The power vacuum created in the Presidency by the failure of ailing President Umaru Yar‘Adua to delegate power to the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, is beginning to take a toll on the country, with no one to sign the 2009 Supplementary Budget into law.
Saturday Punch investigation revealed that Jonathan declined to assent to the supplementary budget bill passed by the National Assembly early in the week.
A source close to the Federal Executive Council told our correspondent that Jonathan’s decision was based on his belief that budget-signing was an exclusive duty of the President, which he could not undertake because he had not been made the Acting President in line with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Although it was gathered that before he left for Saudi Arabia for medical treatment at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, President Yar‘Adua instructed that all files that needed his attention should be forwarded to the Vice-President, Jonathan was unwilling to take any decision that could raise constitutional problems.
As a result, our correspondent gathered, Jonathan would not sign the supplementary budget or other sensitive decisions requiring the President’s approval.
A source also told our correspondent that it was also for the same reason that the Vice-President withheld approval of the list of the 2009 National Awards presented to him by the Governing Board of the Nigerian National Merit Awards at a meeting on December 1, 2009.
The source said, ”There is no way the Vice-President would sign the supplementary budget. It is a presidential function, and he (Jonathan) is keen to avoid issues that would raise constitutional problems.
”I can assure that, if he signs it, there will be reactions. People will go to court and make noise all over the place. In the end, the supplementary budget will not be implemented because of the issues that will be raised.
”The Constitution spelt out certain functions that could be performed by the President and the Vice-President, and others that could be delegated. This (signing of the budget) is an exclusive function of the President. There is no way he would sign it.”
While the signing of the supplementary budget is mirred in confusion, there was also uncertainty concerning its whereabouts. Saturday Punch gathered that the supplementary budget was still with the National Assembly several days after it was passed by the lawmakers. It was also gathered that the fact that the Vice-President was not in a position to sign it, informed its delay at the National Assembly.
Similarly, a scheduled meeting of the National Council of State, the highest advisory body in the country, was postponed indefinitely because Jonathan could not chair it. The Council was supposed to meet in the last week of November, but the meeting was postponed after its members were told to ignore the invitations earlier extended to them.
The National Council of State comprises the President, former presidents/heads of state, state governors, and past and serving chief justices of Nigeria.
The postponed meeting was supposed to consider and approve membership of some key Federal Government commissions. It was also expected to approve the application made by some foreigners to become Nigerian citizens.
There have been fears that the machinery of governance could grind to a halt in the absence of President Yar‘Adua, an insinuation the government has spiritedly refuted.
In rejecting calls on the Federal Executive Council to invoke the provisions of Section 144 in order to pave the way for Yar‘Adua‘s resignation on the grounds of ill-health, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, had maintained that Jonathan was in charge.
He, however, noted that on matters requiring the President‘s express approval, contacts were being made with Saudi Arabia and such approvals did come.
At a news conference after a FEC meeting on December 2, 2009, Ahmed had said, ”I want to assure Nigerians that this government is indeed working and is in good shape. Every other aspect of governmental activity is being conducted well, and the Vice-President, as usual, is in charge.
”On issues that would require Mr. President‘s express approval, contacts are being made and such approvals do come.”
But the SGF‘s explanations have not been able to put to rest calls for the Vice-President to officially assume the position of Acting President, a situation that would enable him to perform all the constitutional duties of the President.
In Yar‘Adua‘s absence, Jonathan had represented the President at a number of events, including presiding over the weekly FEC meetings.
The FEC, chaired by Jonathan, had on Wednesday ratified the President‘s anticipatory approval for an International Development Association budget support credit of $500m.
There are also strong indications that the VP will stand in for Yar‘Adua to provide answers to critical national questions that may be raised by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group and civil society organisations at a presidential policy dialogue during the forthcoming National Economic Summit scheduled to commence in Abuja on December 15.
At a meeting with the Board of Directors of the NESG at his office in the Presidential Villa on Tuesday, Jonathan reportedly assured that he would be available if Yar‘Adua was not yet back.
The NESG had at an earlier meeting with the President on September 1 2009, invited Yar‘Adua to take the ”hot seat” and provide answers to questions on critical national issues that would be raised by a panel set up by the group.
The programme, which the NESG termed ”presidential policy dialogue”, is an innovation being introduced at this year‘s summit.
During the dialogue, the President is expected to present the country‘s economic scorecard, and respond to questions concerning it. Yar‘Adua had agreed to take up the challenge.
However, with Yar‘Adua currently hospitalised in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, the NESG again raised the invitation during its meeting with the Vice-President on Tuesday.
Issues expected to be raised by the NESG include the poor performance of federal budgets, the Niger Delta question, insecurity, unemployment and infrastructural challenges, particularly the problems in the power sector.
President of the NESG, Mr. Sam Ohuabunwa, had reportedly given indications that Jonathan would represent Yar‘Adua at the event when he said, ”The Vice-President has promised us that Mr. President will be available for the meeting. But if he is not, that he himself and the Economic Team will take the heat, and actually, that‘s the issue.”
Efforts by Saturday Punch to get the Vice-President‘s spokesman, Mr. Ima Niboro, to confirm the reports that Jonathan had declined to sign the Supplementary Budget on constitutional grounds and had also refused to approval the 2009 National Awards list were not successful.
Calls made to his phone numbers could not go through, while text messages sent to him were not delivered because the lines were not available.