Two weeks after the National Assembly created a remedy for Nigeria's constitutional crisis, and 3 months since his departure, President Yar'Adua returned from Saudi Arabia. His return has created growing uncertainty in the nation as the President is yet to meet with the Acting President or be seen in public. Despite this, the main question on every Nigerian's mind is why did Yar'Adua choose now to return to the country after spending 3 months abroad? There are likely various reasons for this choice but some key factors spelling the significantly diminished political capital of Yar'Adua and his supporters could be a main reason.
During his absence, the Senate and House of Representatives, with the support of state governors and a diverse group of Nigerians, issued separate motions declaring Vice President Jonathan the acting President. The move was well received by many but its legality was soon questioned. The issue of legality fueled a push for the amendment of certain sections of the Constitution, a review that was previously stalled for over a year.
"Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President."Being that it puts no time limit on when the "written declaration" should be presented to the National Assembly, the Senate amended Section 145 to now require a 14 day limit within which time the President must communicate his absence to formally transfer executive power. It is left for the parliaments of Nigeria's 36 states to approve the amendment for it to become official. Section 109 was equally amended to place the same requirement on state governors.
The new language in the amended Section 145 is as follows,
"(1) Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the effect, and until he transits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President."It also now includes another sub-section which provides instructions to the legislature if the President fails to honor the 14 day time limit -
"(2) In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 14 days, the National Assembly shall by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each House of the National Assembly mandate the Vice-President to perform the functions of the office of the President, as Acting President until the President transmits a letter to the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions of the office of the President."WHY A 14 DAY TIME LIMIT?
Considering the rhetoric on the legality of the declaration of Jonathan as acting President, it is a good thing that the legislature took the necessary steps to change the Constitution and provide future guidance. However, questions remain, such as why a 14 day time limit was selected over a 5 or 7 day time limit. Under no circumstance is it suitable for the leader of any nation to disappear for any amount of time. To do so is to shirk one's constitutional responsibilities, something that a nation like Nigeria cannot afford. Nigeria is fortunate that during Yar'Adua's 3 month absence, it slugged through the constitutional and political issues it faced and somehow made it out with less uncertainty than before. But, to assume that such will be the case if for some reason the nation were to face a similar challenge is dangerous. It is a risk that could lead to future insecurity not excluding military intervention.
REFORMING THE ELECTORAL ACT
Nigeria has been plagued with fraudulent elections in recent years that have called in question the validity of several governorships and even the Presidential election results. In fact immediately after his swearing in, Yar'Adua promised a review of the Act and created a committee to review the electoral process. The 22-man Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) made various recommendations, some of which Yar'Adua promised to review and possibly implement.
However, during his absence, a joint committee of Senate and House of Representatives members chose to make a crucial change to the Electoral Act. Specifically, the legislative committee plans to adopt the ERC's recommendation that would require elections be held between 120 and 240 days before the end of a Presidential term. This and other changes will be adopted at a meeting to take place on February 25th, 2010. That means that Presidential elections, originally scheduled for 2011, could take place by November 2010, not giving a sick and absent potential incumbent enough time to organize. Plus, the fact that the Vice President is the current Acting President serves to add more confusion and doubt as to whether Yar'Adua would seek a second term. Yar'Adua's handlers probably thought it best for him to return immediately in the midst of all the political changes so that his 'presence' could have a deterring impact.
WHAT ROLE DID THE U.S. PLAY?
Throughout Nigeria's constitutional crisis, the U.S. appeared to be watching the situation very closely. On the very day Jonathan was declared acting President, he met with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson. The U.S. made pronouncements praising Nigeria for its "democratic handover", and when Yar'Adua returned, the U.S. immediately expressed its concerns that his return would create instability. And, now, there are reports that Yar'Adua's return from Saudi Arabia was prompted by U.S. interference. According to Nigeria's Leadership newspaper, American authorities counseled their Saudi allies on the "major international and diplomatic problems" that could stem from their prevention of top Nigerian government officials from having access to Yar'Adua while there.
If this allegation is true, and Saudi Arabia "released" Yar'Adua, it supports the widely held view that he returned to die in Nigeria. Saudi Arabia would not want to compound their prevention of Nigerian officials from meeting with Yar'Adua with the possible death of a foreign leader within their borders. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not the U.S. played some role, big or small, in Yar'Adua's return.
A LACK OF POLITICAL CAPITAL
The constitutional amendment by the Senators took place after Yar'Adua had returned to Nigeria. This fact, coupled with the upcoming Electoral Act reform surely influenced the decision for Yar'Adua to return to Nigeria, in what has been deemed a hasty fashion. These factors highlight what can only be considered a lack of political capital and clout by Yar'Adua and his allies to stall or prevent these changes. This reality, coupled with the National Assembly ignoring a 'promise' that a formal letter was forthcoming from the President to empower Jonathan, can be interpreted as a loss of confidence in the President.
Whatever condition Yar'Adua is presently in, the fact that he is yet to be seen or heard from directly is a complication for Nigeria's political landscape. Political elites that have seemingly dismissed the president and possible foreign interference made it crucial for a return. Not to mention an oil-peace hanging in the balance, Northern elites concerned about their political control, supporters concerned about their fortunes tied to a sick/dead/dying President, The stakes are incredibly high. Yar'Adua's return has increased the political tensions and even a pronouncement by a spokesperson that Jonathan was to remain Acting President only raised more eyebrows when the Acting President was referred to as the Vice President. Ultimately it is upon Nigerians to find a solution to the uncertainties.
Hattip to pdbraide for the benefit of a conversation.
From the Archives:
- Nigeria's President Yar'Adua Returns?
- Constitutionality Of The Acting President
- Goodluck Jonathan Is Nigeria's Acting President
- 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