Friday, December 4, 2009

President Umar Yar'Adua: Ill Health or Gross Misconduct?

It’s been 12 days since President Umar Yar’Adua’s abrupt departure from Nigeria, and public opinion remains divided over his sudden disappearance due to ill health.

Many believe the President should step down due to his ill health, which they perceive is having a huge impact on his performance. Such people are of the opinion that relevant provisions of the constitution should be invoked, and the Vice-President should take over the country leadership. This opinion is been championed by a group of 52 eminent personalities (G-52), who have recently signed a petition calling for the President’s resignation.

On the other hand, we have the Pro-Yar’Adua group. This group believe that the call for the President’s resignation is unconstitutional and short of ‘treason’. At this stage, it is reasonable to say the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is at the fore front of this campaign.

Whatever anyone’s opinion, the ongoing saga raises two important issues that should not be confused. The first issue is the failure of President to hand over to the V-P prior to his departure. The second issue is regarding his state of health and ability to discharge the functions of his office.

Interestingly, everyone calling for the President resignation seems to be quoting from S.144 of the 1999 Constitution. However, I do not think it is as ‘clear cut’ as these people make it. The procedure for removal of a President on health grounds is quite arduous.

Section 144 says (in summary) “the President shall cease to hold office, if (a) a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the FEC declare that he/she is incapable of discharging the functions of his office”, and (b) the declaration is verified, through medical examination by a medical panel established by the Senate President”.

But what we forget is that, the constitution does not define what is meant by been ‘incapable’. Does incapable mean being hospitalised? And if that’s the case, for how long does the President have to be in the hospital before he can be classified as ‘incapable’? Or does ‘incapable’ mean failure to attend FEC meetings? Also let’s not forget, the minimum health requirements for the post of President are not published anywhere.

Even if the President undergoes a medical examination as requested by the G-52, it will have to be assessed by a Panel. I’m not a medical expert, but I know from personal experience that interpretation of medical assessments can be subjective’. What Doctor X considers ‘serious’ might just be seen as ‘benign’ by Doctor Y. So for a panel to agree on such matters will be challenging. Also, let’s not forget that the Panel will be put together by the Senate President, who is also a member of the ruling party.

As for the President’s failure to hand to his V-P, I think there is a compelling case for the National Assembly to take necessary action. It is an abuse of office and irresponsible for a nation’s President to travel out of the country- without a definite return date – and not handover to his Vice-President.

But will the National Assembly rescue the nation from this political/leadership logjam? Your guess is as good as mine. We have heard the Deputy Senate President saying the President Yar’Adua can stay in Saudi Arabia for as long as he likes. In his words,
“The Constitution did not make provision for how long a President can stay out of the country and then he will would lose his job. There is no such provision in our constitution. So, if he spends one year abroad, of course, you have a Vice-President, who will be acting in his place…”
It is absolutely nonsensical for the Deputy Senate President to make such a statement. Yes the constitution does not stipulate the maximum length of time the President can be out of the country. But Section 145 states
“Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President”.

The failure of the President to formally notify the National Assembly and hand over to his V-P, means technically, we do not have an Acting President. The fact remains that a leadership vacuum has been created by President Yar’Adua’s indiscretion. If the National Assembly does not see this as an act of ‘gross misconduct’, then we may as well move the seat of power to King Faisal Hospital in Jeddah.

The country is now at a crossroad. We have a President who is laying helplessly on the sick bed in far away Saudi Arabia. Back at home, governance seems to have grounded to a halt.

The V-P has no official mandate to act as President. The Federal Executive Council has decided to bury its head in the sand. And the National Assembly has told us categorically that the President can decide to live in Saudi Arabia for the rest of his tenure.

So where does the hope lie in all these? Who will break this political stalemate?


Anonymous said...

I cannot bring myself to terms that at this stage in our great country Nigeria, that such a scenerio can still occur or how else can one explain that a president will leave is country without a propoer hand over to his vice.I strongly believe it has alot to do with the fact that Goodluck Jonatan is a NigerDelta candidate but whether they like it or not he shall surely succeed as the next president.

Anonymous said...

It is pathetic that Nigerians fail to see issues from a non-tribal, non-sentimental point of view. The case of gross misconduct was clearly stated and issues arising from it are federal and not restricted to a region. I'm seriously appaled at the response of this anonumous individual, whose thinking faculty is so parochial. How is it possible to move Nigeria forward when every time we raise issues , some people want to personalise it instead of giving constructive criticism, all
we get are pathetic tribalistic comments....if we'll go that lane , the next Hausa guy might as well say that 'we are criticizing this government because the president is a northerner'. Please see yourself as Nigerians first.


Anonymous said...

God help us in this 21st century.
Wait,lets see..can Obama leave his post without informing the house of senate?
It is absolutely unheard of anywhere.
Look at umar's son on CNN with an Ak 47.what a shame!

Even if yaradua dies its of no use.because he has done nothing!
Instead the rich are getting richer and the poor,poorer!

No electricity,no water,high level of inflation,economic corruption,abuse of human rights campaigners!
We are being treated like shit,given the dirtiest job around(ABROAD)because we cannot make use of what we have.