Niger Delta and Nigeria’s Presidential and Constitutional Crisis
January 25, 2010
Hon. Senator David Mark
of the Senate
Three Arms Zone
Hon. Dimeji Bankole
Speaker of the House of Representatives
of The Speaker
Three Arm Zone
National Assembly, Abuja
Dear Mr. President and Mr. Speaker:
We write this letter to you on behalf of Urhobo Historical Society, a Nigerian association that is particularly interested in the welfare of the Niger Delta and its constituent units. We wish to address the ongoing political and constitutional crisis that has been provoked by President Umaru Yar’adua’s ill-health and incapacitation. It is a crisis that has humbled the country’s image and that has rapidly deteriorated into circumstances that seriously put at risk the very survival of the Nigerian state. We join with other patriotic Nigerians who have called on those who wear the label of leadership of the nation to discharge their duties properly, with courage and integrity, and to be ever faithful to the command of the constitution of the country. As Niger Deltans, we are also compelled to highlight the associated and unrelenting attack on Niger Deltans whose rights as citizens of Nigeria have been challenged by those who willfully violate the Constitution because they refuse to accept the simple fact that Nigerians from the Niger Delta have the same right, as any of their compatriots from any other region of the country, to attain and to occupy any political office in Nigeria, including the Presidency, and, should the need arise, the acting presidency.
Why This Letter Is Addressed to
the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives
In other times, letters that touch on issues as weighty as the welfare and the survival of the nation would, of course, be addressed to the President of Nigeria. However, it is the unusual absence of the President from his duties that has occasioned the current crisis; hence this letter cannot be addressed to him because we do not know where he is. Nor can it be addressed to the Vice President who is clearly recognized by the Nigerian Constitution as the next in command whenever the President is absent from his duties. This is because there is a well-entrenched and patently unconstitutional attempt by powerful forces in the nation’s body politic to willfully violate the Constitution by preventing the Vice President from assuming the reins and responsibilities of the Presidency, in an acting capacity, in the absence of the substantive President. In these circumstances, we address this letter to you, the two officers whom the Constitution recognizes after the President and Vice President, because of your leadership positions in the legislative assemblies of the land. In writing to you as the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, it is our hope and prayer that as Constitutional officers of the National Assembly, you will share our concerns and message with your colleagues in Nigeria’s dual legislative chambers.
The Constitutional Problem of the Absence of
the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from His Office and Duties
There is probably no other instance of the misconduct of a Constitutional officer of the Federation that has attracted as much attention and concern in Nigeria’s history as the mystery surrounding the disappearance of President Umaru Yar’adua from his office and duties for a period that now exceeds two months. It will not be said by future historians that the Nigerian public kept quiet while their Government fiddled with the issues of the President’s health and the requirement that he should protect Nigeria’s welfare by transferring power to his deputy before embarking on a medical treatment that might incapacitate him. The spectacle to which the Nigerian population has been treated is one in which the actions of government officers appear principally motivated, not by the common good of all Nigerians, but by a seemingly all-consuming desire to exalt personal gain and secure sectional benefit from the unfortunate circumstances of the President’s ill-health. A straightforward constitutional matter has now degenerated into a major national and international crisis that has humiliated Nigeria at every turn.
Legally and constitutionally, the requirement that the President shall hand over the duties of his office to his deputy in the event that he will undergo incapacitating medical treatment seems clear from the much-quoted Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. What has not been equally emphasized in the public outcry over President Yar’adua’s failure to act according to the terms of the Constitution in this regard is the underlying reason why this Constitutional provision is important and necessary. It is a provision that is embodied in the constitutions and conventional practices of many countries all over the world, including those that are commonly considered the most mature ones. The master reason for demanding that, in circumstances in which they will be unfit to govern temporarily in their nations, executive heads of states and heads of governments should hand over their responsibilities to designated deputies has to do with the welfare of the nation to which they are expected to devote their time for as long as they serve in such offices. This rule, whether constitutionally empowered as in Nigeria or enforced by custom and conventional practice, is not for the comfort and discretion of the heads of states. It is for the protection of the welfare of the countries and the nations that they are sworn to serve. That is why President Yar’adua’s disregard of this provision of the Constitution represents utter contempt for the people of Nigeria whose welfare he swore to protect and promote.
