Former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Prof Tam David-West, in this interview, takes the people staging demonstration against the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari to the cleaners, saying they are ignorant of the constitutional provisions surrounding the president’s absence.
According to him, Buhari has not violated the constitution. The situation that surrounded the health issues of the late president Umaru Yar’Adua was completely different from the health issues being faced by Buhari. He notes that Buhari sent a letter to the National Assembly and handed over to the vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, prior to his medical trip to London in May this year.
He also speaks on the ultimatum given to Buhari to return to the country and resume or resign completely by anti-Buhari protesters led by a weird musician, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charly Boy, as well as other sundry issues.
You have not made official statement on the health of President Muhammadu Buhari since the recent controversy surrounding his health started. Why have you kept quiet?
People have been calling me, they know that I am a die-hard Buhari fan and nothing would change me. My support for Buhari is based on very serious grounds.
People have been worrying me that since this controversy of his health started I have made no formal statement. They wanted to know why I have kept quiet. Everybody knows I am a Buhari person and I have written so many things about either General Buhari or President Buhari.
My position is this; I have not made a formal statement because the whole thing is so silly. I don’t waste my time on silly things. Nobody enjoys being sick. Being sick is natural. So, people that are behaving as if Buhari enjoys being sick are exaggerating his condition. I am briefed about his health about three times directly weekly.
So, when I see all these theatrics or melodrama, I say it’s a waste of time. I challenge any of them to tell me that they love Nigeria more than Buhari. None of them has given their lives to Nigeria. Buhari has put his life on the line because of Nigeria. I challenge his antagonists to tell me they love Nigeria more than he does. Buhari has done more for Nigeria than all of them combined; none of them risked his or her life for Nigeria.
Would you not rather say anti-Buhari protesters have a good cause or the protests were unjustifiable?
I am surprised that those I expected to know better about real governance have not read the constitution. Let them go and look at the constitution, whether there is a provision for the president to resign. Those telling the president to resign are stupid and ignorant because they don’t know their constitution.
How can you be demonstrating on behalf of Nigeria when you don’t even know the fundamental laws of Nigeria?
The constitution is the fundamental document of the country. I expect every citizen of the country, whether illiterate or literate, in government or not, to know the constitution because that is the fundamental law that guides them. The sovereignty of the country belongs to the people.
If those protesting have read the constitution, they will know that what they are doing is stupid because the constitution is clear on when the president can be declared incapacitated.
First, a two-third majority of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) must say he is incapacitated. Not only that, then a panel of five doctors, including his own personal doctor, would be set up to declare the president incapacitated.
So, you can demonstrate and stay in Abuja for one year, you cannot change it. Buhari has not violated the constitution.
Those protesting his absence are ignorant of the constitution. If you love Nigeria, you should know its constitution. It’s like saying you are a Christian, but you don’t know the Bible, or you are a Muslim, but you don’t know the Quran. It’s stupid. It’s contradictory.
So, if they have gone to the fundamental document of the country and looked at the sections on what to do when the president is absent, they could have known the constitutional provisions.
All the people that are demonstrating all over the country, one million of them multiplied by that cannot change the constitution. I agree about his prolonged absence, but long or short is relative.
If you say, “stay too long” the long is relative to what?
These are relative terms. Two is big relative to one. But two is small relative to three. So, I am not interested in loose talk, because it’s stupid.
When you say “You have stayed too long” too long relative to what time or what reference?
I am not against them protesting, but they should protest responsibly.
The protesters said President Buhari also asked the late president Umar Yar’Adua to resign if he knew he could not govern the country when the latter was sick. So, what would you say are the differences between the two situations?
The difference is very clear. Buhari said then “If he (Yar’Adua) could not rule again, he should resign”. But Buhari was quoted out of context. Yar’Adua was not well before he became president.
Somebody said Olusegun Obasanjo knew he was not well, and he deliberately put him there, but I don’t think so. But Yar’Adua had been ill for sometime before he became president. His condition was known that he was not well. But he felt that he had enough strength to be president and I respect him for that. In the process, his condition deteriorated, but it was not his own making.
But Yar’Adua knew he was not well before he took the job. He took the job, because he loved Nigeria, because he expected that he would be able to pull through.
When Yar’Adua was sick, they did not allow many people to see him before he was flown abroad. Throughout the time Buhari was in Nigeria, nobody was prevented from seeing him.
Yar’Adua said and I remember, “Anybody can be sick at any time and can even die, that is under the control of Allah.” I read the statement.
During the time of Yar’Adua, Buhari said, “If you cannot…” and the statement is conditional. But Buhari never said, “cannot govern the country”. Buhari never said Yar’Adua stayed too long in the hospital, he should resign. He only said if he could not rule again, he should resign.
Can they see the difference? Are they so paranoid about Buhari that they cannot see the difference between the two?
All the time Yar’Adua was away, he never handed over to Goodluck Jonathan. It was only Dora Akuiyili that came at the eleventh hour with the doctrine of necessity, though some people argued that it was not her idea, but I disagree.
Buhari formally wrote to the National Assembly and formally handed over to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, before he traveled abroad on medical trip.
Also, Buhari has not said, “I cannot be president again”. He has not said he has assessed himself and he’s too weak to continue. If he did, that is a different matter. Buhari can feel he’s all right. If his doctor says medically he doesn’t advise him to take over any job, his own decision will wouldn’t prevail, so the doctor’s decision will be final.
It has happened to me; I underwent medical examination in London sometime ago. I was to leave three days after. All my results had come but for one. I told my doctor, I would travel down to Nigeria in two days time. The doctor said “Before you go prof, see me in my office.” I went to him a day before I was to depart and he said he would not allow me to go. He said one of the tests had to be repeated. I had to wait in London for another one week.
If Buhari said he wanted to come to Nigeria tomorrow and his doctor advised him against it, he has no choice, he has to wait.
So, the cases of Buhari and Yar’Adua are completely different and anybody that cannot see the differences is an ignorant fool. He has never said he cannot do it.
To say that the government is not running in the absence of Buhari is a lie. If the president formally tells the Senate that he will go on medical trip, constitutionally, his vice will take over from him. He is right. The vice president is as good as the president. He can sign any document on behalf of Nigeria. So, Buhari has done nothing that contravenes the constitution of Nigeria.
How would you appraise the recent battering of anti-Buhari protesters led by Charly Boy at Wuse Market in Abuja?
I know Charly Boy very well. His father, Justice Oputa was my principal. He knows very well that I was close to his father. When his father launched a book in Lagos, he invited me and I went. I respect Justice Oputa. But what Charly Boy has done, if his father was alive, he would caution him, if he would obey him.
It’s their right to demonstrate but a demonstration must fulfill three conditions. First, there must be a good cause to demonstrate. Two, majority of the people must support the demonstration. Three, you must have a target.
I believe the protesters have a good cause to be concerned that their president has been away for long. I respect their concern. Many people share that concern. But if that concern goes to the street for demonstration, you have to be sure that you will have a mammoth crowd of supporters. So, as much I respect their cause, I think the demonstration was over-dramatized.
You can correct me, but you cannot organize a public protest without police clearance. It’s only an irresponsible Inspector General of Police that will stop you from satiating your fundamental human rights. You have a right in the constitution to demonstrate, he cannot stop you. He has no power to stop you. He will give you permit to demonstrate if you promise there will be no violence.
But now, the security guards that prevented the protesters from entering Wuse Market, I can say were right or wrong. They were wrong in the sense that you cannot stop them from demonstrating, if they have satisfied the conditions for demonstration. If the protesters did not have police permit, that demonstration is illegal.
Then, the action of the security guards was right.
If you are doing something, prepare your groundwork before you spoil your case. Anybody can demonstrate against Buhari’s absence, but do the right thing. The police cannot stop you and if they do, go to court. The court can overrule them. But if you don’t do the right thing, you can spoil a good cause.
I was also told that pro-Buhari group would confront them. There is no reason for that.
When Buhari was campaigning to be president, where were those calling themselves pro-Buhari? Where were they when Buhari contested and lost presidential elections before 2015? I don’t think there is any pro-Buhari group that would go and confront them. I know Buhari will never support any confrontation between the so-called pro-Buhari and the anti-Bihar elements. If pro-Buhari elements would demonstrate and they don’t have police permit, the demonstration would be illegal. You don’t solve an illegality with another illegality.
It was argued that anti-Buhari protesters should have taken their demonstration to the National Assembly complex and not Wuse Market. Do you agree?
I completely agree with that. We are a nation bound by law. I mentioned target as one of the three conditions that must be fulfilled for any demonstration to take place. Their target is not Wuse Market or the National Stadium; it’s the National Assembly. They have failed there. The three conditions must be fulfilled completely. So, they chased a wrong target.
Would you say stoning the protesters was right or wrong?
Those who stoned them were very wrong. What would have happened if the protesters stoned them back?
It means the protesters have acted more responsibly.
As much as I respect the concern of the protesters, I am concerned too and that is why I am being briefed three times every week about his health. If I am not satisfied about what I am hearing, I will be among the first that will say, I think the way things are, he should …
Yes, Buhari is away, but the vice president, who is the Acting President is doing well. He has sworn-in two ministers and equally assigned portfolios to them when he got clearance from the president. So, Nigeria is not at a standstill. Anybody that says Nigeria is at a standstill because Buhari is away is a fool, an idiot and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Some people have argued that the pictures that emanated from the visits of representatives of governors’ forum and the media team of the Federal Government to Buhari in London were not real. What is your take on this?
That is absolute rubbish. They even said the pictures taken with him by the governors’ forum were not genuine because there were bananas on the table. Are there no bananas in London? Somebody even said the pictures were stage-managed and that they were not even taken in London. When people are negative, they will make negative statements.
Conveners of resume or resign campaign against Buhari on August 16, 2016 gave the president 21 days to return to Nigeria and resume office or resign. What’s your reaction to the ultimatum?
I read the news in the papers too where Charley Boy said he gave Buhari ultimatum to return to the country to resume or resign. The ultimatum is stupid and disrespectful to the presidency.
It’s even disrespectful to Buhari as a person. Who are you to give ultimatum?
Even, the National Assembly cannot give him ultimatum, because he has not violated the constitution. If they knew the constitution they won’t act irresponsibly. They are full of responsible and educated people.
If Buhari has done anything contrary to the constitution, all the National Assembly has to do is to impeach him and not by ultimatum. The conditions for impeachment are also there. We must not in our reactions forget the basic respect for age and position. Do you give ultimatum to your father that you will not be his son again if he does not buy shoes for you? One of the basic aspects of cultures of Nigeria and Africa is that we respect elders.
If you give ultimatum, be sure that you can do something if the ultimatum is not obeyed. If you give ultimatum and you cannot do anything after the ultimatum has expired, you have acted stupidly.
Let’s assume if Buhari does not come back before the ultimatum expired, what will Charley Boy do to him? Nothing.
He can go to court not so?
The court cannot force him to come. The court knows the law. If Buhari has violated any part of the constitution, the court will tell the National Assembly to impeach him. But so far, he has not violated the constitution. Everything he has done so far is constitutional. So, one million Charley Boys cannot give him ultimatum.