By Eugene Uwalaka
Nigerians were rightly exhorted by the Senate President Bukola Saraki and acting President Osinbajo to ignore the red-herring of distinguished Senator Mao Ohuabunwa. Mr. President’s letter was not vague. It is neither opaque nor ambiguous I will come back to this.
There was no need for the legal pedantics and political hermeneutics that ensued from Mr. President’s May 7, 2017 letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives save that some commentators at times write to impress rather than to express. This rejoinder was provoked by the wrong headed comments made in the grand masters’ column of the Guardian. (Read page 9, dated 23/05/2017).
Mr. Ray Ekpu got it wrong. He has to be told this before the gullible public swallows his comment hook, line and sinker. Mr. Ekpu sought to play the role of the great French deconstructionist late Jacques Derrida. But in playing Jacques Derrida, Ray glossed over the basic laws of interpretation. He failed to realize that the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 CFRN) like any other written document is syntactically organised and ordered. It has pretext, context and post-text.
So why did Ray ignore the line or text considerations in making his cryptic remarks on the May 7th, 2017 letter Mr. President wrote to inform the Senate President and the Speaker of the House that he was proceeding on medical vocation as required by sect. 145, 1999 CFRN. Ray was right in his contention that legal issues are often subsumed in precedents. Mr. Ekpu was also right in observing that this is a constitutional matter. But only God knows why he veered off to simulation and scenario building, “what if-questions” that led him astray.
The first time Mr. President went to the United Kingdom on 50 days medical vacation, he wrote the letter required by section 145, 1999 CFRN. The effect of this letter under our constitution is to transform the Vice President to Acting President through robust devolution of Mr. Presidents’ powers as spelt out in section 130(2), 1999 CFRN.
The second medical vacation to the UK calls for the same constitutional process to transfer power to the Acting President. The representatives of the people are not to be kept in the dark concerning this. Hence the May 7, 2017 letter.
Mr. Ekpu argued that the Acting President was demoted. Nothing can be further from the truth. Methinks Mr. President was generous in fitting additional feathers to the Acting President’s wings to enable him fly as high as he may wish. He gave him all the powers he requires to be a strong Acting President.
Events and administrative hiccups not known to the public outside the Presidency may have informed Mr. President’s express devolution of powers under sect. 148(2). I think Muhammadu Buhari has lived out his integrity narrative when he decided to add to the growing feathers of the Acting President. President Muhammadu Buhari has largely exercised his executive discretion in favour of the Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Those who think that the Acting President’s powers were cleverly curtailed when he was asked in the contentious May 7, 2017 letter to exercise co-ordinating function got it wrong.
Those powers were merely underscored to leave no one in doubt that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is fully in charge. Those powers are clearly spelt out in sect. 148(2), 1999 CFRN. With this, no minister, head of federal parastatals, chairmen of federal executives bodies, will say “I don’t take instructions from the Acting President” Thus President Muhammadu Buhari has delegated all the powers of the executive president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. What remains to be seen is the salutary use to which the Acting President puts them as he exercises all the powers of a substantive president.
It is wrong commentary; it is misleading to say that “the Nigerian Presidency is all considered a one-man-show”. Ray contended that “other persons may “waka-pass “but the Nigerian presidency is the main event, the Iroko tree, the big masquerade, the behemoth, the dragon and the leviathan. These Hobbesan terminologies can scare the leaders and members of other institutions of government. Nigerians become more and more permissive when members of the Fourth Estate scare the public with the wrong image of Mr. President. This is part of the damage we journalists do. Note that what you tell a nation can make or mar the nation. Timid citizens and permissive societies are the offshoot of unedifying journalism that robs them of their self-esteem. Why do we enjoy decorating the President of the Federal Republic with primitive labels?
I take Ray Ekpu’s allusion to the excessive concentration of power in one man’s hands with a grain of salt. According to Ray, “Mr. President alone wields the axe with which to split the wood. Everybody else is holding either a pen-knife, a kitchen-knife a pair of scissors or a razor blade”. Why do people continue to lie without earning themselves the name of Ananias? At best Ray Ekpu’s comment may pass for a half-truth. But we know that anything less than the truth must be a lie!! Let’s refrain from making other institutions to feel inferior to the executive.
Come to think of it, the powers of the Federal Republic were identified in the 1999 constitution and separated into three co-ordinate bureaucratic powers. The Executive Powers which President Muhammadu Buhari exercises is only one out of the three coordinate powers. So why must someone tell Nigerians that “there is excessive concentration of powers in one man’s hand!!” President Buhari does not wield the enormous legislative powers at the disposal of the Senate President. Enormous legislative powers also reside in the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Clearly the judicial powers of the Federal Republic are not reposed in the presidency. So the executive power is just one of the bureaucratic or institutional powers of the Federal Republic (Read the Ethics of Political Leaderships).
By and large Mr. Ekpu may have sounded hyperbolic in characterising Mr. President. Our institutions are separated for checks and balances. Mr. Ekpu may be reacting to the visible fact that neither the legislature, nor the judiciary nor their collaboration, has been able to call Mr. President to order when he single handedly refused to implement the 2014 confab agreements freely entered into by all the political, social, economic and religious communities of Nigeria. The tenure of the Nigerian Federation technically lapsed by operation of law after the first installment of 100 years of co-existence (1914-2014). The political, social, economic and religious communities met in 2014 to redefine and refine the terms and conditions for continued co-existence of the circa 250 tribal nationalities comprising the nation. There has been a padded discussion on restructuring.
It is risky to continue to delay the implementation of the 2014 confab agreement to restructure Nigeria. Let the acting president advert his legal mind to resolve this gridlock. A strong Acting President would have no problem restructuring the Nigerian Federation having been vested with the enormous powers in section 130(2) and sect. 148(2) of the 1999 CFRN by President Muhammadu Buhari.
– Uwalaka, an author and editor is a former special assistant.