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Between prayers and section 144

By Abraham Ogbodo
07 May 2017   |   3:55 am
This is the problem of being out of touch for longer than necessary. Now, so much has happened and still happening that I do not know where to begin and end to capture as much as possible.

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

This is the problem of being out of touch for longer than necessary. Now, so much has happened and still happening that I do not know where to begin and end to capture as much as possible. For instance, this old song called restructuring of Nigeria has attained a new crescendo. Almost everybody is singing it this time around. And it is being sung as if something is going to happen today, today!

What are we even seeking to restructure if I may ask? We are talking as if there had been really a structure on ground all along that now needs to be restructured for better purpose. Truth is, something just happened some time in 1914 and something came out and we decided to call that thing that came out a country. Later, we changed the name to federation. We did not bother about the objective conditions that support such labeling. That we called what came out of the Lord Lugard Big Bond experiment country/federation did not make it one. Bottom line: most unfortunately, we have lived in self-denial for 103 years.

You can understand clearly why I said in my last but one article that stupidity is a much bigger problem in Nigeria than corruption. It is stupidity and not corruption that can cause a people to spend more than a century to discover something as simple as the right structure of a federation. Even at that, the stupidity still persists as some people remove the blame from the structure and place it on the operators. In effect, some Nigerians hold the belief that there is some ingenuity within the bounds of human knowledge that can cause a supra structure to stand firmly on a faulty foundation.

This is not even as urgent as the other matter about the health of President Muhammadu Buhari. That actually is my main purpose today. After spending about 50 days away in United Kingdom, on medical vacation and a treatment bill whose size is yet to be determined, the President returned not to his desk as such, but to be working from home according to his information minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The Nigerian president has become so scarce to public glare that sighting him is as essential and celebratory as sighting the new moon at the beginning and end of Ramadan.

He was reportedly sighted addressing the managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Kacalla Baru last Tuesday. Same day, some people said they also saw him talking to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubakar Malami. Even the President’s wife Aisha confirmed that her husband was not as ill as people were speculating. The national mood was upbeat as Tuesday dissolved into Wednesday and in anticipation of Buhari appearing in the Exco Chambers to preside over the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting to, at least, shame those who speculated that he was being fed through drips.

Buhari was not at Exco. Instead, it was Alhaji Lai Mohammed who was everywhere explaining that he, Buhari, was good to come but stayed back because the 1999 Constitution as amended did not say the President must attend or preside over all exco meetings. He insisted that the President could work from home or any other location for that matter, and even queried why reporters were probing, after they had reported in the dailies that same day that President Buhari was at his desk the day before attending to state matters.

The following day, it was the turn of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele to sight the President. He actually reported that he had gone to brief the Lion about the success of the apex bank’s monetary interventions to stabilize the home currency. Perhaps, buoyed by the excellent efforts of Emefiele in the very critical task of making the Naira firm up to the dollar, President Buhari gained instant strength, like the naira in recent times, enough to appear all by himself at Juma’at prayers in Aso Rock Villa last Friday, thereby dispelling rumours that he was bedridden. He was out for general sighting.

Somewhere in-between the stories of the sighting of the President by a very privileged few, a meeting of three highly eminent persons held in Minna, the Niger State capital. The persons are Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdusalami Abubakar and Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, all retired generals and former heads of state of Nigeria. It was a closed-door meeting and nobody was sure of the agenda at the meeting. But one social media commentator described the trio as preferential shareholders of a company called Nigeria Plc and that they had met in an extra ordinary Annual General Meeting (AGM), without ordinary shareholders of the company to deliberate and decide on what to do with the ailing current managing director of Nigeria Plc.

Since I cannot abandon everything else and return to school to study to become a constitutional lawyer, (I wouldn’t know if there are unconstitutional lawyers), I may have to study the operating constitution the same way I had studied Shakespeare’s Othello for my Higher School Certificate (HSC) at St Patrick’s College Asaba in the early 80s to understand some of the perspectives.

Section 144 of the Constitution defines when a man or woman shall cease to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, specifically on grounds of incapacitation. It says it is when two-thirds majority of the Executive Council (Exco) passes a resolution to that effect. By the way, the Exco comprises ministers and other persons, outside the Vice President, solely appointed by the President. More than that, a team of five eminent doctors, which must include the President’s personal physician, must test the resolution. It is only after these steps have been followed and established that the President of the Senate and House Speaker can be empowered to sign a notice to be published in the official gazette declaring the office vacant.

In effect, that section of the constitution is asking employees, in the context of Nigeria’s labour environment, to rally courage without any form of statutory protection and pronounce their employer unfit to employ them. Where has that happened before in this country? The closest to it was when Prof. Dora Akunyili of blessed memory, in a crowd of about 36 ministers strangely found a voice to say that ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had become incapacitated and should therefore be put aside while his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan be empowered to take over. She couldn’t swing it and something else called the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ manufactured by the National Assembly outside the operating rules did the magic.

And so, more or less, there is nothing called incapacitation of a sitting president in Nigeria’s political lexicon. Instead, what is written everywhere is ‘hale and hearty’ after which, the entries talk of prayers, prayers and more prayers to reverse the tide. As we all know, there is nothing that prayer does not do in this country. It is here that a woman whose womb had been evacuated still prays for the fruit of the womb. We had prayed to God to give us Goodluck when Yar’Adua became more of a yoke. And when we discovered that Goodluck was a gridlock, we prayed again for the affliction to be lifted for the blessings of Buhari.

God is so kind to Nigeria. He handles every difficult situation for us without holding us to account. He will still do it for us if the blessings of Buhari become burden. And so, instead of contemplating invoking Section 144 of the Constitution to whatever purpose, we should do what we know best to do – pray. Any GO (General Overseer) in the house should lead us in prayer. “Bow your heads and hearts, close your eyes and let’s pray! Our Heavenly Father, Eternal Rock of Ages, I Am THAT I AM….”