Posted by News Express | 24 April 2015 | 3,314 times
At a recent media briefing after a Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, Minister of Information, Mrs Patricia Akwashiki, disclosed that President Goodluck Jonathan will hand over power to the President-elect, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), on May 28. “By May 28, the President intends to have the formal handover done at a dinner so that we can reserve May 29 for the incoming government. By May 28, we are expected to have concluded our own government and we are welcoming the incoming government,” Akwashiki said.
As it would happen, that simple gesture of goodwill on the part of President Jonathan has become a subject of some unfortunate interpretations and interpolations. From my understanding of what President Jonathan is trying to do, since the dinner being organised in honour of his successor would not end until the early hour of May 29, he could as well submit his prepared hand-over notes before the swearing-in ceremony some hours later. And if he chooses not to attend the ceremony, then there should be no big deal about it. But some people seem to be under the impression that Jonathan is compelled to be physically present at the ceremony on May 29 to “hand over” to Buhari. He does not have to.
May 29 is Buhari’s day at a time Jonathan would have become, to borrow the words of his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, another yesterday’s man! But my point is that whether or not he attends the inauguration of Buhari is entirely left to him to decide. Since our presidential system of government is patterned after that of the United States, then we should also draw a lesson from there. Four American presidents who were alive at the time power was being transferred to their successors, did not witness their inauguration ceremonies, for different reasons.
In 1869, President Andrew Johnson refused to attend the inauguration of President U. S. Grant because he was apparently angry, having spent considerable time in office fighting the Republican Party whose lawmakers overrode several of his vetoes and nearly removed him from office. A Democrat who ran as running mate to Republican President Abraham Lincoln, Johnson became President in 1865 following Lincoln’s assassination. He could not seek re-election because he lost the Democratic presidential primaries.
However, for much of his tenure, Johnson was in conflict with the Republican Congress. So acrimonious was the relationship that Johnson was, at a point, impeached by the House of Representatives and only survived at the Senate by just one vote. Perhaps because of all that, and despite appeals from many people, Johnson stayed away from President Grant’s inauguration, choosing instead to drive himself to the house of a friend while the ceremony was going on. But Johnson was not the first president to snub the inauguration of his successor, that record belongs to President John Adams, the second president and the first vice president (to George Washington).
The story began in 1800 when Adams was defeated for re-election by his number two man, Thomas Jefferson, becoming the first American president to fail re-election. He took the defeat so badly that on the day of Jefferson’s inauguration, he left Washington very early at a time there was no precedent in dealing with such situation. But the ceremony went on nonetheless. It was President Adams who most memorably described the office of Vice President as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived."
29 years later, President Adams’ son, President John Quincy Adams also deliberately refused to attend the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson who had been his bitter political rival thus creating a record of “like father, like son”. But then, perhaps there were justifications for his action.
At the 1824 election where the candidates fought dirty (one calling the other’s wife an adulteress), Jackson won majority of the popular votes and more electoral votes but he could not be declared winner because he was short by 32 electoral votes. Acting under the Twelfth Amendment, the House of Representatives met to select the President and rather curiously, it was Adams (who came second in both popular and electoral votes) that prevailed in a dramatic session. With a tie, the Speaker (with whom Adams reportedly had a deal and who would later be appointed Secretary of State) cast the decisive ballot for Adams who became the president.
Feeling betrayed by the lawmakers and angered by what he considered a corrupt process, Jackson resigned from the Senate and started his campaign to unseat the president and four years later, he defeated Adams by a landslide. Because of the political enmity between the two, Jackson, as president-elect, refused to pay President Adams the customary courtesy call at the White House before inauguration and the latter also stayed away from his successor’s inauguration.
While President Richard Nixon who resigned following Watergate scandal in 1974 could be excused for not attending the inauguration of his vice president and successor, Gerald Ford, what the foregoing suggests is that a president is not compelled to witness the inauguration of his successor and if President Jonathan decides to leave for Otuoke on the morning of May 29, there is nothing anybody can do about it. But I believe that it would further advance the course of our democracy, if President Jonathan attends Buhari’s inauguration. I will strongly advocate for him to attend.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in yesterday’s edition of ThisDay under the headline, ‘When the madness is over...’ Adeniyi can be reached via email@example.com
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