Wednesday, November 28, 2012
History was made in the Nigerian judiciary on Friday, November 23, 2012 when Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, hitherto the presiding Justice of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, was sworn in as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal. She is the first female President of the Court of Appeal, though in acting capacity. She took over from Justice Dalhatu Adamu. This singular appointment of Mrs. Bulkachuwa has effectively put women at the helms of affairs of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the two highest courts of the land. It would be recalled that Justice Mariam Aloma Mukthar was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Nigeria on July 16, 2012.
Another noteworthy event that happened same day, however, was the CJN’s swearing-in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo who was unceremoniously denied an oath of office alongside 11 of her other colleagues on November 5. Her ‘sin’ was that she was playing the role of usurper by trying to occupy the Abia State slot at the Appeal Court though she is an indigene of Anambra State. The fact that she is married to an Abia man and had worked for 14 years in Abia State was discountenanced by her traducers. They simply based their petitions on “Guiding Principles and Formulae for the Distribution of all Cadres of Posts,” created in pursuance to the Federal Character Commission (Establishment, etc) Decree (1996 No 34). Part 11, Clause 11 provides that: “A married woman shall continue to lay claim to her state of origin for the purpose of implementation of the federal character formulae at the national level.” This policy is contained in Official Gazette No 74, Vol. 84. Incidentally, Anambra State already has three justices of the Court of Appeal while Abia has only one. The implication of Mrs. Jombo-Ofo’s appointment into the appellate court means that Anambra has four justices of the Court of Appeal while Abia has only one.
Though the petitions cannot be said to lack merit, however, the guideline is inconsistent with, and thus inferior to Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which says: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person:- a) be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any executive action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject..” It is an irrefutable fact that any law that is inconsistent with the constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be null, void and of no effect. This is where the majority of the public, I inclusive, disagreed with the cerebral Justice Mukthar. Being a woman herself and a jurist, she ought not to have suspended Jombo-Ofo’s inauguration on the basis of petition(s) which is clearly in conflict with constitutional provision. More so, the Abia State Government which nominated her to the National Judicial Council in the first place had also written to affirm her candidacy.
The Senate, in a resolution passed on November 7, had urged the CJN to swear-in Justice Jombo-Ofo and for all government agencies to note that a married woman can claim either her state of origin or that of her husband’s in relation to the Federal Character principle. A civil society group, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, led by its Executive Director, Mrs. Funmi Falana, had also dragged the Federal Government to a Lagos High Court over the matter before NJC in its emergency meeting held on November 21 gave a final nod for Jombo-Ofo to be sworn-in.
It is important to note that a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olufunlola Adekeye, had decried this discriminatory attitude in her valedictory speech on Wednesday, October 31, a few days before the Jombo-Ofo’s maltreatment took place. The media had reported Justice Adekeye as calling on the CJN, the Chief Judges of the states, the Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council to review the policy that married women cannot reach the peak of their career in their husbands’ states. She noted that complaints of this nature are increasingly rampant in the judiciary. The retired Justice lamented that whenever there is vacancy at the top in the husband’s state, the woman is often denied the post. Instead, she is referred to her state after climbing the ladder and putting so many years into the service. An indigene of the state will thereafter, take the position. She observed that the woman would have hurdles to cross in her state as she did not work there and the authorities there would not be able to assess her suitability for the post properly.
It is my considered view that the obstacle to women emancipation in Nigeria is more cultural than legal. AsThe Guardian noted in its November 21, 2012 editorial: “That Justice Jombo-Ofo seeks elevation to the upper Bench through her husband’s state of origin is not novel. From precedents, female judges have been known to take advantage of their husbands’ place of birth. It happened in the case of Justice Mary Odili who got into the Supreme Court through her husband’s state of origin and Justice Amina Augie, the wife of the late Senator Adamu Augie, who rose through the home state of her husband.” Two former Chief Judges of Lagos State, Justice Omotunde Ilori, and Justice Ade Alabi, were said to have been from Osun and Ondo states respectively. Even in the realm of politics, Senator Grace Folasade Bent, though Yoruba by tribe, represented Adamawa State (her husband’s home state) in the Sixth Senate.
It is therefore heart-warming that good sense has prevailed after much public uproar about the perceived injustice being meted to Justice Jombo-Ofo. However, I align my thought with those calling for constitutional reform on the issue of indigeneship. I think citizenship and residency should take precedence over indigeneship and that after a stipulated number of years of residing in a particular community or state, one should be able to aspire to the highest position in the state. This should not be made discretionary.
