With President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua still held-up at the presidential Villa with no access to him as he continues to recuperate, Nigerians continue to view with grave concern their inability to see their president. Reflecting on the mood of the nation, a Senator Dr. Abbah-Ibrahim berated the much- talked-about “kitchen cabinet” of the president and spoke on related issues in this interview with our Abuja Bureau Chief, Justus Awaji.
Since Mr. President’s arrival in the country, no body has claim to have seen him and this is creating some elements of turmoil in the country. What is your reaction?
Well, thank you very much for this question. As you rightly said, we’ve been told Mr. President has arrived in the country though we haven’t seen him; I haven’t met a single Nigerian who has met him since his arrival but be that as it may, we’re told he has arrived. You should also know that there’s an official release from the office of Mr. President that the Acting president should continue to act until he is in a position to resume and take over his job and continue, so, in as much as he has not done that, the acting president continues to act until such a time – even though there have been some controversies as to whether the statement in fact referred to the Acting President as Vice President and so on and so forth. I don’t think this is really important, what is important is that NASS has taken a position –it asked Dr. Jonathan, to act as the President until the president returns to the country and formally writes to us that he is back and ready to resume and do his job – he has to do that in writing to the NASS before he can take over, before the Vice President will stop acting as President.
I don’t really see any indication that he has gotten better. But the statement also said that he is not yet well enough to take over so you maintain the status quo until something happens.
Constitutionally, he is still on sick leave, so far he has spent 3 months. How long will he spend before notifying the NASS that he is…?
(Cuts in) The constitution has not stated any time limit. He can continue on sick leave, …but the fact of the matter is that there is a vacuum – the VP will continue to act as the president with full presidential powers as also commander of the Armed Forces until Mr. President comes back – no matter how long it takes.As far as the current situation regarding the constitution is concerned, there is no time limit of how long he has to act before he takes over. The condition for taking over (is) also categorically stated in the constitution and time is not one of them. But there is also, I know an amendment to the constitution on the same issue so that we don’t run into the same situation even in the future.
This time, not only the President and Vice President are coming up in the amendment but also governors and deputy governors have also been covered by the new amendment proposed by the Senate and passed by the Senate, overwhelmingly recently. I am sure the House of Representatives will also act on the same issue so that the Amendment will be taken to the State Houses of Assembly – as it borders on the office of the governors. We wanted to fast track so that that aspect of the constitution will be amended very, very soon. So that whether President travels or falls sick or whether governor travels or falls sick or for whatever reason that either President or governor cannot perform their duties, there will be no ambiguity again – it’s a clear mandate to take over and act until the incumbent returns or resumes or recovers as the case may be.
I was about taking you up on that. What are your views on sections 144 & 145 of the constitution?
144 deals with permanent incapacitation of President or a governor; 145 deals with temporary incapacitation of a president or governor.
As far as 144 is concerned, I don’t think that it requires an urgent change or urgent amendment but 145 needs amendment that was why we passed the amendment.
In the event where a president or a governor travels, they have to transmit the handover of government in writing to the vice president or deputy governor as the case may be. If he refuses to do that or fails to do that then after 14 days, the vice president and deputy governor automatically, with only a simple majority both from the NASS & State House of Assembly takes over. So that is now categorically clear and can be used as a guideline so that we don’t run into this kind of crises initially not anticipated by the constitution.
The International community is very much interested in the goings – on in Nigeria, in particular, the United States has reacted to the President home – coming. As it were, the US has cautioned the aides of President Yar’Adua not to do anything that will tend to undermine the democracy in Nigeria. How would you react to this?
That’s a good advice, coming especially from the US – anybody for that matter; they shouldn’t do anything that will in anyway put us into further crises; we’ve heard more than enough crises. And we are just about solving these unanticipated problems – the issue of President & Vice President and now the Governors and their Deputy Governors. I think it’s a very good advice and it’s a timely advice. That the constitution has been clear – where constitution is not clear, people should propose amendment to make it clear rather than going about to play games and putting our democracy and our peace in jeopardy as a nation. It’s a very dangerous trouble, constitutional issue, particularly at that level. We must act in ways that will show that we are united – a united country and our national interest is put before any other interest under whatever circumstance.This country is bigger than all of us, bigger than anybody, so its interest should come before anybody else’s interest, any group’s of interest.
It’s worrisome to a cross section of Nigerians that since the arrival of the President, several key officers have not been able to get across to him So, Nigerians out there are saying this is not good for our nation and our image internationally. Do you agree?
Well, first of all, I am not of the PDP, I am of ANPP. I only come in because it’s a burning National issue, I only come to assist the PDP to solve their local problem – this is really not my problem, it’s not a national problem. It’s a local problem but they’ve messed up, like they’ve messed up so many other things – it’s the proper failure of leadership of the PDP at all levels .
Be that as it may, since we’ve offered to assist at the Senate level, we’ll also assist in all levels. What you are saying is very right – it’s worrisome that the President who has returned from whatever trip anywhere in the world could not be seen by those that are supposed to see him when he arrived, we were expecting to see him, at least have a glimpse of him on the screen or in some newspaper. Rather, we’re only shown aircraft and ambulances and soldiers with guns and nothing else, – there was nothing we saw. That’s very, very strange and very, very worrisome – not only to Nigerians but to the people all over the world because I’ve seen CNN, BBC world – all carrying the same news and sharing their worry about the condition.I don’t think there should be so much secrecy about the president. Even if he is in a bad shape, what can I do, what can you do, what can they or anybody do? Life is in the hands of God! Not in the hands of our wives or our sisters or our brothers or whatever and the President is a public figure; he’s a public property, you can’t keep him from the people. We can only pray for him, there is nothing else we can do – we can’t do anything to make his condition worse. Rather if there is anything we can do to make his condition better, it is to pray for him; wishing him quick recovery, by wishing him well. I hope those managing the situation of the President should do a better job – they’ve really been messing up. They haven’t done anything right. Right from the word ‘go’, this President, I know would not be the president that will refuse to give Jonathan a letter to act in his absence, somebody must have stopped it or somebody must have stopped him. Somebody must have put some funny ideas into the heads of those who are very, very close to him. This president, I know will in no way hide his condition from the people – there is nothing you can hide about sickness and death. Nobody can change anything except God! God only listens to prayers, not lamentations, so we hope that they’ll really manage his case better.