From Chuks Okocha:
As leaders weigh options, President’s removal may prove difficult
As the Alhaji Yayale Ahmed-led six-man ministerial committee prepares to submit its report on President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s health to the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) tomorrow, the belief that this may lead to the removal of the President may be far-flung.
Contrary to the popular notion that all it will take to remove Yar’Adua from office is for EXCOF to declare him incapacitated in accordance with Section 144 of the Constitution, THISDAY investigations have shown that the political calculations are becoming very tricky and uncertain.
Section 144 provides that 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 medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Subsection (2) states: “Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or 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.”
While subsection (3) says “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”, subsection (4) prescribes that the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria: (a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and (b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted.
But the emerging scenarios, painted to THISDAY by key politicians yesterday, point to a more complex web of intrigues.
The six-man committee will in its report, full of diplomatic finesse, thank the government of Saudi Arabia for hosting the President, saying that they did not succeed in meeting him as he was taken back to Nigeria.
The ministers will be expected to debate the report and the fact that, as at press time, the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have not been able to see Yar’Adua, despite his return to Nigeria in an air ambulance last week.
Depending on the outcome of the governors’ meeting today, the ministers are expected to vote that the President is incapable of discharging his duties. Most of the ministers were nominated by the governors.
Following the vote by EXCOF, the Senate President will constitute a medical panel to examine the President.
However, the problem the medical panel will face is their inability to meet Yar’Adua, given the antecedents of the last 100 days during which the family has not given access to anybody to see him.
Though the family is considering giving access to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan tomorrow, it is clear that they will block any medical team from seeing the president knowing that the verdict of the medical team could end Yar’Adua’s presidency quickly.
Under this scenario, the panel will be unable to file any professional medical report as it cannot declare the President permanently incapacitated without examination or access to his medical record which his family is unlike to release.
The panel, it is also being projected, may examine the President and declare him temporarily incapacitated, meaning no constitutional provision can be employed to remove him from office.
The work of the medical panel will, therefore, be dead on arrival.
However, if the panel reports an inability to meet Yar’Adua, opponents could see an unconstitutional action by him in blocking access and could opt for an impeachment process.
But the process will require an impeachment notice to Yar’Adua, which is unlikely to be answered, and then a vote in the National Assembly whether or not the proceedings should go on.
Under this scenario, THISDAY checks revealed that while an impeachment is possible in the Senate, it is unlikely to gain the support of two-thirds of National Assembly members.
It is also feared that if impeachment proceedings are commenced against Yar’Adua, he may begin to win sympathy in some parts of the country and Jonathan may be portrayed as ambitious and as going after a man who is already down.
Yayale submits the Saudi Arabia trip report to EXCOF and ministers are unable to reach a decision or the majority does not support any action on Section 144, leaving Jonathan in power essentially as sole administrator.
With an ill President and with the Vice-President in control as Acting President without a VP, Nigeria will be running an incomplete presidency. Jonathan will be unable to travel, except the National Assembly comes up with a law that will allow an Acting President to appoint another Acting President while he is away from the country.
This could leave the North without a representative at the commanding height of government and could also lead to a situation where Jonathan will be presiding over officials loyal to Yar’Adua, not to him.
Another option being considered by the politicians is what a minister called an “Ariel Sharon” or a “win-win” situation: Jonathan will continue as Acting President until the next presidential election is held – if Yar’Adua is still unable to go back to work.
This, according to those advancing this option, will lay to rest any need for EXCOF to apply Section 144 or the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings under Section 143.
Ariel Sharon was Israel’s Prime Minister until January 4, 2006 when he had stroke and went into a permanent vegetative state.
Consequently, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, was officially made the Acting Prime Minister of Israel until parliamentary elections were held on March 28, 2006 as scheduled.
There is yet no official statement on the true state of health of Yar’Adua, but it is generally believed that he is very ill as he is yet to be seen in public for over three months.
A governor from the Southern part of the country told THISDAY yesterday that there was nothing stopping Jonathan from exercising full presidential powers even if he is not confirmed as the substantive President before the next general election.
“So far, he has not shown unbridled ambition to be substantive President. If he does, it may backfire,” he said.
The final scenario, quipped a minister, “is in the hands of God. He alone knows who will live and who will not. He alone is capable of pulling a last-minute miracle to restore the health of the President.”
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