We note that before the incident of the President’s breach of this provision of the Constitution on November 23, 2009, which has resulted in his prolonged disappearance from the Nigerian public, President Yar’adua had absented himself several times from his office and his duties without obeying the Constitution’s command that he should hand over his duties to his Vice President for temporary governance of the nation’s affairs. At no time on those previous occasions did the National Assembly query the unconstitutional absence of the President from his duties. We believe that in so failing to protect the Constitution from abuse by the President, the chambers of the National Assembly abdicated their sworn duties to the Nigerian people and served them poorly.
High-Profile Disregard of the Constitution and the Law
and the Growing Culture of Impunity in Nigeria
We would like to canvass the view that such high-profile disregard for the Constitution and the law as the President and the National Assembly have shown does breed its own ill-consequences. This is so because these Constitutional officers are imitated by other officials and actors, including the young, who therefore feel encouraged and empowered to disregard the law. During the decades of military rule, Nigeria’s heads of governments acted as if they were above the law. The whole point of Constitutional rule was to over-ride those ugly years of Nigerian history. Sadly, the behaviours of President Yar’adua and the National Assembly amply remind us that the bad ugly old days of disrespect for the Constitution and the law continue. This pattern of behaviours breeds and encourages bad practices outside Abuja. Indeed, there is a growing culture of impunity in Nigeria which conveys the clear message to some protected individuals and communities that they will not be punished if they willfully violate the laws of the land. The most alarming instance of this culture of impunity was recently outlined by a writer in saharareporters.com (Sunday, 27 December 2009). Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo writes: “In the four decades since the [civil] war, there had been perennial [religious] massacres . . . in the North. Over 40 incidents had happened, some small, some large. Meanwhile, nobody had ever been arrested, prosecuted or jailed for any of the killings.”
The nasty orgies of annual rituals of religious mayhem and massacres in many states in Northern Nigerian feed from such a culture of impunity and pose an existential threat to the Nigerian state. Until there is a strong demonstration by the highest Constitutional officers of the nation that they too are subject to Nigeria’s Constitution and her laws, it is probably wise to expect that these domestic religious upheavals will turn into domestic terrorism that will overwhelm Nigeria’s political structures.
The President’s Health and the Nation’s Security and Its National Secrets
When a mature nation has a new president or a new head of government, he goes through rituals which transform him from an ordinary citizen into what might rightly be termed a super-citizen. He is empowered and invested with his nations’ topmost secrets and security apparatuses. These secrets and security systems may well be matters of the existential provenance of his nation. They may be matters of life and death for the entire population of the nation that he governs. The president or prime minister is usually in control of the secret services of his country because they are vital for the survival of the modern nation-state.
Usually, as a tradeoff, the movements and daily routines of the president or head of government become restricted. He cannot be available unprotected to agents of foreign governments. Even in circumstances of ill-health, the nation’s secret services will make sure that the president or prime minister is not in vulnerable circumstances that will endanger the nation’s secrets and security systems. The matter of the medical treatment of the president or prime minister of a mature nation is not simply a family issue in which his wife and family have the final word. Even on his sick-bed, the president or prime minister cannot escape his national security and secret service operatives. In addition to such a national secret service necessity, the president or prime minister of a mature nation has his own personal physician and, if necessary, a medical team that are fully paid for by his country. Such specialized medical personnel are expected to travel with the president wherever he goes and to be available for his medical welfare at all times. In many mature countries, this protocol applies to past presidents and prime ministers who on previous occasions kept their nations’ top secrets.
It is in the light of these international norms and practices that we must question what has happened to Nigeria’s national secrets and security systems that were in the custody of President Umaru Yar’adua. It is now well known that he has not been available to Nigerian Government officials for months now. From the pronouncements of officials of the Government in Abuja, including members of the National Assembly, President Yar’adua is not under the complete watch of Nigeria’s secret service. Which Constitutional Officer is now in charge of the nation’s secrets and security system? Since President Yar’adua’s so-called “kitchen cabinet” has effectively blocked Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from acting in place of the President, we should assume that the security systems of the nation as well as our top secrets are not under his control.
What we all learn from various spokespersons of the Federal Government of Nigeria is that our President is entirely under the care of a foreign government. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is solely and wholly in charge of the welfare of the President of Nigeria. Indeed, some officials of Nigeria suggested that Nigeria should approach the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a statement about our President’s whereabouts and about his health. It is entirely possible that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is now privy to whatever Nigerian secrets and security systems President Umaru Yar’adua knows or once knew. Nigerian officials have no way of knowing whether the President’s medication includes medicines that will help him to volunteer the truth to the officials of a foreign government. Even if there are secret pacts that have farmed out Nigerian secret services to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this is not a matter about which patriotic Nigerians should be nonchalant. Apart from these concerns on security matters, the nation is entitled to be informed about the status of President’s personal physician and his team of doctors and medical staff who are paid for by the Nigerian people to take care of the President. Is it the case that the National Assembly forgot about the President’s medical team or is it just possible that they were barred from the presence of the President while he stays in the custody of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? The nation deserves answers to these questions.
