As the nation slouches towards avoidable constitutional and political crisis, the words of Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet that the hottest part of hell is reserved for whoever fails to act in a moment of moral crisis should sound clear in the ears of every Nigerian. Nigeria faces crisis of unimaginable proportion today on account of the ill-health of President Yar’Adua.
It is a big shame that a country that pretends to aspire to become the 20th leading economy in the world by the turn of this decade cannot manage the transition of power in the wake of the hospitalization of the President.
The Constitution has provided sufficient guidance on what should be done when unexpectedly an elected President can no longer continue to exercise executive power as President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That guidance is in Section 144 of the Constitution. It requires that the Federal Executive Council, the body with the greatest proximity to the President, should declare him incapable of exercising executive power so that he could be replaced by the Vice President.
The failure of the Executive Council of the Federation to initiate action based on the provisions of Section 144 of the Constitution is a failure of leadership. Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared in an interview at the United Nations recently that he is a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not of President Yar’Adua. This is right. The implication is that the primary responsibility of the Executive Council of the Federation is to promote the efficacy of the Federal Executive power. The Federal Executive is an institution not a person. To refuse to rise up to the patriotic duty of declaring the President incapable is a fundamental breach of the Constitution by members of the Executive Council of the Federation.
There is no doubt that President Yar’Adua, for no fault of his, can no longer act as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Without transferring power officially to the Vice President, all exercise of presidential power is unconstitutional, and in fact, treasonable. This is so because the constitution does not recognize that a shadowy group could take decisions on state matters when the President is sick to the extent that he could not return to Nigeria for 65 days. President Yar’Adua in his 58-second statement on Hausa Service of the BBC acknowledged his ill-health. The fact that the President is so ill that he cannot address Nigerians and has been away for so long is clear evidence of this incapacity. What the Constitution requires is that the Executive Council of the Federation declares such incapacity so that the consequent act of swearing in the Vice President in his stead can take place.
We believe that at this stage of the crisis, Section 145 requiring President Yar’Adua to transmit a letter of vacation does not apply anymore. What is envisaged in that section is where the President is still capable of discharging the executive power but would be momentarily indisposed. We have gone beyond this in all honesty. We are faced as a nation with a situation of prolonged absence of the President on medical grounds. We also believe that the issue of impeachment should not arise at this point. Impeachment is equivalent of criminal conviction for gross misconduct. So far, President Yar’adua’s ill-health does not amount to misconduct. There is no evidence that he is even aware of the violation of the constitution.
We believe that it is inappropriate for the Attorney General to, on behalf of the Executive Council of the Federation, without medical opinion, declare a President who is said to be in the intensive care unit of a Saudi Hospital for the last 65 days medically fit to continue in office. On what basis did the Federal Executive Council reach such conclusion? Which medical opinion did it seek? This is just a gimmick at the detriment of a nation that lies at the cliff-hanger of disaster.
We ask the Federal Executive Council to go back and do the proper thing required by the constitution. What they have done lacks merit because it is not based on medical evidence or history of the President. If the Federal Executive Council fails to act the National Assembly should take the initiative as the trustees of the people to save Nigeria from an impending disaster.
The nation is at the crossroad and at a threshold of a major political crisis. We pray that President Yar’Adua recovers soon and returns to Nigeria to the embrace of family, friends and compatriots. But obviously he cannot reasonably continue to act as President. The nation should move on and move away from disaster. Emotions and sentiments have their values in other circumstances but not in the present crisis.
Text of a Press Conference on Thursday, January 28, 2010 by Sen. Ken Nnamani GCON, Chairman, Steering Committee, Good Governance Group (3G)
Now is time to act
Senator Ken Nnamani, GCON