Yar’Adua: Some Ministers Set to Table Issue of Incapacity Today

In a seeming bold move, some members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) may today re-open the issue of the failing health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The ministers are angling to declare Yar’Adua incapacitated in line with Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution.

Section 144 (1) reads: The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office if –(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and 

(b) The declaration is verified, after such a medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives

THISDAY gathered that the absence of Yar’Adua without any word on his current state of health, in spite of numerous trips by governors, lawmakers and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftains to Saudi Arabia, is a source of concern to members of the council. 

A source who spoke to THISDAY last night said ministers are caving in under pressure from groups and prominent Nigerians.

In spite of the fact that Jonathan has now been empowered as Acting President by the National Assembly, it was learnt that some are of the believe that the issue of the President’s health has to be resolved in the interest of the nation.

The source said some EXCOF members have therefore decided to break the ranks and demand that Yar’Adua be declared incapacitated. 

“Some members of the Executive Council of the Federation will move for Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution tomorrow (today),” declared the source.

“The process will start tomorrow but may not end the same day. It will continue. The whole thing has to do with the calls on us to do the right thing,” he added. 

EXCOF had initially passed a resolution saying Yar’Adua was fit to continue in office without any medical statement to back its stance. But the National Assembly moved last week to pass a resolution empowering Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President. 

The legislative arm relied on the doctrine of necessity and took the President’s BBC interview in January where he acknowledged he was ill and would return at such a time he is discharged by his doctors, as transmission of a vacation letter.

The action of lawmakers followed the failure of the President to transmit a medical vacation letter to the National Assembly in line with Section 145, which would have empowered Jonathan to step in as acting president. 

The step was also taken after a previous resolution by the National Assembly asking the President to send in the letter from Saudi Arabia where he has been hospitalized since November 23, 2009.

But the action has attracted law suits from some who say it is unconstitutional. Besides members of the Save Nigeria Group who organized the first rally to protest an absentee President have argued that it sets a dangerous precedent because it is a contrived solution not backed by the constitution. 

Yet, others say the lawmakers have given Yar’Adua a soft landing by not starting the process of impeachment of a President that has, according to them, breached the law.

If indeed EXCOF declares the President incapacitated, it would have gone the whole hog constitutionally. 

Subsection (2) of the constitution reads: Where the medical panel certifies in the report that it in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body and mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation. 

(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.

The Constitution also requires that the medical panel be appointed by the Senate President and it would comprise five medical practitioners including the President’s doctor.