receipt of such memo during your last meeting.
Aondoakaa: I have always encouraged freedom of expression. If she did a thing like that, it is left for you and her, and the question should be directed to her. I am surprised that you journalists didn’t take her up on the matter when she was briefing state house correspondents on the outcome of the Wednesday meeting. Since it is her who briefed journalists at the end of FEC meeting, why did you people not ask her if she did a thing like that? You people would have asked her during the briefing if that was her position and whether it was rejected by the council. It is her that will answer that and not me.
Newswatch: No. We are not asking you to explain the contents of a memo which you are not the author. We are looking at the implication of what she has done.
Aondoakaa: To the best of my knowledge, we took a resolution as to whether the president was incapable to continue to perform his functions as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She was in that council meeting. Everybody was frank and we all reached a unanimous decision and nobody opposed the decision reached at that meeting. She was there that day when the press was being briefed on that decision. She didn’t come out to disown that decision at the press briefing that day. So, I still believe that she still remains the very person who at that meeting voted in favour of the motion that the president is still capable of performing his functions as the president.
Newswatch: She is free to change her mind and position depending on her reading of the situation. In her position paper, she even went ahead chronicling all the things Nigeria has lost by what she termed the logjam.
Aondoakaa: (Cuts in). I have not read it. I have not read that. If she had circulated it, I have not read it. What I read from the papers is that it was withdrawn. And if that was the case, she is the only person who can answer why it was withdrawn. I am surprised, and Nigerians will be surprised too that journalists failed to take her up on this the day she briefed the media at the end of the FEC meeting to determine all that you are asking me. But let me point out one thing here. One thing people who have conscience do that I do know is that if you are in a system and the system takes a decision on an issue, if you disagree with the system, all you need do is to tender your letter of resignation.