By Carl Umegboro
The ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic’ (GCFR) is the highest national honorary grant in the country exclusively conferred on presidents and former heads of state. The last time I checked, only the names of former heads of state, former presidents and the incumbent namely; Shehu Shagari, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Moshood Abiola, Muhammadu Buhari respectively are in the list of recipients of ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic’ (GCFR). All these figures by their positions as former heads of state or former presidents are all members of the Council of State with the incumbent president and vice president as the Council chairman and Deputy chairman respectively.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman of the Presidential Transition Council, Boss Mustapha had unveiled the programme of events for the inauguration of Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as president and vice president of the country respectively on May 29 being the beneficiaries of the disputed 25 February presidential poll as declared by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Yakubu Mahmoud who doubled as the chief Returning officer of the presidential election. The events include an investiture of the president-elect and vice-president-elect with the highest National Honors of ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic’ (GCFR) and Grand commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) respectively scheduled on Thursday 25th May, 2023.
Suffice to say that the country may record a very grievous blunder by the hurried conferment of highest national honour in the country to the president-elect and vice president-elect; positions that are sturdily being disputed at the Presidential Election Tribunal. Furthermore, the proposed inauguration of the disputed new government may produce a negative outcome considering that the beneficiaries of the controversial presidential election are still battling to legitimize the victory at the tribunal without considering the implications of not succeeding to defend the ‘mandate’ at the tribunal.
The office of the president should not be likened to that of the governors which could be sworn in pending the determination of the legitimate winner considering that the president by virtue of Section 130 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation, and by implication, in total control of the entire system. Above all, the president is the face of the country, and therefore, should not be reduced to ridicule. Though, it is high time it is reviewed to take oath of office after the determination of the legitimate winner as governors too. The reason is that it is absolutely an error to allow an illegitimate person to occupy the office of governor or president for one day.
The possible ugly implications of conferring the highest honour of the land on a disputed winner who has not been legally cleared vis-à-vis the office is weighty. How much more where such a candidate is facing sundry allegations like drug-related issues, discrepancies in credentials as well as controversies bothering on election irregularities on the declared election results, that may be inconsistent to the hallowed office of a president of any country. The question is what would be the fate of the country if a ‘GCFR’ is conferred as a president before the determination of the weighty allegations and maybe, not returned afterwards by the tribunal after the deed is already done; the highest honour exclusively kept for noble figures in the land conferred and received.
Convincingly, this is a critical oversight which the drafters of the Constitution didn’t consider, thus, remedying such a lacuna urgently is vital. Arguably, where there are grievous allegations over the election or against the declared winner, the appropriate thing in such a circumstance is for the tribunal to put the Solicitor-General of the Federation as a placeholder pending the determination of a substantive president. This alone will sustain a level playing ground rather than swearing in and later fighting to take back power which may result in chaos. As we speak, not even the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who heads the Supreme Court of Nigeria is entitled to the ‘Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic’ (GCFR) title.
Interestingly, in all applications or motions filed in the courts, there is an ultimate plea; …’And for such further or other orders as the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance’. This therefore confers competence on a court to pursuant to ‘public interest’ give a direction where a lacuna exists even if not prayed by an applicant. I believe this is the message of the clause that always ends every motion filed in the courts. If this is done, it would strengthen democracy as manipulating the system would automatically reduce on account that until the final outcome is determined, no swearing in but a neutral public officeholder will step in as a placeholder. It will equally discourage delay tactics in election disputes. In the United States of America for instance, the Electoral college exists to circumvent ugly situations where a person that is unfitting for the office of the president to be sworn in irrespective of popular votes even if a political party manipulated the elections to produce such a defective outcome.
Finally, it must be noted that the office of the president alongside the highest national honour accompanying the office should be strongly protected for only the legitimately-cleared winner, otherwise, we will carelessly endorse a situation where moneybags will by crooked means to get the GCFR tag, resort to buying the status of ‘president-elect’ at any cost and be sworn in, occupy the presidential seat irrespective of the period knowing that delay tactics may aid in the scheme. It is dangerous and condemnable to put in a person still contending the election results and other serious issues at the election tribunal into the office of the president. All the Armed Forces of the Federation, police and treasury are under the control of the president as oath of office is taken. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Umegboro is an Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators [ACIArb], public affairs analyst and social advocate