Former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, has spoken on ex-President, Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement, advising President Muhammadu Buhari against seeking re-election in 2019.
Obasanjo, in a lengthy and strongly-worded statement, said Buhari and his government have failed Nigerians.
In an article on Tuesday titled, ‘Obasanjo and the extent of presidential powers’, Abati recalled that Obasanjo accused Buhari of nepotism, lack of understanding of the internal dynamics of Nigerian politics, blame-passing, condoning of misconduct and outright incompetence.
He also gave insight to “cabal in government,” noted that the underlying principle in Obasanjo’s statement is that those to whom power is bequeathed must be accountable for the exercise of such power.
“For me, there are a number of projected questions. Can a president actually be held responsible for the failings of the government he heads? Should the blame for an administration’s failures be heaped on the head of a past government and its officials?
“Who can be held liable in the circumstance – a cabal, former Ministers, or those exercising delegated authority? For whereas Obasanjo holds every President accountable, I have heard persons claim that he has no moral right to do so. It is even alleged that President Buhari cannot be questioned because he is answerable only to the people whose sovereignty he personifies.
“President Obasanjo, by heaping the blame and the responsibility, on the head of President Muhammadu Buhari is drawing attention to the full extent of the ascribed and inherent powers of the President under the Constitution. The Nigerian Constitution in letter and spirit makes the Nigerian President an Emperor with near-absolute powers.
“His powers are extensive and expansive. Under Section 5(1) of the Constitution, he is empowered to either exercise his powers directly or to delegate. His relationship with those to whom he delegates authority is akin to that between an agent and a disclosed principal.
“Section 5(1) is instructive: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation – (a) shall be vested in the President and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President or Ministers of the Government of the Federation or other officers in the public service of the Federation; and
“Section 148(1) adds: “The President may, in his discretion, assign to Vice-President or any Minister of the government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government.”
“It stands to reason therefore that whatever is done by those agents, lawfully and within the bounds of Presidential approval, are within the scope of the responsibility of the President. In other words, the President cannot pass the buck.
“So, is it right to say Buhari is a good man, but the problem is the cabal? Or to hold heads of MDAs liable for acts that were carried out with Presidential authority and approval?
“The term or the group known as “cabal” is unknown to the Nigerian Constitution but the Constitution knows the President. Section 148 also recognizes that Ministers are appointees of the President, exercising delegated authority. This is why the National Assembly cannot impeach Ministers; they can only be sanctioned or relieved of their duties by their appointor, namely the President.
“In practical terms, this has been a source of problem. Nigerian Presidents function like Emperors. How many appointees can stand in front of a President and query his authority, or turn down his directive?
I align with the definition of responsibility in Obasanjo’s review of the exercise of presidential authority. For instance, there are cases in court against Ministers and advisers who served under the Jonathan administration over matters such as the spending of security votes and sale of oil blocks, but to what extent can they be held responsible for obeying presidential directives?
“Today, in President Buhari’s Aso Villa, the Chief of Staff in particular has been accused within the public domain of many things. Does anyone really believe that a Chief of Staff can act on his own without Presidential backing and not lose his job?”
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