By Onyedika Agbedo
Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, in this interview, says that President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued stay in office in spite of his ill health is against the spirit of Sections 5 and 12 of the 1999 Constitution. Adegboruwa, who had called for Buhari’s resignation, insists that doing so would help the country to avoid a replay of happened under the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, “whereby people who were not elected took over the reins of power.”
You are one of those that have called for the resignation of President Muhammadu Buhari on account of his ill health. Is the call based on any provision of the constitution?
Yes, by Sections 5 and 12 of the constitution, it is anticipated that we have a president who is an executive president wielding enormous powers and discharging great responsibilities. That office requires somebody who is agile and fit mentally and physically. In the circumstance of President Muhammadu Buhari presently, he cannot fit into that picture. That is why we wanted him to disclose his ailment, the cost of his treatment and who is bearing the cost. Now, if that is the position, Sections 144, 145 and 146 of the constitution say that once a President is incapable of discharging his duties, he should be removed from office.
On Wednesday, May 3, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) met and delegated the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to speak on their behalf and what he said was that based on doctors’ advice, the president was advised to rest until he will be fit for work. What that means is that the President is not fit healthwise. He is not capable of discharging his responsibilities and that has met the constitutional requirement of a declaration and resolution of the FEC.
So, in an attempt to avoid the experience we had under the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, whereby people who were not elected took over the reins of power, we ask the president to save himself and save Nigeria by resigning honourably.
There is nothing to be ashamed of in being sick. We don’t rejoice over his sickness; we are not happy that the president is sick but there is nothing we can do about it. It is not our making. If he recovers, let him come and face us again in 2019 for another election. But between now and 2019, he should allow the wheel of progress of Nigeria to move forward and not hold us to ransom. That is the first reason.
The second reason is that what you sow is what you reap. When President Buhari was in the opposition, he agitated that then ailing president Yar’Adua should disclose his health and resign from office. So, what is good for the goose is sauce for the gander also. If he had taken that position and he is now the president of Nigeria and suffering from sickness, he should match his word with action and live up to his integrity.
You see, anything can incapacitate anybody. The one that incapacitated Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as president even though he was physically and mentally fit was corruption. So, anything can incapacitate anybody; it could be cluelessness, lack of performance, sickness or corruption. When unfortunately it happens to be sickness, as long as you are incapacitated, you cannot claim to be president.
The president has gone for medical follow up and has complied with Section 145 of the constitution by transmitting a letter to the National Assembly. Don’t you think he is still on the side of the law and not hampering the progress of the country?
No, the president has not acted lawfully for the following reasons. The first is that there is no coordinating office created by the constitution. A coordinator is somebody who occupies an empty office; he doesn’t have any power. He is just helping to aggregate the opinion of others. He has no power of his own; he is just coordinating. The letter the president wrote to the Senate is to appoint a coordinating vice president and that is an illegal appointment. He has not fulfilled the requirement of the constitution. What he has done is to leave the vice president to be a coordinator. That means that power is residing in other persons. There are some individuals that the president has confided in personally and has appointed to oversee his own responsibilities. He is just using the vice president as a figurehead to coordinate the activities of those other powerful people who are unknown to us and who were not elected in office. It is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians for the president to be appointing the vice president as a coordinating vice president in his absence. And the Senate should not countenance that letter. They should throw the letter back to the Presidency and commence impeachment proceedings against the president for travelling without complying with Section 145 of the constitution. That is the first aspect.
The other aspect is that he said the duration of his trip was indefinite. In other words, he can stay abroad till 2019 when his tenure will expire. That is not the intendment of the constitution. The constitution anticipates a president that is physically present and once he is not physically present, he cannot hold us to ransom and be eating his cake and having it. You are not in the office to do your work yet you want to be laying claim to the office of the president. And you are unable to perform that role yet you want to be ruling from a remote location that we don’t know. We don’t know the location of your treatment and the kind of disease you are treating. How can a person be holding a whole 180 million people to ransom?
But the constitution did not also set a deadline for the duration of such a trip?
That is why he should have left it for the Senate to determine. The Senate on receiving such letter could say, ‘we will accept this letter and expect a follow up after 30 days’. He cannot by himself set an indefinite time; it is left for the Senate.
So, he erred in not giving the duration of the trip?
All he needed to do was what he did in the first instance. When he travelled in January this year, he sent a letter to the Senate, which complied with Section 145 of the constitution by stating that he would be away for 10 days and by also stating that the person he was handing over to would be an acting president. But this time around, the President is trying to play a trick on Nigerians by throwing us into confusion. Now, a cabal is indirectly ruling us since he left the vice president as a “coordinator of government affairs.” It is a constitutional insult.
How would you react to the argument in some quarters that with a capable vice president, Nigerians should not worry about the president’s illness and his absence from the seat of power?
First, you will recall that when the president travelled in January, we had a monumental crisis in the judiciary when the office of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was about to expire. It took the agitation of Nigerians when the acting president was confused on what to do to get the acting CJN confirmed as substantive CJN. That is a clear example of the confusion that we can be thrown into in the absence of a substantive president
Secondly, since this president came into office, he imposed himself on Nigerians as the minister of petroleum. That sector is the engine room of our income in this nation. In other words, he is the minister of petroleum and he didn’t hand over that office to the coordinator that he has appointed via his letter; and that is the livewire of Nigeria. You can imagine, therefore, that a cabal will continue to rule that sector without recourse to the coordinating vice president. So, if the President is not available, that means that there is no minister of petroleum; and the minister of state for petroleum has no right to take a decision without the endorsement of the supervising minister. The minister of state for petroleum is just a figurehead; he was used initially to head the ministry and as group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Once the president achieved his agenda, he booted the man out of office. So, he is neither the GMD of NNPC nor head of the ministry of petroleum; he is just floating.
Thirdly, you will discover that even in the absence of the president on account of ill health, every statement in respect of major policy decisions had been coming from the Presidency, not from the vice president. And if you remember the question, ‘who is the Presidency?’ which the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir Lawal, asked when he was confronted by journalists shortly after his suspension, that will tell you that the Presidency is a cabal, which is different from the office of the vice president. In that Presidency, there is confusion in governance between the Chief of Staff, SGF, National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Director of State Security Service (SSS). The Presidency is the one ruling Nigeria now, not the coordinator that the President has appointed. So, without the presence of the president himself, there will be confusion as to who actually has the authority to take decisions.
You will also recall that there was a panel set up to investigate the N13 billion Ikoyigate and also the allegation of corruption against the suspended SGF. Even after the president has travelled, we were told that the panel would submit its report. Meanwhile, the vice president is heading the panel. Is the vice president submitting the report to himself?
But given the present circumstance, is there anything wrong in doing that since he is now heading the Presidency?
How can you be an investigator, a prosecutor and a decision maker? You, the executive, are the one who raised this allegation through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); it is the executive that is investigating it; it is still the executive that will take a decision on it. We are not in some banana republic.
So, I believe that the absence of Mr. President is going to create a major confusion and that is why the Senate should not allow him to take us for a ride by throwing back that letter to the presidency, swearing in the vice president as acting president and commencing impeachment proceedings against the president for gross misconduct.
Don’t you think that throwing the letter back to the Presidency will create a vacuum in power no matter how little?
No, there will be no vacuum. What that means is that they will now have the justification to commence impeachment proceedings against him and in the meantime swear in the vice president as acting president. And when they conclude his impeachment, they will swear in the acting president as substantive president. Then in 2019, Nigerians will boot the All Progressives Congress (APC) out of office because they came to deceive us.
So, I’m asking that on May 29 when this administration will be two years old, Nigerians should not join them to celebrate any democracy. Everybody should sit at home and remember how many of our citizens were killed when the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) were protesting in the South-east. They should remember how many of our people were killed in Kaduna when members of the Shiite Movement were conducting a peaceful rally; they should remember how many of our people were killed in Lagos when the Airforce were dropping bombs and killing innocent people without any investigation; they should remember the rise in the cost of petroleum from N85 to N145; they should remember the rise in the exchange rate from N250 to $1 to N500 to $1; they should remember that just last Saturday, 26 people lost their lives because of an accident that occurred along Lagos Ibadan Expressway, which this administration has continued to promise to reconstruct but has failed to complete, and several other accidents happening all over the country.
Nigerians should remember how Fulani herdsmen have been empowered to take over people’s lands and property all over the nation; we should remember that out of the 300 girls that the President promised to go and bring back from Sambisa forest, we have only seen about 100. We should remember that Ibrahim Shekau has been killed over five times by the Nigerian Army and he is still alive.
But some Nigerians strongly believe that this administration has recorded some gains in degrading Boko Haram insurgency and fighting corruption?
I think that if we want to talk about the Boko Haram insurgency, we should talk about the promise of the president that no part of Nigeria will be under the control of Boko Haram under his watch. But as you can see, suicide bombers are still launching attacks here and there. Even though I agree that their powers have been reduced minimally, the fact of the negotiation that has just taken place shows you the strength of Boko Haram, because if you have defeated somebody, you should not be negotiating with the person. So, it is this administration that is now empowering Boko Haram by giving them N5 billion and by releasing their dreaded leaders. So, this administration is indirectly prolonging the Boko Haram insurgency because they now have money to recruit new members.
In the anti-graft war, I honestly commend the president and all our law enforcement agencies. But if you are an innocent man and ‘thieves’ surround you, then you are also a ‘thief’. So, except the president has the courage to take decisions concerning allegations of corruption against members of his cabinet, there is no anti-corruption war that we are fighting. And you have heard that Mr. Steve Oronsaye has been acquitted again by the High Court in Abuja; Justice Ademola has also been acquitted.
So, there is no major case in which there has been a conviction; it’s just in the realm of allegations and media trial. I know that the capacities of the security agencies are limited; they are hampered by lack of resources and lack of the goodwill from the executive. That is why I lay the blame at the foot of the president; he is using the anti-corruption war to achieve political ends.