Additionally, the obnoxious federal character guideline needs to be reviewed by the National Assembly to bring it in conformity with the provisions of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Further, it is high time Nigeria domesticated the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and other international and regional instruments that promote women’s rights which the country had previously ratified.
Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State should be commended for nominating and standing by Justice Jombo-Ofo. This saga has proved the power of public opinion in shaping government decision. If not for the public outcry, Mrs. Jombo-Ofo would have been completely denied her legitimate right at the upper echelon of the Bench. I congratulate her and Justice Bulkachuwa warmly and wish them a very successful and crisis-free tenure in office.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
“I dreamt of a new role in which every man or woman could reach his or her full potential, irrespective of the colour of their skin, only by recognising education as a powerful weapon against poverty and injustice.” —Dr. Martin Luther King
I knew from time there are crises in Nigeria’s education sector; from primary to tertiary. The evidence are there for all to see. What with lack of adequate infrastructure, high rate of school dropout and out-of-school children, mass failures in external secondary school examinations, brain drain of lecturers and now students, perennial industrial actions by various unions in the education sector, et cetera. A release by a non-governmental organisation, Exam Ethics International, says Nigeria loses a whooping N1.5tn to education tourism. Of this sum, N160bn is spent by Nigerian parents on their children and wards’ education in neighbouring Ghana while they spent N80bn on same in the United Kingdom.
On November 1, 2012, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities set up by the Federal Ministry of Education presented its report to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, at the National Economic Council in Abuja. The committee’s report revealed that public universities are grossly mismanaged; engage in activities at variance with the National Policy on Education and are lacking in human and material resources. They were accused of being incapable of supplying the nation’s manpower needs and are said to be bogged down by corruption of various kinds while offering education of poor quality, among others.
The setting up of the committee was part of the 2009 agreement between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government. It would be recalled that ASUU had in 2009 embarked on a four-month strike which had paralysed the entire public universities sector. On October 21, 2009, ASUU and the Federal Government reached a truce by signing an agreement. The gist of the signed agreement include the approval of about 50 per cent salary increase for the university lecturers, administrative autonomy for the universities, 70 years retirement age for university professors and enhanced funding of the universities.
The recent needs assessment report shows that a majority of the universities are grossly understaffed, rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers, have under-qualified academics and have no effective staff development programme outside the Tertiary Education Trust Fund intervention and the Presidential First Class Scholarship programme. The report also affirmed that there are 37,504 academics (83 per cent of which are male) in the country’s public universities. This shows that only 17 per cent of academic staffers in public universities are female. Could this be as a result of low girl child education, lack of interest of women in academics or total act of discrimination against the female sex in recruitment for academic positions?
The Yakubu report also revealed that only about 43 per cent of Nigerian universities teaching staff have doctorate degrees. Further, instead of 75 per cent of the academics being between senior lecturers and professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket. Only seven universities have up to 60 per cent of their teaching staff with PhD qualification. Also, the ratio of teaching staff to students in many universities is 1:100. For instance, it is 1: 363 at the National Open University of Nigeria; 1:122 at the University of Abuja; and 1:144 at the Lagos State University. In contrast, in Harvard University, it is 1: 4; Massachusetts Institute of Technology- 1:9; and Cambridge-1:3. The report also stated that there is numerically more support than teaching staff in the universities, instead of the other way round. In some universities, it was discovered that the non-teaching staff double, triple or quadruple the teaching staff. With regard to infrastructure, the committee found that physical facilities for teaching and learning in the public universities are inadequate, dilapidated, over-stretched and improvised.
Laboratories and workshops equipment as well as consumables are either absent, inadequate or outdated. Kerosene stoves are being used as Bunsen burners in some. Some engineering workshops operate under zinc sheds and trees, and many science-based faculties are running what is referred to as “Dry Lab,” due to lack of reagents and tools to conduct real experiments. The committee also documented that 163 of the 701 physical uncompleted projects it found had been abandoned.
