BY Hussaini Monguno*
Since Nigeria returned to presidential democracy in 1999, the relationship between the president and his deputy has been a contentious issue. To set the ball rolling was the pair of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his Vice.
The relationship between the two particularly in the second term of their office was so fractured that the President stripped his Vice of all powers, even the peripheral ones like participation in all cabinet meetings and by statute, membership in the National Security Council, the National Defence Council, Federal Executive Council, and the Chairman of National Economic Council.
The causes of this conflict were an open secret; it was instigated by political jobbers who wanted to fish in the troubled waters of a President at war with his deputy. Additionally, the President wanted a third term in office while his Vice was of the view that he should stick to the Constitutional provision of a maximum of two terms.
While the disagreement lasted, the President went the extra mile to block all financial allocations to the office of the Vice President, sacked all his personal aids, including his drivers and security personnel and even attempted to shut him out of the Federal executive Council meetings. Every time he travelled out of the country as he loved to do, he whimsically handed over the running of the government not to the Vice President as provided by the Constitution but to a chosen crony.
President Obasanjo’s bullying tactics nearly plunged the country into a Constitutional crisis and political upheaval. It was the civilized response of Vice President Atiku Abubakar that saved the day. He responded as a democrat and did not take the law into his hands. Instead, he went to the courts, seeking protection from the illegal acts of his overbearing boss. Credit must be given to Atiku for advancing the rule of law in a democratic Nigeria. Obasanjo even ‘suspended’ him from office. He took him to court and won all his cases, even at the Supreme Court of the land.
Following the bad example of his predecessor, President Umaru Yar’Adua never took his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan into much confidence. In 2009 he travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical help without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly transferring power to his Vice. As his stay in Saudi Arabia became rather prolonged, a dangerous power vacuum was created at the apex of government. Questions began to be asked both within Nigeria and the international community as to who was in charge of affairs in the most populous black nation on earth.
As the country drifted hopelessly to the precipice, civil society organisations took up the challenge and organized protest marches to ensure that the constitutional crisis did not snowball into anarchy. The National assembly rose to the occasion and came up with the “doctrine of necessity”, which clearly offended the constitution but saved the country from a certain doom. Goodluck Jonathan was by that novel experiment empowered to be an acting President.
Against such a turbulent background, we must give President Muhammadu Buhari the credit for he has already left an enduring succession legacy even as he has not clocked two years in office as President. On all occasions that he has had to travel out of the country on his official or medical leave, he has written to the National Assembly transferring power to his trusted Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. By such action, he has created a situation where transfer of power has been seamless and rancor free. In his absence, even when rumours are afloat in the air that he has expired, government business moved on smoothly.
Last Sunday the President travelled abroad to the United Kingdom to keep an appointment with his doctors. As usual he wrote to the National Assembly as required by section 145(1) of the Constitution. But the Senator representing Abia-North at the National Assembly, Mao Ohuabunwa, tried to raise unnecessary dust over the letter on Tuesday, saying the transfer of power from President Muhammadu Buhari to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was not clear.
Ohuabunwa had raised a point of order after President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, separately read a letter from President Buhari informing the legislature of his medical vacation.
Buhari in the letter said the duration of his leave was indefinite and that the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would “coordinate” the governance while he is away.
But Senator Ohuabunwa faulted the letter as not naming Osinbajo as Acting President and should be disregarded. He said, “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 unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them the written declaration to the contrary, such function shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.
“Mr. President, I don’t think in our Constitution we have anything like ‘coordinating president’ or ‘coordinating vice president.’ It is either you are vice president or you are acting president and any letter (on transfer of power) should be unambiguous and very clear. So, I am saying that this letter really does not convey anything because ‘coordinating’ has no space or any place in our Constitution.”
We are happy that the Senate has wisely ignored Mao Ohuabunwa’s alarmist call on the Presidents well intentioned letter to the National Assembly. His call was an unpatriotic but futile attempt to bring distrust between the President and his loyal Vice. It is reminiscent of the PDP politics in the Obasanjo Atiku days when political scavengers created mistrust in the presidency for their own selfish gains.
We wish to inform Nigerians who may not know that Mao Ohuabunwa did his National Youth service Corps in Yola the capital of Adamawa State. After that, he stayed there to start life as a young man until he plunged into politics. He therefore took advantage of his links with Adamawa people to create mistrust between the Turakin Adamawa, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Obasanjo. He for instance coordinated the first attempt to impeach Obasanjo in 2002. This was the first thing that brought a lot of mistrust between Atiku and Obasanjo.
We are therefore calling on Ohuabunwa to stop his anti-democratic antics and save Nigeria from the agonies of his old selfish tactics.
Hussaini Monguno wrote this piece from Yerwa and it is culled from his facebook page