On behalf of the Nigerian people, we must ask the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a straightforward question: Can you assure Nigerians that Nigeria’s top secrets and her security systems have not been compromised in the course of President Umaru Yar’adua’s unconstitutional absence from Nigeria while in the care and custody of a foreign government?
Niger Delta and Nigeria’s Presidency
Nigerians from the Niger Delta are patriotic people who have contributed in disproportionate measures to the development and reputation of their nation. They have produced scholars of note and have otherwise contributed to the growth of Nigerian and African academia. They have worked very hard in all ways in the public sector and in private vocations. They have contributed to Nigeria’s arts, sports, and culture in immeasurable ways. In economic matters, they are second to none in their contribution to Nigeria’s welfare. They have shared their natural assets, particularly their petroleum mineral oil resources, with the rest of the country, even as successive Nigerian governments have abused and exploited the region as if it were a disinherited colonial post in a far away land. Indeed, without the oil wealth of the Niger Delta, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital territory, could not have been built, and the Nigerian state would today be bankrupt and fiscally unable to function. Put simply, without the oil wealth of the Niger Delta, Nigeria would be a failed state. In view of these substantial contributions, we, like other patriotic Nigerians, are sorely worried about the misrule that has brought our country to her knees. Our current circumstances bring pain to all of those Nigerians who truly care about the future of the country – especially if they have worked hard for what they hoped would be a good future.
However, there is an additional source of pain for Niger Deltans. A section of the nation is telling us that, in spite of our contributions, we are not fit to serve in certain leadership positions. Let the point be fully stated. Those who have violated the Constitution in the matter of the President’s ill-health and his incapacitation by preventing the Vice President to act in a temporary period as President are not unintelligent people. On the contrary, the President, his “kitchen cabinet,” and the leadership and members of the National Assembly fully understand the meaning of the Constitution and are aware that the Constitution plainly directs that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should be the Acting President. The question that should be posed to those who oppose his assumption of the duties which the Constitution commands are now his to discharge, is not whether they understand the Constitution, because they do. The question, rather, is more pungent: Why, despite their clear understanding of the Constitution, have they decided to willfully violate it? Obviously, they have made the political calculation that it is more profitable to disobey the law and obstruct Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from becoming Acting President than to obey the law and allow a Niger Deltan to take that position. This is a piece of logic that is unacceptable to Niger Deltans. For the good of the country, we demand that those who are responsible for this crisis must take steps now to end it before it becomes too late to pull back from the abyss.
We are aware that there are allegations that youth restiveness in the Niger Delta is a national problem. Perhaps we should state that our youths are some of the most hard-working people in the country. Government policies have caused mass unemployment in a region where young men and women love to work. We are convinced that with proper policies the problem of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta will resolve itself. Meanwhile, the nation is running away from the far more serious problems of sectarian and religious divisions that we have reason to believe are fuelled and financed from outside Nigeria. These religious cleavages have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with no clear plans to curb those who instigate them. We in the Niger Delta have not declared that the leaders of the Northern states in which these mayhems occur are thereby disqualified from the Presidency of Nigeria. We therefore very much resent it when it is suggested that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Deltan, should not be the Acting President because some of the youths of the Niger Delta are restive.
Niger Deltans believe that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is fully qualified to be an Acting President or the President of Nigeria. We pray for him and for the quick recovery of President Umaru Yar’adua.
May God Save the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Editorial and Management Committee, UHS:
Peter P. Ekeh, Ph.D., Chairman
Isaac James Mowoe, Ph.D., J.D., Deputy Chairman
Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A., M.Sc., Secretary
Joseph O. Asagba, Ph.D.
Edirin Erhiaganoma, M.Sc
Joseph E. Inikori, Ph.D.
Francis Odemerho, Ph.D.
Omokere E. Odje, Ph.D.
Emmanuel Ojameruaye, Ph.D.
Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, Ed.D.
Ufuoma Scott, LLB, BL
Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor, M.D., Ph.D.