On students’ enrolment, the report revealed that there are a total of 1,252,913 students in the public universities: 85 per cent undergraduates; five per cent sub-degree; three per cent postgraduate diploma; five per cent Master’s and two per cent Ph.D. As against the National Policy on Education that stipulates 60:40 enrolment in favour of science-based programmes, 66.1 per cent of them are studying arts, social sciences, and management and education courses. Only 16 per cent of students are studying science and science-education courses; 6.3 per cent, engineering; five per cent, Medicine, while 6.6 are studying Agriculture, Pharmacy and Law. It beats my imagination how the ratio 60:40 science bias enrolment could be achieved given the deplorable state of science laboratories and workshops. It is noteworthy that enrolment continues to be a big issue in our universities. A case in point is that of the University of Ibadan whose Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said could only admit 2,978 candidates for the 2012/2013 admission year out of the total applicants of 41,367.
The Prof. Yakubu-led committee with its 189 recommendations could be said to have clinically diagnosed the malaise within our university system. The question to ask is: Where were the regulators when all these malpractices and sharp-practices were being perpetrated? Again, will the report of the committee not gather dust in the Federal Ministry of Education or Presidency like the previous ones? There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerians are too familiar with the problems of the university sub-sector of the country. What we lack is the political will to address and redress the situation. ASUU, over the years, has called on the authorities to fix some of these problems; unfortunately, successive governments have been acting in bad faith. If the fate of our universities could be this pathetic, what would be the state of other tertiary institutions such as Polytechnics and Colleges of Education? It is now crystal clear why Nigeria has been churning out unemployable graduates.
The N426.53bn budgeted for Education in the 2013 appropriation bill is about nine per cent of the total budget. This is a far-cry from the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent. Ghana budgets 31 per cent of its annual estimates for education, any wonder the country is now the choice destination of Nigerians in search of quality education.
Way back in 1999, Prof. Wole Soyinka had clamoured for our universities to be closed down for a year or two in order to fix the rot. Many have also called for a state of emergency to be declared in the country’s education sector. Given the highlighted decay in Nigeria’s university system, it is not surprising that no Nigerian university ranks among the best 2000 in the world. University of Benin was ranked best in Nigeria at 2,485 in the world by Webometrics. It is high time we saved the Nigerian university system from a total, and imminent collapse.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
President Goodluck Jonathan is embroiled in an unending face-off with members of the National Assembly. The federal lawmakers had severally accused the President of treating their resolutions with levity. One of such is the one passed by the two chambers for the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh, to be relieved of her position. On Thursday, July 19, 2012, the House of Representatives threatened to impeach Jonathan over poor implementation of the 2012 budget. They gave him till September 2012 to do just that otherwise he would face impeachment procedures. The members made this threat even though they only passed the budget in April. How on earth will a budget with a lifespan of 12 calendar months be fully implemented in five months is lost on the lawmakers!
No sooner had the members of National Assembly come back from their annual vacation on Tuesday, September 18, than the President notified them of his intention to present the 2013 budget on October 4. The members of the lower chamber spurned him. They told him they had to go on a weeklong verification to see the level of implementation of the 2012 budget before they could grant him an audience. They also faulted the President on the premise of wanting to present the budget proposal when the National Assembly had yet to fully consider and pass the 2013 – 2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework. It was not until Wednesday, October 10 that the President was able to lay the 2013 budget proposal before the parliament in accordance with Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Shortly thereafter, another altercation ensued. This time, the parliament openly disagreed with him on a number of issues in the budget proposal. Principal among them is the issue of oil benchmark which the executive set at $75 but which the House of Representatives had insisted to put at $80 while the Senate set $78 as its own benchmark. All these were happening despite the fact that the same political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, controls the two chambers of the National Assembly and the executive arm.
A newstory in a national newspaper on Sunday, November 4, also added another ‘sin’ of President Jonathan. The story titled ‘Unassented bills double those signed in two years’, narrated that the newspaper’s investigation revealed that out of the 30 bills passed by the National Assembly in two years, only 10 were signed by the President. The unsigned bills comprised eight executive bills and 12 private member bills. Virtually all the 20 bills have lapsed now as they were passed and forwarded to the President between November 2010 and June 2011 by the Sixth National Assembly.
Among the executive bills not signed is the one on Remuneration of former Presidents and Heads of State and Government, Prime Ministers, Heads of Legislative Houses, Chief Justice of Nigeria. The bill was passed and sent to President Jonathan on November 11, 2010. Similarly, the National Food Reserve Agency Bill 2010 and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (Establishment) Bill were sent to the Presidency on November 25, 2010. Another executive bill tagged the Nigerian Council of Food Science and Technology Bill, which was transmitted to the President on June 2, 2011, was not signed and has also lapsed.
