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Atsar Terver

Public Commentator
Port Harcourt

more articles by Terver

You see the vociferous pro-Jonathan hirelings have succeeded in blinding his eyes to the truth which is that indeed he is still the VP (only acting for the President). It’s amazing that most Nigerians including lawyers do not know that there is no office of Acting President in the Constitution. Remember that Jonathan never swore a new oath. The only oath he took and which indicates the contract he has with the people is that of the Vice President.

Jonathan is still the ‘Vice President’.
by Atsar Terver
I am a lone voice that has been unable to see the ‘emergence’ of Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President as being equivalent to a change in government. Perhaps there could be others who feel this way but are afraid of being labelled with unprintable names by a largely opportunistic but extremely vociferous mob overtaken by some ecstatic, even sardonic euphoria of seeing a deputy upstage his boss.

It has almost become a culture in Nigeria that, anytime someone new ‘takes over’ power, the people are excited at the prospects of a change in their fortunes. They rush to welcome him with a long list of legitimate but sometimes unreasonable expectations. They expect change to happen merely by virtue of the arrival of a new helmsman because we as a people, in the absence of enduring and effective institutional framework for nationhood, tend to believe in personalities rather than institutions. For example we believe in the President but not the Presidency. We believe in the EFCC Chairman but not the EFCC.

Thus we hailed the arrival of Buhari, we hailed Babangida, ditto for Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, Obasanjo, and are now eager to hail Jonathan. We saw Babangida as coming to rescue us from the iron-hand dictatorship of Buhari. Bagangida softened the grip but it soon became obvious that we needed another redeemer. So when he stepped aside, we jumped on Shonekan. He soon proved to be an ineffective remedy, and then Abacha, came calling. Five Political parties queued behind him to mutate him into a civilian President. But the man died. Abdulsalam Abubakar became the new bride who would steer us into democracy. Well, he did, and all hopes shifted to Obasanjo. Obasanjo came in with such an extravagant dose of goodwill that how he succeeded in failing to make a difference in our lives becomes the real mystery.

When Obasanjo was poised to become another Mobutu, we cried again for a messiah.  But Obasanjo felt we lack the wisdom to choose our leader, so he gave us Yar’Adua. But Yar’Adua’s first action in power was to reverse the 11th fuel price hike that Obasanjo had left behind as a parting gift. He went on to institute a systematic re-installation of the rule-of-law terribly trampled upon over the years with the hope of restoring Nigerians’ confidence in government institutions.

But decades of abuse and disuse have eroded our confidence in public institutions almost beyond redemption. We saw his methodical approach to issues as being too slow for our liking. With his failing health to compound matters, we have now turned to Jonathan. And the unfortunate thing is that most Nigerians are not really interested in what Jonathan could do for them, but they only want him to reverse what Yar’Aduas has achieved so far. Thus their focus is on changing ministers, appointing new aides, reorganising the military, reversing contracts and in the extreme, removing Yar'Adua.

But had Nigeria been a nation where political parties operate within an ideology and a manifesto, the people should have known upfront that Jonathan does not hold the promise nor is he capable to offer an alternative to the Yar’Adua Administration. On the other hand even the so-called opposition parties barely offer any alternative either. Their members jump from one political camp to the other at will, especially during election period making a mockery of the whole concept of ideological ‘opposition’. Perhaps the only ideology Nigerian politicians believe in and which pervades all the political parties in is the one that sees political power as a means to self-enrichment. Every other consideration is secondary.

Nigerians should have recognised the fact that as a Vice President to Yar’Adua, Jonathan had pledged to run a common agenda –the seven-point Agenda of their Administration. It would be the height of hypocrisy and inconsistency should Jonathan at this stage tell Nigerians that he never believed in, nor supported the programmes of the Yar’Adua government in which he is the number -two man simply because he is now an ‘Acting  President’.

Such a declaration would only mean certain things: one, it would mean that he is a man of no principle or ideology, a rudderless ship driven by the waves and winds-waves generated by the propaganda of opportunistic interest groups like the SNG under covert backing of the USA, whose motive is to hijack and exploit the circumstances in the Nigerian political space to their maximum advantage. It would also mean that he tugged along with Yar’Adua for two and a half years, promoting, explaining and defending policies that he never believed in. This would mean that he lacks integrity. Finally it would mean that he is unfaithful, untrustworthy and unreliable.

So, had the SNG for instance truly believed that they so much loath the policies of the Yar’Adua regime and are desperate for a genuine change, they would have taken their search for a messiah outside the camp of the PDP not to talk of Yar’Adua’s deputy. Their insistence that Nigeria is on a verge of collapse if Jonathan fails to transform into a full President on account of Yar’Adua’s ill- health is therefore deceptive. When you juxtapose the fact that the key players in this self-appointed fire-brigade redeemers of Nigeria, never supported the 2007 election that produced Jonathan as Vice President along with Yar’adua, with their sudden realisation that Jonathan holds the key to the nation’s problems, the hypocrisy of the likes Soyinka, Tunde Bakare, and others comes to the fore.

