Is Atiku’s Position Legally Vacant?
Jim I Akhere Ph.D.
The unfortunate sour relationship between the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo and his Vice Abubakar Atiku these many years has had unsavouring consequences on Nigerians. Many Nigerians of good will tried in vain to resolve the problem between the leaders who earned or seized our mandate to govern us for our greater good. This cat and dog attitude between the President and his Vice was not in the contemplation of the makers of the 1999 Constitution which in Section 141 subsection 1 treats the President and his Vice as opposite sides of the same coin virtually. Therefore novel legal issues attend the recent nomination of the Vice President as the presidential candidate of another political party the AC for the 2007 presidential election.
A close look at the constitutional provision re the offices of the president and his vice-Section 142 reveals that the office of the Vice president is inherently contingent on that of the President. Section 142 subsection 2 states as follows ‘The provisions of this part of this chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualification, declaration of assets and liabilities and oaths of presidents shall apply in relation to the office of the Vice President as if reference to the President were reference to the Vice President” In effect the President and the Vice President can be said to be like two sides of the same coin, the vice presidential position being contingent on that of the president. The makers of the 1999 Constitution did not contemplate the situation of complete face off between the president and his vice as Nigerians have been made to put up with almost since the inception of the Obasanjo/Atiku regime.This tug of war situation which has caused untold damage has engaged the attention of so many Nigerians of goodwill who have tried in vain to resolve the issue which has become intractable because of the egos of the duo.
As the 1999 Constitution has not provided specifically for the like of the Obasanjo and Atiku war, novel legal issues attend the fall out of the animosity between them which is the recent nomination of Atiku as a presidential candidate on the platform of the new party AC in the 2007 presidential election. The temptation to jump into the conclusion that the fact that Atiku has accepted the presidential ticket of AC for the 2007 presidential election ipso facto means that his position of Vice President is vacant may be very strong but a stricter legal interpretation of the relevant constitutional provision will sound a note of caution What Atiku did copares favourably with what many of our legislators have done within the life span of this administration id est cross carpeting.I have searched in vain for a constitutional provision against changing parties mid stream
It may be argued that from the wording of the relevant provision of the constitution there is a strong presumption that both the president and his vice should belong to the same party.It is also the case that Atiku’s acceptance of AC’s presidential ticket means he has changed from being a PDP member to being a member of the AC albeit that thye election is in futuro towards the end of the Obasanjo/Atiku administration.The 1999Constitution does not specifically state identity of party of the president and his vice but it specifically provides that the position of the vice president becomes vacant at his death, on his resignation, on his impeachment, on the death of the president when he takes over as president or on his removal under section 143 of the 1999 Constitution. Change of party is not one of the circumstances for which the position of the vice president can be declared vacant Additionally an time honoured principle of interpretation of statute has it that an expressed mention of one thing is an exclusion of other things in the same category succinctly put in latin as “Expressio unius exclussio alterius” Since change of party is not one of the events stipulated in the Constitution as grounding a declaration of vacancy in the office of the Vice President, there is no constitutional provision for such. President Obasanjo is enjoined to stick it out with his Vice President for the remaining part of his presidency. There is another side to the Obasanjo/Atiku drama which I think should be mentioned here. Behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining. Fellow Nigerians, ’Be not sad that your rulers have been at war. Take it that the silver lining from the Obasajo/Atiku war is the financial information which would otherwise have been privileged, that we were fed with relating to how the duo plundered our treasury while a teeming population of Nigerians were writhing under crushing penury and devastating deprivations in the midst of plenty. Only God knows how much more of our money would have been plundered if the President and his Vice were in harmony. Shouldn’t they both have been impeached?