There are new updates on this situation as Yar'Adua has returned to Nigeria. Please read Nigeria's President Yar'Adua Returns? after reading the article below.
After an absence of 79 days and an ensuing leadership vacuum that resulted in court cases, protests and confusion, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has been declared acting president of Nigeria. It took separate motions from both bodies of the National Assembly to convey executive power upon Jonathan. For over 2 months, Yar'Adua's absence raised constitutional questions about how a Vice President can assume the executive power and functions of the president. Section 145 of the Constitution was interpreted by many to require the President to issue a letter to the National Assembly asserting intent to temporarily transfer power. However, a court recently ruled that the President is not obligated to formally inform the National Assembly of prolonged absences thus, making the transfer of power automatic when he is away. But, this ruling did not dampen concerns about Jonathan's ability to act as President and Jonathan himself played it safe.
That was until February 9, 2010 when all of Nigeria's 36 state governors met with the Vice President and informed him of their decision to have him as the acting president. The governors then met with the Senate in a meeting that resulted in that body voting to make Jonathan the acting president. The House of Representatives also passed a similar motion and these legislative acts seem to have brought to an end the political uncertainty over who steers the national ship. February 9th could possibly go down in history as a day when democratic political measures where used to take Nigeria one step further down the path to becoming a true democratic nation. The new acting President himself reacted in a nationally televised speech saying, "by the grace of God, we have once again succeeded in moving our country forward."
Jonathan wasted no time assuming Presidential functions as he met with officials from the European Investment Bank, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and announced that the federal government is creating a disaster response plan. In another action that potentially highlighted his leadership style, the acting president locked out 2 Ministers that arrived late for a meeting. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, and the Minister of Power, Lawal Babalola, arrived 15 and 20 minutes late for a meeting with Jonathan and were not allowed in by security officers at the entrance to the conference room.
A LOSS OF CONFIDENCE?
Nigerians from all sectors have been clamoring for the President to relinquish executive powers since he is currently recovering from treatment. From labor unions, Nigerian newspapers & media organizations, the Minister of Information and even the man who handpicked Yar'Adua to become President - former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The growing calls for a peaceful transfer of executive functions became too much for legislators to ignore, particularly the Senate which previously claimed its "hands were tied." This act of declaring Jonathan as acting President flies in the face of a recent 'promise' made by Presidential adviser Mohammed Abba-Aji that a formal letter will be forthcoming by the end of the second week of February. Consequently, this decision to not wait for a letter or further action can be interpreted as a loss of confidence in the President.
TRIBAL CONCERNS & A POTENTIAL BACKLASH?
Jonathan's new role as acting President also flies in the face of what has been deemed 'an understanding' that Presidential power will vacillate between the south and north of Nigeria. Yar'Adua's possible inability to serve out his term raised concerns amongst many Norther elites who were reluctant to see Jonathan, a southerner, become President and hence, cut short the North's bite at the proverbial Presidential apple. In fact, the Northern Union previously warned that the "stability of [the] country ... hinged [on] power rotation between the North and the South." This writer raised the fact that such an understanding was not in the constitution and not necessarily in the immediate interest of the Nigerian people. Thankfully, it seems that the nation's governors, senators and representatives agree that holding the nation hostage simply to satisfy an unconstitutional understanding was foolhardy and a danger to Nigerian democracy. Yet, the Northern Union's threat, coupled with the recently rejected Al Qaeda offer to train Northern Muslims to fight against Nigerian Christians reinforces that the tribal concerns raised by Jonathan's appointment cannot be taken lightly. As such, there remains a possibility, no matter how small, that pro-Yar'Adua supporters could choose to challenge the legislative act. Hopefully, such a challenge will take place via legal and not violent means as experienced in Jos in January. And, Yar'Adua's handlers will publicly discourage any challenge of the people's will for the sake of the nation. Those aggrieved by the National Assembly's decision should look to, of all places, Anambra state for some guidance. If the players in the just-concluded Anambra gubernatorial polls can accept the election results that a court declared illegal, and even the government has admitted had irregularities , then hopefully they can acquiesce to the act of the joint legislative bodies.
WILL THE CORRUPTION SCANDAL DISAPPEAR?
There remains the issue of a corruption scandal involving Jonathan's wife, Patience Jonathan who was investigated for her involvement in the illegal movement of $13.5 million. As Jonathan now wields executive power, he has the means to tacitly or bluntly ensure that nothing ever comes of the corruption scandal involving his wife. Considering that Jonathan had to be pressured to reveal his assets, unlike Yar'Adua who willingly did so, there is a cloud of suspicion on the now-acting President with regard to corruption, a problem that has plagued Nigeria for far too long. Plus, considering the outcome of the James Ibori case which resulted in accusations that the nation's anti-corruption body 'bungled the case on purpose', and many who have been fingered (at home and abroad) as corrupt are yet to face justice, it is not a stretch to worry that a scandal tied to Jonathan will simply disappear.
Nigeria is trying to finetune a democratic style specially for herself. The prolonged absence of President Yar'Adua exposed holes in the constitution regarding the temporary transfer of executive power, but on February 9th, the National Assembly decided to bring an end to the confusion on that matter. It remains to be seen whether this legislative act will trigger a backlash on tribal grounds and what kind of acting President Jonathan will be. There are additional unknowns, such as when will the President return, if at all? And, if he does, will he gain back control of the country and how? Or, will Jonathan act as President until the next Presidential election in 2011 and will he run for President? The political vacuum experienced by Nigeria over the last few months must come to an end to instill confidence in the people and possibly enable various sectors of the country to operate as they should. Hopefully that will be the case with Goodluck Jonathan as acting President. It will be a shame if someone with the name 'Goodluck' brings anything but that to the Nigerian people.
UPDATE: A question from reader and fellow Nigerian blogger, Nneoma, has prompted a closer look at the Constitution. Reacting to this article, Nneoma asked "who then assumes the vice-presidency?"
Well, it appears that the declaration of Jonathan as acting President might be illegal, no matter how temporary it is. Nigeria's Constitution does not provide for an acting President/transfer of power to the V.P. under the circumstances that just occurred. Hence, the Constitution also does not provide for the selection of an acting V.P. This writer's reading of the relevant sections of the Constitution (§143-146) reveals that even if §145 is the basis for the declaration (so claimed by the Senate and relying on the BBC interview), the Constitution does not offer a means to pick an acting V.P.
A post is forthcoming on the only ways that an acting V.P. can be selected.
From the Archives:
- Is Yar'Adua Brain Damaged or Not?
- Nigeria's President Absent During Crisis
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health