Constitution expert and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, in this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA, says a cabal in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government wants him to remain in power even at the expense of his health because of the fear of losing the vantage positions they currently occupy in his administration. He also speaks on the need for the National Assembly to urgently pass the 2017 budget to avoid national embarrassment. Excerpts:
There are speculations that President Muhammadu Buhari is considering resigning because of his deteriorating health. What do you think about this?
Well, in life there is nothing that is impossible. The only permanent thing in life is impermanence. And as far as I am concerned, President Muhammadu Buhari has served Nigeria very well in different capacities, before, during and after the civil war and he has continued to strive hard to serve Nigeria. If, due to old age, infirmity or weakness of the body or physical disabilities, he is no longer in the position to carry on with the serious business of governance, which he may feel is too tasking, very demanding and very challenging, I do not see anything wrong if he resigns and allows the Vice President to take over his office.
The only reason I will urge him to resign is not necessarily to avoid self-embarrassment, but for the more important reason that he really needs to take care of himself. The common saying is that health is wealth, dead men don’t rule, dead men don’t fight. When you are not healthy, there is so much you cannot do and there is so little that you can do. If I were Buhari, I would hand over to my Vice President like he did for 49 days and go back to London again to get the required medical attention so that he would get himself back, his vital ity, his vigour, his health before he can act. Even when his acolytes, his people celebrated him, not because he attended the Jumat service, anybody who knows the vibrant, gallant Buhari before now, will know that even physically, he looks very frail. I do not think there is any shame in this at all. All over the time, all over this field, there has been many people, many heads of state, foreign presidents who have been sick. Charles II of Spain, between 1761 and 1770, was ill. Katherine the second of Russia was ill. Joseph of Paraguay, between 1776 and 1840 was ill in office. Richard between 1845 and 1940 was ill in office. Thomas Creator was ill in office. There were so many foreign Presidents who were known to have fallen ill in office. Attah Mills, president of Ghana, was ill before he died. People like Steven Cobbler between 1837 and 1908, the 24th president of America; even Ronald Raegan, were all ill. So, there is no big deal in that.
But don’t you think the said cabal in the President’s government may not allow him to resign?
Well, it is left to them if they want a living president or a Yar’Adua. I think I will prefer a living president to a dead president. I think it is high time the cabal let go of him to go and treat himself. All they are fight ing for is their self-interest and the fear that when Buhari leaves they will also give up their various positions. I do not think Buhari should listen to that at all. I think he needs this health and his life.
How confident are you about the Vice President piloting the affairs of the country?
We are talking about Professor Yemi Osibanjo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He is mentally fit, physically fit, intellectually capable. Also the 49 days the president was away, he brought down the tension in the country through the use of his diplomacy, going from one state to another. Fulani herdsmen suddenly stopped, Niger Delta militants suddenly stopped. The entire tension in the country died down, he went to various places. So, there is nothing to show that if he becomes acting president, he wouldn’t do well. Nobody wishes Buhari anything bad. In fact, I wish him well.
Don’t you think the cabal will pose a challenge to the Vice president?
One, Osinbajo’s taking over is a constitutional matter. In the constitution, when the President becomes incapacitated due to infirmity, the Vice President takes over. We saw this in the case of Yar’adua. Although the doctrine of necessity had to be invoked because of the same cabal that was in charge and didn’t want Yar’adua to give up. This was why Nigeria was put on a dangerous precipice. The so called cabal was not voted for by the people of Nigeria. It was Buhari and Osinbajo that were voted for and the constitution makes it clear that a President must run with a vice President. It was because of situations like this, so that there will also be a spare tyre that will be the main tyre. So, there is nothing about the cabal not allowing the vice president to rule because it is simply a constitutional matter. If Osinbajo will then rule, he will have a vice president, who will, of course, be from the North. It is just a ‘cabalian’ manner which the so called cabals have no say in. They have no say in this; the Nigerian people do, because they are the sovereignty.
Media reports say in the event of Buhari resigning to pave way for Osinbajo to complete his term, he (Osinbajo) must step down for a Northern candidate to take over in 2019. What is your comment on this? Well, as far as I’m concerned, that is within the realm of political penetration. There is nothing impossible in politics. It was for the same reason that the Northerners fought Jonathan and never relented until he was pushed out of power. It was their belief that Jonathan should have just finished Yar’adua’s term and not seek a fresh term for himself. So, when Jonathan decided to exercise his constitutional right of seeking the right position, they fought him to the last. So, if judging from history, Osibanjo decides to go for another term and sign an agreement or if he decides to take a clue from Jonathan and handover at the end of the tenure, so be it.
