By Carl Umegboro
NIGERIA’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, has spent more than 90 days in London on account of ill-health after transmitting a notice of vacation to the National Assembly in compliance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. Accordingly, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, stepped into his shoes in acting capacity. So far, he has demonstrated his intellectual capability for the job with outstanding results: breaking barriers, spearheading economic policies, penetrating hitherto no go-areas, especially parleying with the Niger-Delta militants, among others.
To ascertain the state of the president’s health, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Senate President, alongside Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, visited Buhari in London for first-hand information. Shortly afterwards, a delegation from his ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), joined the train, and finally, governors from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). From their respective reports, President Buhari is, without a doubt, recuperating speedily and willing to resume duties as soon as possible. Incidentally, his high hopes of leaving the shores of the United Kingdom remain at the mercy of his physicians.
On account of the prolonged vacation, some Nigerians, either by omission or commission, are demanding for Buhari’s resignation, twisting Section 146 of the Nigerian Constitution. They argued that the vacation is tantamount to a vacancy in the office of the President, and again, opined that prolonged ailment amounts to permanent incapacity. Unfortunately, that is a blunder and a misconception of our laws. The provisions of our laws are not ambiguous. There are detailed procedures to arrive at the conclusion of permanent incapacity. Nevertheless, the controversy coincidentally pointed out a salient lacuna in the constitution, that a president or governors can embark on indefinite vacation without violating any laws by merely transmitting a letter to the appropriate quarters.
However, the three months dateline relied upon by the protesters is only indicated in Section 146(2) supra, and exclusively applicable in a situation where the offices of the President and Vice President are concurrently vacant by circumstances listed in Section 146 (1) of the Constitution. In such a scenario, the Senate President shall temporarily hold the office of the President for a period not exceeding 90 days for a presidential election. It is, therefore, imperative to note that Buhari, at the moment, impliedly stepped-aside as President of Nigeria which resulted in the office of the acting President now in existence.
Thus, Buhari is constitutionally not liable. Until he retransmits his resumption to the National Assembly, he lacks powers to even perform the duties of Nigeria’s President, despite receiving his pecuniary entitlements. The acting President is presently in full control of governance and constitutionally empowered to exercise all the functions designated for the President. If not for the amiable relationship between the duo, Professor Osinbajo is not under any constitutional duty to relay his decisions to the President, how much less seek his approval. In fact, any documents assented to by the acting president stands in same position as if the substantive president signed them until the persons transmits another letter saying he has resumed his duties.
The self-indulgent protests and worries would have been meaningful if directed at protesting unfriendly government policies. Admittedly, protests and criticisms are democratic norms, and commonplace desiderata in civilised societies for checkmating excesses in government. Nonetheless, the protests, be they politically-sponsored or otherwise, would have earned more accolades had they been over issues of premium value, rather than the hullabaloo over an ailing fellow citizen, who is the president. Perhaps, against foreign medical trips for all public office holders.
Ditto, if targeted at monumental aberrations in the polity, for example, the jumbo allowances of National Assembly members at the detriment of the travailing masses. The protests would have also made sense if directed at some recent court judgments on corruption cases which, surprisingly, hastily discharged and acquitted privileged citizens arraigned for looting billions of local and foreign currencies while poor citizens arraigned for stealing as little as a goat, and even petty items, are convicted and sent to various prisons across the nation. Some are also on awaiting trial lists for years.
Obviously, criticisms are conventionally anchored on principles. A situation where people embark on protests out of naivety or pecuniary interest is unfortunate. As reported, a notable artiste collapsed allegedly on account of tear-gas from the Police. What a misadventure and misappropriation of time! A public office holder, including occupants of the office of the president, who duly obtained authorisation to proceed on vacation, is irrefutably free to be off-duty, and therefore not liable for any official matters.
The finest offers citizens owe President Buhari now are prayers and encouragement. All issues pertaining to governance of the country at the moment are on Prof Osinbajo’s shoulders. Interestingly, the learned professor is evidently up and doing, and performs energetically. This should be the consolation of Nigerians; that the acting president splendidly bridged the gap. Osinbajo also earned a distinction by prioritising national interest and concentrating on the enormous challenges facing the nation, instead of playing politics with detractors as most politicians would have done if in his shoes. This speaks volume of his credibility, maturity and patriotism.
Overall, Buhari cannot be Nigeria’s President eternally but his citizenship is beyond his lifetime. Thus, to accord him reverence at least as a fellow citizen is vital. How many people have asked any head of organisation to resign on account of medical vacation?
Certainly, if it becomes impossible to continue in office on account of ill-health which we don’t expect, opportunity to throw in towel will present itself naturally. But for now, for affection sake, inspiring remarks for his quick recovery are the best that we can offer him offer. Regrettably, the protesters unconsciously portrayed the nation before the international community as brutal, senseless and callous people.
Politics is essentially distinct from nuisance, animosity and personal attacks, but should be policies and issues-based. President Buhari is just an individual. In other words, the position he occupies belongs to his party, APC, and his resignation cannot transfer his mandate to another political party, except there is another election. Until then, live and let live!
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst