When the President is Sick – What is Supposed to Happen?
There have been rumours, counter-rumours, allegations of ill-health, death and brain damage. One American newspaper even went so far as to claim that Yar’Adua died on December 10. If this story is true it would would place Yar’Adua in very illustrious company as one of a select band of few human beings to resurrect from the dead (Yar’Adua was interviewed by the BBC this week).
For those that actually care about what is supposed to happen in crises/presidential absences such as these, here is a little primer on Nigeria’s constitution (yes, Nigeria does have one, even though it is not always followed):
Is Yar’Adua Supposed to Formally Hand Over to his Vice-President During His Absence?
To all those people haranguing Yar’Adua for not “formally handing over” to his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, no such formal “hand over” is required. Once Yar’Adua informs the President of the Senate (David Mark) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dimeji Bankole) that he is leaving the country on vacation or is unable to perform the functions of his office, from that moment on, his job functions automatically divest to his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan under section 145 of the Constitution:
“145. 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.”
The trouble is that section 145 does not say what will happen if the President does NOT give the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration of his absence from the country or incapacitation. Did Yar’Adua give such a notice to Mark and Bankole? If so, Goodluck Jonathan has de facto been exercising Yar’Adua’s powers since Yar’Adua left the country last November. If he did not give the written declaration…..the situation is murky. That is why we are in the current limbo.
So Why Doesn’t Yar’Adua Just Formally Designate that the Vice-President is in Charge Till He Returns?
The President and his supporters are far too politically savvy for that. Nigeria’s ruling PDP political party operates something called “zoning”. It “zones” (i.e. allocates and rotates) its presidential candidate between different parts of the country. The PDP’s previous presidential candidate was former President Obasanjo (a Yoruba Christian from the south) who stood as PDP candidate and President for two terms of office (1999-2003 and 2003-2007). When Obasanjo’s term of office expired in 2007, the PDP zoned the presidency to the north and its candidate Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (the current President and a Fulani Muslim from the north). The expectation is that Yar’Adua will serve 2 terms of office (i.e. until 2015) before the PDP “zones” the presidency back to the south.
Northerners fear that allowing Vice-President Jonathan to stand in for Yar’Adua will eat into or truncate its “turn” in the presidency.
Can Yar’Adua Be Removed From Office Due to His Absence?
Yes – but it is VERY difficult.
Two overlapping actions are required. Firstly, two-thirds of the Federal Executive Council (Nigeria’s cabinet) must pass a resolution declaring that Yar’Adua is unfit to discharge his functions; AND
The declaration then has to be verified by a medical panel of 5 doctors (including Yar’Adua’s own doctor), confrming that the President has been PERMANENTLY incapable of discharging his functions.