They do believe that it is their right to go for another term since the other one was shortened. I think if the person comes, he will not be voted for by only Northerners. The only thing is that the Northern president coming in from the Northern extraction will not be voted for by only Northerners. He will need the votes from the South West, North Central, South East and the South-South to become president. He doesn’t need only votes from the North West and North East alone. I think what we need is a Nigerian President not a Northern President.
On the issue of the 2017 budget, people have been saying the National Assembly is delaying its passage. What is your take on this?
Under section 82 of the 1999 Constitution, a lazy government may use, for the first six months before passage of a budget, a sum not exceeding the amount used for the same six months period in the previous budget for the preceding year. This means that after six months, and there is no budget, the government will be grounded if no new budget has been passed. Passing a budget is no rocket science or nuclear physics. It is one simple irreducible minimum of governance to project ahead expected income and envisaged expenditure. It’s a shame that our government, both the Executive and Legislature, cannot synergise and pass a simple budget, a mere annual ritual, six months into a new fiscal year.
Watchers of events say the past governments too have not fared better in this regard…
basanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan have been extremely lousy and culpable in this disgraceful governance impunity. But the PMB government has raised this bar of impunity as even its own budgets have either been missing, grossly padded, or corrupted outright with opaqueness and lack of sincerity as regards priorities in this era of debilitating recession, when Nigerians are literally feeding from dust bins. Humongous, phony and funny allocations are mindlessly repeated yearly on mundane things as cutlery, motor tyres, C-Caution signs, wheel spanners, rent in Aso Villa (we never knew there were landlords and tenants in government’s seat of power ),fleet of convoy vehicles. All these are put at billions of naira in the last two budgets, while the critical sectors of energy, roads, aviation, power, education, housing, health, water, infrastructure, youth employment and capacity building, gender empowerment and others are left to suffer. The question is, with the rains already here, when will the allocations in the expected budget be used for beleaguered Nigerians? Even during undemocratic and unrepresentative military regimes, we used to have 5 year development Plans that were fully gazetted in our laws. Here we are today, unable to pass a simple annual budget for only one year. It’s incredible how our leaders have really brought this country down to her knees and prostrate on her belly. I feel so embarrassed having to discuss this kindergarten, very pedestrian and extremely mundane issue about passing an annual budget.
Two years after it was elected, the President Buhari administration has yet to consider the result of the 2014 National Conference. What is your take on this?
I have always been surprised, but of late, bemused, when I hear some people kicking against restructuring. Restructuring is not tantamount to a break-up.
The over 600 recommendations of the distinguished Nigerian patriots, men, women and the youth, from all walks and strata of life in the 2014 National Conference must be immediately retrieved from the archives, where there are gathering dust and spider cobwebs, by this government, put on the front burner and utilized meticulously for the purpose of re-engineering, retooling and reformatting this Nigerian contraption that is still not working.
One Nigerian official, I usually prefer to discuss issues and institutions, not names or individuals, for I believe in building strong institutions, not strong men and women, this one Nigerian official woke up one day and imperiously justified the consignment of these laudable recommendations to the vehicle of historical oblivion.
What was his justification? He said the entire conference was designed to “give jobs to the boys”. Holy Moses! He was, like the present government, looking at the messenger, rather than the message. Job for the boys, in the best ever organized conference that attracted the most illustrious sons and daughters of Nigeria?
A conference that attracted the vibrant youths, first class monarchs, organised private sector, civil society, the academia, diplomatic corps, Diasporans, professional bodies, ethnic nationalities, political parties, physically challenged persons, socio-cultural organizations, retired leading jurists, elder statesmen and women, military, police and market men and women? Kai! Haba
Why do you now think the 2014 national conference report should be implemented?
There are several reasons why the 2014 National Conference report must be implemented by this government.
Indeed, with forever politicking, rather than governance, elections are already around the corner. Wait till December, 2017. The recommendations must form the lynchpin and the pivot around which the entire campaigns and manifestoes of the various political parties and office seekers must articulate.
The first reason is that there has never before been a conference of the plenitude, amplitude, depth, breadth, weight, magnitude, capacity, loftiness, plurality, accomplishment, patriotism, openness, transparency and intellectual fecundity of the conferees as the 2014 National Conference.
I can attest to this, at least, since my participation at the 2005 National Political Conference as civil society delegate and chairman of the sub-committee on civil society, media, labour and trade unions; the Vision 2020 of 2009 as Federal Government delegate in the law, Justice and Judiciary thematic area; and the 2014 National Conference into which Almighty God personally gate crashed me as a Federal Government delegate by repelling people, who oxymoronically tried to cover the sun with their palm.