The Harmonised Age of Academic Staff of Tertiary Institutions Bill 2011 was also transmitted to President Jonathan same day as the former. Some of the private member bills, which also suffered the same fate, include the National Health Bill and National Tobacco Control Bill 2011. Also, the Discrimination against Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (Prohibition) Bill 2011 has not been signed into law. The bills not signed also included the National Climate Change Commission Bill 2010 and the State of the Nation Address Bill 2010. The newspaper’s investigations revealed that the 10 bills signed into law by the President since he assumed office after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua on May 6, 2010 include five executive and five private member bills. Among the bills so far signed into law are the Debt Management Bureau (Establishment) Bill 2011, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment) Bill 2011, Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Bill and Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Harmonisation Bill 2012.
The Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, was quoted as saying, “These bills, apart from being the bills from the Sixth Assembly, are referred to as bills from the late President Yar’Adua’s era”. “So far in the Seventh Assembly, there is no bill awaiting the assent of the President.” The President did not assent to most of the bills because of their financial implications and the fact that some of the bills spoke of creation of new agencies that would further bloat the executive arm.
However, according to the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, two factors are responsible for the bills gathering dust owing to lack of presidential assent. First is the political will to assent to bills. The second and indeed the worst is the 1999 Constitution. According to him, “Article 1 Section 7 of the US Constitution allows the President a maximum of 10 working days to assent to a bill. Where he fails to return it before the expiration of the 10 days, it automatically becomes law. If he or she vetoes or returns it, the Congress can then override his or her veto by two-thirds majority of both chambers.”
“Unfortunately in our case, whereas Section 58(4-5) of the 199 Constitution as amended provides that “where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent”; and “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required”. The Constitution does not state what happens after the 30 days have elapsed without the President assenting to or returning the bill to the parliament. Of course, you cannot override what the President has not returned, that is indicating a refusal of assent. So, the waiting game continues ad infinitum. And that is where the Constitution is defective in this respect.”
“An unsigned bill elapses at the end of the lifespan of the assembly. The constitution is very clear about it and there is nothing else anyone can really do about it except to re-introduce the bills as deemed as appropriate.”
The questions that readily come to mind are: Why will the President have reservations about a bill and fail to communicate such to the National Assembly? Why should we continue to waste money, time, and energy processing bills and the President will fail to sign? Considering that only about one fifth of bills presented to the National Assembly get passed into law, shouldn’t every effort be made to safeguard that such bills get presidential assent? It cannot be discountenanced that one of the key reasons for the non-signing of these bills is financial consideration. However, the President, if he means well should be able to communicate such concerns to the leadership of the National Assembly. The legislators also have the opportunity of the ongoing constitution review to effect the needed amendment along the line suggested by the Deputy Senate President.
It must be said that while a rubber-stamp parliament is inimical to democracy, nevertheless, the current frosty relationship between the two arms of government at the federal level will be counterproductive for both the economy and the polity. Statesmen, party leaders and others in Nigeria must find a way of mediating between the leadership of the National Assembly and the President.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
—From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by English Poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This poem paints the picture of the water situation in Nigeria. The late iconic Afro Beat musician, Fela Aniikulapo Kuti, in one of his classics said, ‘Water, he no get enemy’. Water is essential to life as roughly 70 per cent of an adult’s body is made up of water while health specialists are of the opinion that while one may stay off food for some time, it is impossible to stay off water for too long. Otherwise one will become dehydrated and die. The availability of safe drinking water in Nigeria is very appalling. It is saddening that many Nigerians have to bear the burden of sourcing their own water for domestic and industrial use. Urban centres do not have adequate chlorinated pipe-borne water while rural communities have to depend on streams, rain and well water for their water need.
Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, in an address during the launch of Safe Water for Africa recently said, “Current statistics of our water coverage in Nigeria are not very pleasing as only 58 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water.” Water and Sanitation Summary Sheet from the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed, among other facts, that access to safe water and sanitation was a major challenge in Nigeria and that water and sanitation coverage rates in the country were amongst the lowest in the world. Moreover, Nigeria is currently not on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets of 75 per cent coverage for safe drinking water and 63 per cent coverage for basic sanitation by the year 2015.
A desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Programme shows that poor sanitation costs Nigeria N455bn (US$3bn) each year. Statistics shows that 70 million Nigerians use unsanitary or shared latrines while 32m have no latrine at all and defecate in the open. Nigeria is said to rank third on the list of countries with inadequate supply of water and sanitation coverage globally. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Godknows Igali, reportedly said at the 11th Session of Development Partners Coordination Meeting that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Report for 2012 ranked Nigeria third behind China and India as countries with the largest population without adequate water and sanitation.
