Sunday 25th June, 2017
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Constitutional Gymnastics as Buhari fails to name Osinbajo as Acting President

Constitutional Gymnastics as Buhari fails to name Osinbajo as Acting President

President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter of vacation addressed to National Assembly has failed to name Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as the Acting President while he is on vacation.

This new development was in contrast to his letter of January 2017 when he left the country for medical treatment in the UK, he stated clearly in that letter to the legislature that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would “perform the duties” of his office while he was away.

“In compliance with section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, I wish to inform the distinguished senate that I will be away for a short medical vacation from Monday, January, 23 to February 6th, 2017 and while I am away, the vice-president (Osinbajo) will perform the functions of my office,” the letter read.

The president spent 49 days abroad at the time after which resumed duties in March.

On Sunday, he returned to the UK for medical treatment.

In the letter he sent to the senate and read by Senate President Bukola Saraki on Tuesday, Buhari said the vice president would “coordinate the activities of government” in his absence. This is markedly different from the first one.

“I wish to inform the distinguished senate that I will be away for a scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctors’ advice,”  the president’s letter read.

“While I am away, the vice-president will coordinate the activities of the government.”

Going by the president’s choice of word, “coordinate”, the vice-president is simply empowered to organise the activities of the government, and perhaps, not run it.

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary, “coordinate” means: 1.To organise the different parts of an activity and the people involved in it so it works well. 2. To make the different parts of your body work well together.

This point caused a Constitutional uproar, as “coordinating the activities of government” – as seen in the second letter – is different from “performing the duties of my office” – as seen in the first letter.

Mao Ohuabunwa, a senator from Abia state, pointed out the “inscrutability” of the letter on the floor of the upper legislative chamber on Tuesday, but he was ruled out of order.

“Any letter should be unambiguous and very clear, so I’m saying that this letter really does not convey anything because coordinating has no place in our constitution. We having been having letters like this, you tell us he is the acting president so we know who to deal with as a senate,” he said.

“I am saying that this letter for me is not right and maybe it should be sent back.”

However, Ahmed Lawan, senate leader, said the wording of the letter was irrelevant because the president had followed the constitution by informing the national assembly of his absence.

Ahmad Lawan, in his reaction, said Buhari has done what the constitution stipulated and therefore any word used in the letter is irrelevant.

Lawan said: “Mr. President, let me say that the Point of Order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently follows shouldn’t have been and my reasons are simple.

“I still rely on the first paragraph of that letter which Mr. President wrote to this Senate and read by the President of the Senate and I will read section (145), which reads: Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration, that he is proceeding on vacation.

“Any other word in this letter or indeed anywhere else is irrelevant.

“I therefore feel that Mr. President has done what the constitution requires him to do and I urge this Senate not to go ahead to discuss this because its not an issue.

“We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting.”

The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said in his ruling: “I think it is a very clear issue and what we should be guided by is the constitution and I think that it is clear, the letter has referred to the constitution and there’s no ambiguity in the constitution.

“So, I don’t think there’s any issue there.

“Let me first rule you out of order Senator Mao.”