By Majeed Dahiru
The prolonged medical vacation of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua in 2010 and his seeming inability to transmit a letter to the National Assembly transferring presidential power to vice president Goodluck Jonathan, in acting capacity in line with the requirements of the constitution, had created a power vacuum. For a leader who preached and practiced the gospel of the due process of the rule of law, presidential historians are yet to dig out the truth behind the fact of President Yar’Adua’s uncharacteristic constitutional indiscretion. Ten years after, the circumstances surrounding former President Yar’Adua’s failure to transmit power to then Vice President Jonathan remains an unresolved mystery.
It was widely speculated that before he left Nigeria on the 23rd of November 2009 for his last foreign medical trip on earth to Saudi Arabia to treat pericarditis, President Yar’Adua may have transmitted a letter to the National Assembly through his presidential liaison officer, Senator Abba Aji. Unfortunately, this letter never got to the National Assembly as it was believed to have been intercepted by the infamous power mongering cabal within his administration that exploited his illness and the power vacuum it created to further their parochial self-interests.
However, what is clearly known in the public space was that a certain Senator Ike Ekweremadu from Enugu state, south east Nigeria, who was also the Deputy President of the Senate of Federal Republic of Nigeria at the time, was the first to draw the attention of the his colleagues to the constitutional aberration of President Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence from his duty post without notifying the National Assembly and handing over power to then Vice President Jonathan in acting capacity. By this time, there was a ground swell of dissatisfaction among Nigerians about the violation of the constitution in a manner that left the ship of the Nigerian state without a captain, hence rudderless. Ekweremadu’s timely intervention on the floor of the Senate would trigger a chain of legislative reactions on the floor of the senate that will eventually culminate into the famous Doctrine of Necessity.
To dispel the widespread rumour of his death, a voice note attributed to President Yar’Adua was broadcasted on the BBC network reassuring Nigerians he is alive but on medical vacation. It was this broadcast that the senate relied on to break the ice and wriggle Nigeria out of a constitutional crisis through the famous doctrine of necessity. In coming up with the doctrine of necessity on the 10th of February 2010 in an extra ordinary time in the life of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy, the senate essentially activated the spirit and intention behind the crafting of the letters of the relevant laws of the Nigerian state when it deemed the President’s broadcast to Nigerians as a communication to the National Assembly about his medical vacation; a move which eventually paved the way for then Vice President Jonathan to act as President. The Doctrine of Necessity effectively averted a constitutional crisis, which have resulted into a protracted political apocalypse. Senator Bala Mohammed, one of the prime movers promoters of the Doctrine of Necessity in the Senate that birthed the Jonathan acting presidency, would reveal Senator Ike Ekweremadu as the author of the Doctrine of Necessity, at a public event organized in his honour by his colleagues upon his appointment as the minister in charge of the Federal Capital Territory.
As Ekweremadu turns 58 on the 12th of May 2019, I have decided to celebrate him less for the love, faithfulness, truthfulness, fidelity, kindness, warmth and generosity that define my personal relationship with him. I shall instead focus on his accomplishments in public spirited service to the Nigerian people. As a lawyer, legal scholar, administrator, politician and parliamentarian who has served Nigeria in various capacities, from Local government chairman of his native Ani Nri council to Chief of Staff and Secretary to Enugu State government before his election to the senate of the federal republic of Nigeria for a record 5th term beginning from 2003, Ekweremadu would be remembered more for his legacies in public service and much less for his good deeds to his family, friends and associates.
As the longest serving presiding officer in the history of Nigeria’s parliamentary democracy, having served as the Deputy Senate President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for twelve unbroken years between 2007 and 2019, Ekweremadu’s most enduring legacies as a legislator has been deploying his streak of legalistic ingenuity to spear head a holistic legislative re-engineering of the military decreed 1999 constitution into a truly ‘’we the people’’ written self-governing legal frame. In his role as the chairman of the national assembly constitutional review committee, between 2007 and 2019, Senator Ekweremadu has pushed the frontiers of Nigeria’s constitutional democratic development through series of amendments aimed at improving the defective structure of the Nigerian federation in other to achieve good governance.
