Posted by: Joseph Jibueze and Adebisi Onanuga
Lawyers have disagreed on the legality of President Goodluck Jonathan handing over to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari on May 28.
The Minister of Information, Patricia Akwashiki, said at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja on Wednesday that the President would perform the ceremony at a dinner on the eve of May 29.
“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.
“By May 28, we are expected to have concluded our own government and we are welcoming the incoming government,” she said.
But, activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) faulted the decision, saying it could create a power vacuum for the few hours between when Jonathan hands over and the morning of May 29 when his successor would be formally sworn-in as the president. He said the plan is not backed by any law.
“The question that arose is that between the time of the dinner, which I supposed would be in the night and the morning of May 29 when the president-elect would take his oath of office, who takes charge as there would be a vacuum?
”As far as the law is concerned, President Jonathan is in charge of the country and remains the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until the morning of May 29 when the president-elect take his oath of office and assume office,” Falana said.
He said the president cannot cut short his presidency in the name of handing over a day before the actual date for handing over as there is no provision for it.
According to him, the new date is a deviation from the law as a void would be created should he go ahead and handover before Buhari’s swearing-in.
But, a former Abia State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Awah Kalu (SAN), said there is nothing wrong with “handing over notes” on March 28.
“Handing over on May 28 is not violating anything. The handover is just passing papers where he has noted the state of affairs as at the date he is leaving.
“His tenure is fixed by the constitution; so it’s not on a piece of paper. That tenure will expire midnight of May 28, whether or not he hands over. So, the handover is simply symbolic,” Kalu said.
A former Ikeja Branch Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, said it was capable of creating a constitutional crisis.
“What I think they are trying to say is that they want to tidy up everything on May 28. They want to hand over all the files and then hold the ceremony on May 29.
“It’s just like when you want to marry. Before the ceremony, the in-laws must have met behind closed doors and have settled all bride price issues. So, the day of marriage is just for ceremony.
“I think it means that all the handover of the files, documents will be done on May 28 and the ceremony will be done the next day. That is my understanding of it.
“But I don’t know what is pursuing President Jonathan. We know that he’s going to Otuoke, but he should hold on until May 29.
“He should not create constitutional crisis for us, so that we’ll start wondering whether it’s him or Gen. Buhari that is in charge.”
A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Jonathan Iyieke, said Jonathan will not be violating any law.
“The handover by President Jonathan on May 28 has nothing to do with the 1999 Constitution. The culture of handing over on may 29th came into limelight when the Obasanjo administration came into power in 1999.
“It is a mere democratic ceremony that has now gotten recognition in Nigeria without constitutional blessing,” Iyieke said.
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