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24.12.2009 General News

Danquah Institute On Nigeria’s Constitutional Crisis

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The Danquah Institute (DI), an Accra-based policy think tank, has called on the collective leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to actively show, with urgency, leadership and concern in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In a signed press statement on last week Sunday, December 20, its Executive Director, Mr Asare Otchere-Darko noted that such an exercise would contribute towards boosting other domestic efforts aimed at finding solution to Nigeria's crisis.

“Such a priority engagement could boost ongoing domestic efforts at finding a democratic solution to the pending constitutional crisis in the biggest black nation in the world,” the think tank argues, adding that the situation is threatening Nigeria's democracy and the stability of the region,” it said.

The statement added that “After a longer history of instability, coups, military dictatorship and controversial elections, Africa's most populous nation is struggling to contain the ramifications of a seriously ill, and absent, president.”

MrGabby Asare Otchere-Darko, says “Nigeria, a nation hosting half of the population of our region and Africa's biggest energy producer, is facing a period of grave uncertainty. Our fear is that the apparent passive posture of the two transnational bodies (AU and ECOWAS) in the face of such fundamental constitutional crisis in Nigeria, smacks of the kind of irresponsibility that usually leads to fire-fighting after the harm is done.”

The Danquah Institute is particularly calling on the President of the Republic of Ghana, the second most populous nation in the West African region, “to take the initiative and get the AU and ECOWAS to act. This can start by the two bodies agreeing to send a high powered monitoring team to Nigeria.”

DI feels “very little is being done or shown in the spirit and letter of both the AU and ECOWAS by the rest of Africa to show how seriously the continent views the ensuing sense of paralysis and crisis in Nigeria. The Federal government, security forces and civil society in Nigeria must be made to appreciate how crucial the country's stability is to the rest of the continent. We must begin to show more concern and support.”

The DI statement explains, “The mandate of the delegation must include engaging various local stakeholders to ensure that the democratic institutions in the federal republic are protected and allowed to endure in these trying times and guide the nation through the crisis. They can do so without interfering in the process.”

The AU Constitutive Act declares a commitment “to consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and to ensure good governance and the rule of law.” Mr Otchere-Darko sees this as an opportunity for the AU to demonstrate commitment.

“We believe President John Evans Atta Mills should impress on other African leaders about the urgency and importance of this mission to help ensure that the future of multi-party democracy in Nigeria is secured. If Nigeria fails we all fail,” the statement warns.

On November 24, President Musa Yar'Adua checked into a Saudi Arabian hospital with a serious heart condition and has not been heard or seen since. This has prompted calls for his resignation. Earlier this month, 56 prominent Nigerians called for President Yar'Adua to hand power to his vice president.

But that call has also raised another controversy, bordering on ethno-religious lines and constitutional conventions.

Since Mr Yar-Adua's hospitalisation, Nigeria has had nobody acting as President. “Unlike Ghana, for instance, where the vice president automatically acts whenever the president leaves the shores of the country, the Nigerian constitution is more stringent on this issue,” says Mr Otchere-Darko.

The failure to hand over to the vice-president has created a serious power vacuum. This has led to a constitutional crisis where legislative bills cannot receive presidential assents.

“Another constitutional crisis may hit the judiciary in a few days time,” he warns. Last week, the Senate approved the nomination of Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu as Chief Justice of Nigeria. He is to take over from Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, who retires on December 31. However, the head of the third arm of government must be sworn in on January 1, 2010 by the President of the Federal Republic.

“Thus, Africa is looking at a very likely scenario where the most populous nation on the continent would have a headless executive and a headless judiciary,” Mr Otchere-Darko predicts.

As one Nigerian newspaper puts it, “We are 150 million sheep without a shepherd.”

The Danquah Institute is worried about the prospect of the constitutional crisis being exploited by some military adventurists.

“The Nigerian armed forces have shown tremendous professionalism in recent years. The Nigerian political elite has also shown tact and maturity in resolving peacefully previous crisis. Moreover, the Nigerian people have been patient and resilient. But, we can't afford the luxury of complacency and rule out anything, especially, when these crisis are coming on top of long held perception by the masses of massive corruption and the tolerance of that anti-development culture in the body politic,” Mr Otchere-Darko cautions.

He recollects that “since the Togolese coup d'état of January 1963, West Africa built a reputation as the military takeover belt of Africa. By the early 1990s, West Africa was leading the continent towards a period of multi-party democracy. We need to maintain our eternal vigilance and build public confidence in the concept that we can indeed develop in freedom here in Africa. It is that which we fear is perilously at stake in Nigeria today.”

Citing the recent statement by the US Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, alluding to Nigeria as one of the examples of governments unwilling to effect dramatic changes their citizens deserve, The Executive Director throws back a rhetorical question, “So has multi-party democracy brought about the change that citizens of Nigeria deserve?”

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