This situation has led to high incidence of waterborne diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, river blindness, and Hepatitis A, among others. Available statistics also show that more than 3.4 million people die every year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Ninety nine per cent of these deaths are said to occur in developing countries. Water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through diseases than any war claims through guns. In fact, experts claim that lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
It is not as if government has been folding its arms, though. In January 2011, the Federal Government launched the water road-map, a blueprint that describes the government’s objectives in developing the nation’s water resources between 2011 and 2025. The plan includes the promises that 75 per cent of Nigerians will have access to potable water by 2015, and 90 per cent by 2020. With the launch of the plan, President Jonathan’s administration announced the availability of special intervention funds for several projects. They include drilling one motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts, rehabilitating 1,000 dysfunctional hand pump boreholes in 18 states, supplying and installing 10 special water treatment plants, and completing all abandoned urban/semi-urban water supply projects. All of these and more were to be completed within 2011, with officials describing them as “a quick measure to accelerate water coverage”. Going to two years now, most of these short-term targets have not been met, though a number of projects are on-going.
The Director of Water Quality and Sanitation in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Dr. Obioha Agada, recently disclosed that Nigeria had recorded 40 per cent sanitation coverage, up from 32 per cent that had spanned two decades. In spite of this however, 70 million people in the country still lacked access to improved sanitation. In a March 2012 article, Ameto Akpe of Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting, observed: “Nigeria, in the past two decades, has not been able to keep up with the global and regional average rate of increase in water coverage. For the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of 75 per cent coverage by 2015, access must increase by 17 percentage points within the next three years.”
According to experts, in overcoming the challenge of water and sanitation in Nigeria there are issues of legislation, structure, finance, planning and attitudes to contend with. Significant annual investments are needed to address water and sanitation problems in the country. The MDG Office says $2.5bn (about N375bn) is needed to meet the nation’s water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015, while government notes that an extra N200bn is further required to provide additional development in Dams with hydropower components amongst others. The idea as presented by the Federal Government, experts observed, is to fund the water road map via direct public and private sector financing, in which, budgetary appropriations as well as cost sharing arrangements with states, local councils and communities would be the public proposed fund-raising approach, while private funding will be accessed via multilateral credit, loans and internally generated revenue. It is noteworthy that donor support to the water sector is estimated at less than three percent of needed resources.
Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in budgetary allocations to water and sanitation. In 2010, the Federal Government budgeted N112bn for water and sanitation but by 2011, budgetary allocations had dropped to N62bn. For 2012, the budget for water is only N39bn. Mercifully, this has increased to N47.8bn in the 2013 budget. This, however, is still a far cry from the amount needed to make any appreciable impact. However, as the Water Resources minister recently disclosed, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies appears to have been aggressively making efforts to tackle the problem of water supply through the water supply and sanitation reform programme with support from the European Union, the African Development Bank, the Chinese Water Supply Initiative, and the Japanese International Corporation Agency.
One hopes all these initiatives will bear good fruits and make access to safe drinking water and sanitation easy and affordable. However, our individual and collective attitude to water and sanitation facilities must also change. Oftentimes, we waste water that should have been conserved, refuse to pay water bills and sometimes vandalise water pipelines and borehole facilities. This is wrong. Even the way we dispose off water sachets and bottles as well as other solid wastes is unhygienic and should be changed.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Who is really in charge of the affairs of Taraba State? This question is pertinent following the unfortunate air-crash of Thursday, October 25 involving the State Governor, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai which has left him in a bad state of health necessitating his being flown to a German hospital for medical attention. The development has left a vacuum in the administration of the north-east state created in 1991. There have been calls for the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar to be sworn in as the Acting Governor while the governor is recuperating from his injuries. Feelers from Taraba State do not show that the State House of Assembly is in any hurry to pass such resolution. What does the law says on this brewing political impasse? Can this issue be understood solely from a legal viewpoint? Has there been precedent to be followed in matters of this nature?