Viewed in the proper context, the whole concept of an acting presidency is predicated on the principle of delegation of powers as opposed to the concept of usurpation of authority which the Jonathan Acting presidency has been turned into by the forces who desperately want to see a change in Government in Nigeria. Whereas the former is a temporary measure whose subsistence is at the prerogative of the President, the later is a forceful hijack of power; an adventure akin to treason.

The way Jonathan’s Acting presidency has been coloured is clearly against the spirit of Section 145 of the constitution. Those who drafted section 145 of the 1999 constitution could not have intended it to be a shortcut to the post of the President by the VP. It was hardly their intention to prevent a President from travelling out of the country for whatever reason for the fear  of being upstaged by his deputy. For example, it is unthinkable that the Constitution would expect a sitting President travelling abroad on leave to relinquish his presidential powers to his deputy who would now decide whether his plane should be allowed to enter the country’s airspace or not.

The section could not have intended that every time a President goes on leave, he would come back to meet a new cabinet reconstituted by his deputy. It is absolutely not the intention of Section 145 to create a new ‘Presidency’ whenever the President proceeds on leave. Calls on Jonathan to ‘be his own man’ are therefore premised on the wrong concept. Most of the people making these calls are probably hoping to benefit from the ‘new cabinet’. They do not necessarily have the interest of the country at heart.

The Senate has contributed in no small measure in creating the kind of situation we have in the country at present by their illegal resolution that pronounced Jonathan Acting President in a manner akin to installation of a ‘new President’. Shortly after that Jonathan himself went on air with an ‘acceptance speech’ as if he had just been sworn in as President. He began to talk about ‘this administration’ in a way that created the impression he was starting a new government. All these set the tone for the wrong perception and expectations Nigerians have developed towards Jonathan’s ‘Acting President’ role.

It is not an error that the constitution did not create an office of ‘Acting President’. The very term ‘Acting President’ implies the fact that the person holding that position is acting on behalf of somebody. There necessarily has to be a President somewhere before we could talk about an ‘Acting President’. In other words as far as section 145 is concerned, whatever action Jonathan takes in his role as Acting President must be seen as being  on behalf of the President at whose table the bulk still stops.

Section 145 states that '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.'

Note that this section still refers to the Vice President. It means that the only thing that qualifies him to 'act' (and continue to act) as President is his being the VP. Once he ceases to be VP, he would lose this right. And this is why we don’t have a new VP now because Jonathan is technically still occupying that seat. This is why I was quite amused at the ignorance manifested by some Nigerians who chided Segun Adeniyi for calling him the VP and some who even insisted that Yar'Adua should not have returned to Nigeria without ‘clearance’ from Jonathan. What sort of ‘clearance’ is that?

In order words, section 145 only contemplates a temporary transfer of power by the President to his Vice and he can take it back at will. The impression being created that Jonathan derives his powers from the Senate resolution is quite false and cosmetic. Recall that the Senate did not say that they were transferring power to Jonathan (because they don’t have the power to do that). What they said (which in any case was still wrong) is that, as far as they are concerned, President Yar'Adua has transferred power to Jonathan in line with Section 145 through the BBC broadcast.

The question of the Presidents incapacitation or otherwise does not even arise under section 145 that was invoked by the senate albeit unconstitutionally. But if we accept the fact that the President’s SA on Media and Publicity had said that the President on return from Saudi Arabia, expressed support for the ‘Acting Presidency of Jonathan’ it would be logical to conclude that he has agreed with the Senate that he indeed transferred power to the Vice in line with section 145 as alleged by the Senate; even though it would leave a bigger question on our lips on why he refused to write officially to the Senate as expected by Section 145?

Now if we accept that Jonathan is acting as president in line with Section 145, then this would foreclose any further actions in the direction of either impeachment or removal of the president on health grounds as long as his vacation subsist. The question those calling for impeachment would need to answer is: why would you impeach or declare incapacitated a man who has handed over power to his deputy in order to receive medical attention?  What is your interest?

On the other hand, those calling for impeachment of the President do not seem to understand how impeachment works. First, the National Assembly would need to compile a list of impeachable offences committed by the President which should have something to do with gross violation of the constitution and not the mere fact of his being sick which is not yet criminalised by the law . After that they would need to allow the President to reply to the allegations- something he can only do if he returns to his seat, but not when he is on leave. In order words, there could not be any lawful impeachment proceeding against a sick President who is technically on leave and therefore in no position to communicate on any official level with the National Assembly. Thus an impeachment move even if there are the required two-thirds majority of members in both Houses of the National Assembly, who are favourably disposed to the impeachment route, is bound to get stuck in the National Assembly even before it gets to the Judiciary.

Those who are eager to have Jonathan sworn in as President of Nigeria would therefore need to wait for a little while for the man to die or till 2011, for him to contest the election and get the people’s mandate to be their President, instead of hoping to ride on the cheap wings of the President’s ill-health.

You see the vociferous pro-Jonathan hirelings have succeeded in blinding his eyes to the truth which is that indeed he is still the VP (only acting for the President). It’s amazing that most Nigerians including lawyers do not know that there is no office of Acting President in the Constitution. Remember that Jonathan never swore a new oath. The only oath he took and which indicates the contract he has with the people is that of the Vice President.



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