10 February 2010

Nigeria: As Senate Declares Goodluck Jonathan Acting President, Lawyers Differ On Senate Resolution

Abuja — Legal Practitioners yesterday expressed divergent views on the resolution of the Senate declaring Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President pending the return of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'adua.

Barrister Yahaya Mahmood, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner, said the Senate resolution, even without letter from ailing President Umaru Yar'adua, is the right decision in the current state of emergency that Nigeria finds itself.

Mahmood said under the circumstances which the president left the country, it was impossible for him to write the National Assembly, adding that in that situation, a stalemate loomed in the political horizon because the Senate had threatened not to accept any correspondence from the presidency, so long as Jonathan is not made acting president.

The lawyer said that the resolution did not violate any section of the constitution because the constitution empowers the Senate to make laws and pass resolutions for good governance, adding that the law makers acted within that context.

Chief Mike Ozekhome, Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, said members of the Upper Legislative Chambers acted appropriately in the present circumstance as, according to him: "A desperate disease requires a desperate remedy".

While urging members of the House of Representatives to tow the line of the Senate, Ozekhome said, President Yar'adua made it clear in his BBC interview which was heard across the world that until his doctors certify him fit, he remains in the Saudi Arabian hospital.

"What other written declaration does the Senate want again? This resolution of the Senate ought to have come long time ago but in any case it is a decision that will save the country from breaking up", he stated.

Barrister Max Ogar, an Abuja based lawyer, applauded the Senate, saying if the upper legislative chamber had not taken the resolution, there would have been the tendency of break-down of security in the country and that what the Senate did was to avert such thing. However, other legal practitioners who spoke with Daily Trust disagreed, saying the motion seems to depart from the constitution's provision for dealing with a presidential absence.

President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Rotimi Akerodolu, which has petitioned the courts to force a handover of interim powers, said the resolution of the Senate is not backed by the constitution, adding that "At this point in our democracy we should try as much as possible to stick to procedure."

He said the NBA would meet next week Thursday to take decision on the new development.

Another Kaduna-based lawyer and one-time Solicitor General of Kaduna State Barrister Aliyu Umaru dismissed the Senate resolution, arguing that it is not backed by the constitution. He said Section 145 is very clear and the resolution did not comply with it.

Umaru said that the section states that whenever the president transmits to the National Assembly, a written declaration that he is proceeding on leave or otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmit a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the vice president as acting president.

He said although Section 5 of the constitution confers the powers of the federation on the president and he can exercise these powers through his ministers or aides, Yar'adua has to write the letter himself and he cannot delegate the responsibility that Section 145 places on him. Barrister Umaru also said that the only way out is for Yarádua to sign the letter, since he can sign the supplementary budget.

Written by Ibraheem Musa, Kaduna, Kayode Ekundayo, Lagos & Sunday Ejike Benjamin, Abuja

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