Tunde Rahman takes a look at the unfolding developments in the country in the light of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s sojourn in Saudi Arabia on medical grounds, prompting the question- will luck shine on Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan once again?
Will Goodluck Jonathan be lucky once again? No pun is intended here. The name an individual bears can sometimes be a critical success or failure factor in his or her life affairs. In Yoruba mythology, the belief is that people live out their names. That is why the Yoruba would go out of their way to give good names to their children so that such names can hunt them in life.
Goodluck Jonathan is a former university don who somehow found his way into politics. And like his name, Goodluck, luck has indeed become a recurring decimal in his political trajectory so far. This is how. In the build-up to the country’s renascent democracy in 1999, Jonathan emerged as running mate to Depreiye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha who was then the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for that year’s governorship election in Bayelsa State. They were later elected into office as governor and deputy governor respectively and sworn in as such on May 29, 1999.
They ran the first term together but somehow around 2005, about two years into Alamieyeseigha’s second term, the Governor-General of Ijaw nation fell into troubled waters. He was removed from office in controversial circumstances over alleged corrupt practices. Jonathan stepped in as the new governor and was piloting the affairs of the state for the remainder of Alamieyeseigha’s tenure. Nothing, it would seem, would have stopped Jonathan from succeeding himself in office as governor of the state a year later or so in 2007 as everything was pointing in that direction.
He had only himself to beat for the slot. But as the race to the presidency in 2007 opened; without lifting a finger, Jonathan was called up for higher responsibilities. After every other contender, some of them seemingly more influential than him within PDP hierarchy, had been knocked out, Jonathan emerged the preferred candidate to be running mate to Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who had emerged as PDP candidate for the April 2007 presidential election. Together they won the poll and were later sworn into office as President and Vice-President and as they say, the rest is history.
But today, the nation is at a critical juncture. Some have likened this juncture to where the nation found itself 11 years ago when General Sani Abacha suddenly died in 1998 on the eve of his transmutation from a military president to a civilian president. In the extant case, President Yar’Adua has been away in Saudi Arabia on medical ground and the battle for succession seems to be fiercely raging, though, there is no vacancy yet at Aso Rock.
The President is fighting the battle for his life at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He was flown to the hospital on November 23 after complaining of chest pains. He was later diagnosed with acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart that can restrict normal breathing. President Yar’Adua did not do what many consider to be the right thing by following the procedure in Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution and handing over to the Vice-President when leaving the country.
The blame here is not entirely the President’s this time round. In January last year when he was going on a similar trip, he had prepared a vacation letter for onward delivery to the National Assembly in line with the advice by the State Counsel and some other officials at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. But his Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Muhammed Abba-Aji, who was to submit the letter felt differently.
He was of the opinion that the President was the president wherever he could be and his deputy was his deputy and there was no need to transmit any letter to the assembly that he was going on vacation. Besides, he argued that former President Olusegun Obasanjo never wrote any such letter to the assembly throughout his eight years in office. And so the President’s letter died. If Yar’Adua had followed his own heart and had not listened to Abba-Aji’s advice, a precedent would have been established in the matter since then, which would have been followed this time round.
As things stand now, some state functions are said to be suffering and many more may suffer, even more critical ones like appointments in the judiciary, granting of licences for oil blocs, etc in the weeks to come if the President’s health does not get better. Jonathan cannot take key decisions or make appointments because he is not acting president. If he does so, such decisions may be successfully challenged in court.
But presidential sources said, however, that the Vice-President is not helping matters because he is allegedly distancing himself from even routine duties and general administrative matters like treating files and memos as he is said to be hiding under the cover that he does not have the power to do so, because he is not acting president.
There are speculations that some power brokers have cashed in on the situation at the villa and are indirectly directing affairs at the place, even treating files and memos by proxy. The nation seems rudderless with the absence of the President and politicians are just positioning themselves for relevance in the power game. Worried by the ongoing developments, a source in the Presidency said what this moment called for is an active vice-president.
“With an active vice-president, all the talk of the President not handing over to the vice-president would have fizzled away as such an active president would have taken charge abinitio,” he said. Going down memory lane, he said during the first term of former President Obasanjo, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was virtually in charge, taking vital decisions, making appointments and implementing policies whether Obasanjo was in town or not in town all in the name of the President and there was no fuss about whether Obasanjo properly handed over to him or not.
“But people are just out playing politics on all fronts with the President’s ailment and absence from the country,” he added.
If the President’s health continues to fail and he continues to stay put on hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, then a proper succession arrangement, at least till he gets better, has to be worked out. A national newspaper had speculated last Monday that the President might soon seek vacation in a letter to the National Assembly following his failing health.
The news coming out of Saudi hospital is still not encouraging. The Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminchi, said the Saudi doctors treating the President asked him to rest and were yet to decide when he would be discharged.
According to a statement he issued from Jeddah, Aminchi said it was not yet clear when the President would return home and that only doctors treating the President could say when Yar’Adua would return to the country. If that situation persists, only one thing can happen: the President will have to follow the procedure in Section 145 of the constitution by transmitting to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation so that the vice-president can step in as acting president.
That is Jonathan’s constitutional right. Section 145 as stated makes clear provision for the vice-president to act as president once the President transmits to the National Assembly a vacation letter. That is the right thing. And here there has been a precedent, though it was during the military era.
n 1976 when General Murtala Mohammed was killed in a coup plot by the late Lt. Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka and co, in spite of the posturing of some officers and their civilian collaborators to the contrary, General Obasanjo who was the second-in-command to Mohammed took over as head of state. What then happened was that the Northern establishment brought on of its own, an Hausa-Fulani, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, to be the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, equivalent of vice-president, as Obasanjo’s deputy. Together, Obasanjo and Yar’Adua piloted the country towards the first military handover to civilians.
In the extant case, a new vice-president can then be picked to work with Jonathan in the event that the President can’t continue in office. Already, some names have been touted in this connection. Among them are Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Adamu Aliero.