John Alechenu, Everest Amaefule, and Ade Adesomoju
Investigation by Saturday PUNCH revealed that the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan and the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) are set to clash over a proposal by the Jonathan team to hand over the mantle of leadership to Buhari on May the 28th, instead of the 29th.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the Buhari team was already over what they considered as an act of ill-will laced with sinister motives.
This is sequel to an announcement by the Minister of Information, Senator Patricia Akwashiki, that President Jonathan would perform the handover ceremony at a dinner on May 28.
Akwashiki made the announcement after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council meeting.
She told journalists, “By May 28, the President intends to have the formal handover done at a dinner so that we can reserve May 29 for the incoming government.”
However, since the return of democracy in 1999, the traditional date for the handover of power has been May 29, which is also observed as Democracy Day.
This tradition has been the vogue for the past 16 years. It also presents an opportunity for the outgoing President to formally present the instrument of authority to his successor in the full glare of members of the public, local and international media, as well as foreign dignitaries.
A top member of the All Progressives Congress, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media said, “It is simply not acceptable, we are rejecting it, it is a trap.”
He explained that from a security point of view, it could be considered a trap.
“How can anyone explain a situation where an outgoing president and his team will conveniently excuse themselves from an event where they are supposed to play a role when the President-elect and the Vice-President- elect are supposed to be present?” he queried.
According to the party chieftain, power abhors a vacuum as such, the constitution does not envisage a situation where Nigeria will be without a sitting President even for one hour.
He said, “If Jonathan hands over on the 28th, who accounts for the hours before the morning of the 29th when the Chief Justice of the Federation is to administer the oath of office and the oath of allegiance?
“What if there is even a sinister motive to this whole saga? As the President of the nation; who will still be the Chief Security officer until he hands over, there is no excuse that is strong enough to excuse him from the event.”
When contacted, a member of the Buhari campaign team, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said while he was not privy to any meeting on the subject yet, it was only logical to ask Nigerians not to rest on their oars until total liberation was achieved.
He described the announcement by President Jonathan to hand over a day earlier than was due as a ploy to rubbish the gains made with the historic win by the opposition APC.
Fashakin said, “It (the proposed handover on the 28th) portends ill for the political destiny of this nation.
“That statement is loaded and it shows that the Nigerian people should not rest yet that there is still ominous signs which we should never take for granted. If Jonathan truly said he is handing over on the 28th it presupposes that he will be absent on the 29th.
“Number one, if he hands over on the 28th to the President-elect, does Gen. Muhammadu Buhari start to act effectively on that date? The answer is an emphatic NO.
“GMB does not start to act on that date, if you get what I mean. Handing over to GMB on that date is not only meaningless, it is stupid. It has no meaning in law, or reality. It means that for 24 hours before GMB takes over there will be a vacuum.”
He further argued that on the side of morality, Nigeria borrowed its constitution substantially from the American Constitution, and as such, it should learn a thing or two about how it operates.
He said there was never a time in recorded history where an outgoing American President, who is hale and hearty, will absent himself from the handover ceremony of his successor no matter their political differences.
Although, it is not yet clear how the Buhari team would handle “this threat,” it was learnt that the party’s legal team is being put on notice to be on the alert.
It was also gathered that the President-elect and his team have kept the issue of ministerial appointments in abeyance.
A member of the party’s National Working Committee, who pleaded for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said, “The general is a meticulous person and we all know that the main task before us now is the transition committee. The issue of who will be minister has been kept in abeyance.”
When contacted to speak on the president-elect’s views on the handover date and appointments, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, “You will get our reaction later after due consultation.”
Attempts to speak with the Minister of Information proved abortive. She was not in the office when our correspondent visited. However, the Personal Assistant to the Minister on Media, Mr. Joseph Mutah, promised to get in touch with her and revert to our correspondent.
He had yet to do that as of the time of going to the press and when his mobile number was called, he did not pick the call.
The Information Minister had also after the FEC meeting said the President had directed all Ministries, Departments and Agencies to prepare their handover notes and submit them to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, on or before Monday.
According to her, it is Anyim’s responsibility to compile the notes, which will form Jonathan’s handover document to Buhari on May 28.
She had said, “You know May 29 is our Democracy Day. So, we have activities lined up all through that week, showcasing all what we have achieved and all other things we do normally on our Democracy Day except that this year is special with the inauguration of our new President that is coming up on May 29.”
The minister said the valedictory FEC meeting would hold on May 20, adding that everything that required the President’s approval must have been presented to him by May 13.
Meanwhile, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Sebastian Hon and Joseph Nwobike, on Friday, disagreed on the appropriateness of President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to hand over on May 28 instead of May 29 when his four-year tenure will statutorily end.
The two lawyers spoke with one of our correspondents in separate telephone interviews.
Hon insisted that the best option was for the President to hand over on May 29 as past presidents had done.
But Nwobike said nothing was unconstitutional in the president’s decision as handing over is a process that would end with the inauguration of the incoming president on May 29.
Nwobike said, “Handing over is a process and not an event. So the paper work will be done on May 28 and the formalisation and the completion will occur on May 29. So there is clearly nothing unconstitutional about it.”
But Hon queried the basis for the President’s plan to hand over on May 28 as doing such on May 29 as it is usually done would not affect the nation’s democracy.
He said, “The best and the most appropriate thing to do is for President Jonathan to hand over at 12.01am of the morning of May 29, 2015.
“If he hands over before May 29, it means he is no longer the president. He should hand over by 12.01am of May 29 or do as the usual practice by 7am in the past. It will not be late if it is done by 7am on the morning of May 29.
“Remember that all former presidents took over on the morning of May 29. If he does that, nobody will query him and the transition will not be truncated.”
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