A constitutional purist and legal scholar whose PhD in law thesis was on fiscal federalism, Senator Ekweremadu can be rightly considered as one of the fathers of Nigerian constitutionalism for his commitment and uncommon passion for strengthening the federating units of Nigeria by way of systemic devolution of powers from the centre as a condition preceding the attainment of fiscal decentralization to spur competitive socio-economic development of the Nigerian state through deliberate legislations. But for the decline of accent by the executive branch of the Nigerian government some critical amendment bills passed National Assembly, the demands for a restructured Nigerian federation would have been substantially met.
As the Deputy President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 2007 and 2019, Senator Ekweremadu occupied the highest political office zoned to the south east geo-political zone of Nigeria; a positioned that bestowed on him a heavy burden of the political leadership of Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo within Nigeria’s elite power equation. Shortly after he became Deputy Senate President in 2007, Senator Ekweremadu led a delegation to then President Yaradua, to appeal for the release from detention of Biafra separatist leader, Ralph Uwazurike from detention as a demonstration of rapprochement between Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo, who were feeling marginalized and the Nigerian government at the centre. To solidify this rapprochement, Senator Ekweremadu will also lead a delegation of the south east caucus of the National Assembly to President Yar’Adua and secured his approval for an international airport in the south east zone of Nigeria. And to his eternal credit, former President Yaradua in 2009 appointed a Nigerian of south east origin, Ogbonna Onovo as the Inspector General of Police for the first after Louis Edet in 1966. For these, the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants and other genuine gestures at peace and reconciliation of the Nigerian people, Senator Ekweremadu, nominated his beloved friend, ally, and compatriot, President Yar’Adua for the award of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Whereas, the principles of zoning and rotation of political leadership of a plural country like Nigeria may have deviated from the original intention of equitable distribution of resources to equitable distribution of loot by Nigeria’s ruling elite, it would appear as though Senator Ekweremadu has managed to remain faithful to the original ideals of this stabilizing power affirmative action. On a visit to his country home in his native Mpu village in Ani Nri Local government of Enugu West senatorial district, in December 2018, I drove on several kilometres of asphalt nylon tarred road with bridges across many villages right to his door step; but I also observed the road network stretched beyond his house for as far as my eyes could see in different directions. This network of quality road infrastructure across his senatorial district and some other parts of the south east geo-political zone including electricity, dams and vocational centres are Senator Ekweremadu’s constituency legacy intervention projects. Ekweremadu’s Enugu West can easily pass for the senatorial district with the largest concentration of constituency projects in Nigeria. His re-election into the senate for a record sixth term is a resounding vote of confidence on his quality representation by the people of Enugu West Senatorial District.
Over the years Senator Ekweremadu, has remained one of the most influential voices championing and defending the political and economic interests of Nigeria’s ethnic Igbo within an integrated framework of socio-economic development of a united Nigeria. Senator Ekweremadu has also redefined personal integrity and strong political convictions when he remained firmly in the opposition PDP, even when it was no longer fashionable by resisting the temptation to join the ruling APC like most politicians without principles did. Despite his personal challenges, trials and tribulations as the leading opposition figure in Nigeria after the fall of PDP from power in 2015, Senator Ekweremadu has not only remained resolutely firm and steadfast to his ideals and principles, he helped nurse a dying opposition back to life to keep our polity vibrant and healthy. This remarkable level of political consistency is an uncommon feature in a country’s polity that is characterized by political prostitution.
The man Senator Ekweremadu, who is easily the biggest political brand out Nigeria east of the Niger, is made most distinguished by the fact that his long years in public has been without the blemish of corruption or financial malfeasance. As he adds another year in life, my wishes for my dear Senator Ike Ekweremadu is a long life of continuous public spirited service to the people and government of Nigeria.
Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily