A Nigerian High Court ruled Tuesday that President Olusegun Obasanjo does not have the power to sack Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Had President Obasanjo succeeded, the move would have stripped the Vice President of his immunity from prosecution on corruption charges leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Abubakar supporters have hailed the Court’s ruling, claiming the Court has thwarted what they called a plot against the vice president.
Abubakar spokesman Shehu Garuba says he sees three elements in the Court’s ruling.
“One, the President of Nigeria cannot without recourse to the constitution of the Judiciary dismiss an elected vice president. The vice president of Nigeria can only leave office upon death, resignation, medical incapacitation or impeachment,” he said.
The next element cited by Garuba involves the Court’s ruling that a Vice President can differ in opinion with the president and still remain in office.
“The second thing is about the president’s lawyers making the point that since the vice president has differed in his political party membership with the president, he cannot continue in that office. The Court ruled that the vice president has the right to differ in his political belief or opinion and still remain in office,” he noted.
Spokesman Garuba summed up the Court’s conclusions by saying the Vice President owes allegiance not to the President, but to the people of Nigeria.
“That the vice president cannot be disloyal to the president and remain in office: again, the Court’s ruling is that the vice president swore to an oath to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So his loyalty is to Nigerians and is to the Constitution and not to the person of the President. These are very key and landmark decisions of the Court today,” he said.
Garuba said Vice President Abubakar is satisfied with the court’s ruling.
“He was highly elated, very much relieved. But he was saying that this was not a personal victory, but a victory for the rule of law, for democracy and for all Nigerians, because these are the things he stands for. He is also of the view that this point now marks the departure from the growing resort to in the affairs of Nigeria to arbitrariness and the disregard of the due process of the law,” he said.
He denied that the call for appeal against Tuesday’s judgment would derail the Vice President’s campaign strategy.
“No, on the contrary. We believe that the vice president’s pursuit of some of these matters in court… the important thing is that this country needs to lay very sound principles for the sustenance of our democracy... So we would be glad to go to the Supreme Court… and if they are okayed by the Supreme Court, it becomes further entrenched in our politics and in our jurisprudence,” he said.
Garuba said under normal circumstances Vice President Abubakar does not need to be in his position to contest for the high office of the President.
“Were it in a normal rank of free environment Abubakar does not need to remain as vice president to be a candidate… We re in a situation where we are dealing with a mean spirited President who is so vindictive we need the protection of the Constitution. Immunity against arbitrariness and prosecution -- beyond that this is of no consequence,” he said.