Let us attempt a little contextual background to this issue. On October 4, Taraba State was in the news when the former Deputy Governor Sani Abubakar was impeached by 20 of the 24 members of the Taraba State House of Assembly. Mr. Abubakar had challenged the constitution of the panel and the impeachment process in court. Despite this however; the state house of assembly went ahead with the process. Alhaji Garba Umar was appointed and sworn in on October 5. Now, barely 20 days in office, providence seems to be at work.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended in section 191(1) gave five grounds under which a deputy can become a governor. These are on the ground of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal of Governor from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 or 189 of the constitution. Umar may have to wait long for that to happen. What is being canvassed is for him to be made an acting governor pending the return of Governor Suntai.
Section 190 (1)(2) of the constitution, as amended, stipulates that the deputy governor should take over if the governor is on leave or is unable to discharge the function of his office. Sub-section 1 reads: “Whenever the Governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect, and until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor.”
Subsection 2 reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”
In the same vein, Section 145 sub-section two of the constitution as amended stipulates that the Vice-President becomes acting president if the President is not available for 21 days. The rationale behind these subsections is well known to discerning public. It was borne out of the political logjam engendered by the ill-health of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 which necessitated the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the National Assembly that empowers the incumbent president to become acting president then.
Will the Taraba State House of Assembly empower the new State’s Deputy Governor to become acting governor after the expiration of 21 days given that the Governor could not and is not in a position to transmit a letter to the Speaker? Time will tell but right now no such move is being made.
Another way the Deputy Governor could become a governor is if the State executive council decided to give effect to section 189 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. That section says the governor or deputy governor of a state shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state (i.e. the body of commissioners of the Government of the State) it is declared that the governor or deputy governors is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. This declaration has to, however, be verified by a medical panel of five (one of who must be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned) to be appointed by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Will the Taraba EXCO and the Speaker toe this line? This is doubtful given the overbearing influence that governors wield on their cabinet and their state houses of assembly. It would be recalled that in 2010, state house of assembly overwhelmingly rejected financial autonomy for themselves during the constitution review exercise on the prompting of their governors.
Moreover, the main character in this whole episode, Deputy Governor Umar has said it would be wrong for him to be sworn in as acting governor when his boss was only sick and not dead. He was quoted as saying “I was sworn in as deputy governor of the state. The governor is only sick and not dead. He is in a stable condition as confirmed by Mr. President and the Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital, Abuja. I remain the deputy governor of the state” Another news medium quoted him thus: “I am not in acting capacity. I am still the deputy governor despite the air mishap involving my boss. And I can’t be sworn in as acting governor of Taraba State because my boss is still alive. I don’t even wish that to happen. It has been my prayers that he recovers speedily.”
Similarly, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh said the situation does not call for that yet. “The governor is injured and not incapacitated. Before he was flown out of the country, he was in a stable condition. It is to be assumed that the governor is on leave” he said.
Legalese aside, the situation is more political than legal. A national newspaper had reported on October 27 that the new deputy governor was chased out of the government house in Taraba State by thugs on the evening when his principal was involved in air-crash and had to be ferried out to the office of the state security service for safety. Though Umar has denied the story, the newspaper said it stands by its report. That incident, if it indeed happened, may have sent jitters down the spine of the new Deputy Governor. It is an open secret that Deputy Governors are never trusted by their Governors. No matter how long they are on vacation or outside the country, they never bothered to transmit any letter to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly as demanded by Section 190 of the constitution.
In the entire history of the Fourth Republic, it was only the former Zamfara State governor, now Senator, Ahmad Sani Yerima who courageously endorsed his former deputy Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi to succeed him in 2007. What was the outcome? Irreconcilable differences with his former boss led Shinkafi to decamp to People’s Democratic Party from the All Nigeria Peoples Party. This angered Yerima so much that he pulled all the strings to ensure that Shinkafi did not succeed in his second term ambition. Former Governor of Anambra State Chukwuemeka Ezeife was credited as referring to Deputy Governor as spare tyres. Others have said the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognizable than that of the Deputy Governor.
This is truly true as section 193 of the constitution equated the office with those of the commissioners. It says in subsection 1 that “The Governor of a State may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the State responsibility for any business of the Government of that State, including the administration of any department of Government” Thus, it is not surprising that any ambitious or independent minded Deputy Governor is sidelined or have an impeachment orchestrated against him or her as was the case in many states with the latest being the forceful resignation of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State Mr. Nsima Ekere on October 31.
The Taraba situation is still unfolding and we wait to see how the entire drama will end. Meanwhile, it may not be out of place to give specific constitutional role to the position of Vice President and Deputy Governor.