Today, March 15, 2017, makes it the third day that our President receives papers and assumes his official duties as the number one citizen of our dear Nation. It is true that for over 52 days, our President has been away for matters that must have been health related. With warmness is he presumed welcome to his base despite the transparent mendacious attempts by our leaders that he was hale and hearty. This paper will be centered on the constitutional implication of Pr. Buhari’s express directive that his Vice continues amidst his presence. That we have two presidents in Nigeria is not the case, but it is one that seemed to exist before the arrival of March the 13th. Without further dillydallying, in pronto should some things be stressed.
Throughout the history of Nigeria under the democratic regime, there was no such thing as two sailors governing the whereabouts of a sole ship. A thorough research in parts of the world under democracy’s influence had the 1976 Presidential election in United States derogate from the “one president for all” idea though due to circumstance the 12th amendment did not envisage. It was a matter that involved the court ruling in favour of Hayes. It was by slim margin that Hayes (republic) defeated Tilden but crucial was the point of inauguration. Due to fear of a rowdy and life threatening environment, Hayes chose everything be done in stealth and even earlier; the big question remained whether there were two presidents as the incumbent still enjoyed a short time before the formal handing over took place. The rectification was necessary; the 20th amendment was the troubleshooting instrument. The question remains, did Pr. Buhari have the power to grant full powers in his Vice? This question was very necessary before the 13th day of March. The purpose of this piece is thus to answer the curiosity nursed by Nigerians. The purpose is to stress the constitutional implication of the ruckus that hit every famous street in Nigeria. Without demur, the president was not out of the fresh words of s.145 CFRN 1999 since he transmitted a written declaration to Senate conveying, loud enough, his readiness to resume office. But what was really ear-itching that got even legal practitioners divided?
The constitution of Nigeria indeed discussed extensively the powers and roles of the President and the Vice President. In an earlier work, the message of s.145 of the constitution, which dwelt on the due process that should be followed by the president in the event that he is on a vacation or is unable to discharge the functions of his office, was one submitted to have existed during the long sojourn of Pr. Buhari to London as a letter was transmitted to the Senate that his Vice assumes the mantle albeit in an “acting” capacity. The cry of Nigerians as regards the long stay abroad without exactness of his illness probably showcased the prevalence of caring beings but as submitted in an earlier article, what is owed the nation is good governance not a personality. It is just for lead purposes that the return of our beloved president be the next stage. Upon his return, he gave a speech appreciating the various ethnicities for prayers while he was afar; he fired what got people with raised brows when he said that he needs to rest after such severe ill health massacre – a truth that his spokesman never admitted. Important was what followed. He added that Osinbajo (vice president) continue as the acting president in the interim. The statement in itself is misleading. It appears to mean that the president deemed the transfer of such weighty power, albeit temporarily, very much on discretionary measures. Where the constitution has spoken, its voice supersedes that of the president undoubtedly. But we cannot say the words of the president should not itself be looked at. Of a truth, our president conformed totally to every letter in s.145 (2) CFRN 1999 which in black prints evinced as follows:
In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the National Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each House of the National Assembly , mandate the Vice-President to perform the functions of the office of the president as Acting President until the President transmits a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions as President.
Distillable is the fact that the president, upon his return from wherever, writes to the National Assembly for the sole reason of due formality and order. Gladly, this was done on the 13th day of this month. The curiosity was in the statement and the congratulations from The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). CISLAC commended Pr. Buhari for allowing his vice keep on acting. Of mention is this powerful statement made by this body:
“We consider this decision very patriotic, confirming the President as a statesman and leader who places national interest above personal interests and does not possess the sit-tight mentality typical of many leaders on the continent.”
“We note that it is unprecedented for a sitting president to wilfully acknowledge that his state of health requires additional attention before he can fully resume office and concede the role of presiding over the affairs of the nation, to his vice even though he is physically present in the country.”
CISLAC seemed to have reasoned it from what applies unreservedly to morality. The constitution was in no way ambivalent when it gave due process that allowed for swapping of powers. It is actually impossible to have a president in a country and his vice acting in his stead – such sort of proxy is not applicable except for reasons like permanent incapacitation, or vacation, to mention a few. What was not envisaged is one becoming a Santa with sensitive offices as such. This is verily in direct contrast with the juicy words of Itse Sagay who stressed that “the Vice President can perform any function of the President, once he is acting. The word ‘acting’ is not important. The acting just means that there is a short time. When the President is not around, the Vice President becomes the President. This gives the Vice President all the powers of the President. So, in the absence of the President, the Vice President can perform all functions of the President.” This saying is true and common knowledge, that CISLAC did not avert their mind to this, then they could be excused for being hyper emotional? Not the case unfortunately.Speaking of being patriotic is supposed to include saying and doing things in accordance with the dictates of the constitution. If Mr. President was touched by the good works of his vice, then there were better ways of being generous. The constitution had this arena covered, there was no need for such embarrassing coinage of words – embarrassing indeed because it could make people assume the president went on a 52 day voyage and left his constitutional law knowledge with the white doctors OR the presumption that he never knew the constitution. If CISLAC can commend someone who is modeled as the number one citizen of a country as being selfless in allowing his vice rule before he gains full balance, then for what purpose did he come back? Is he back here to eat the African meal which interestingly is found in London? Or did he suddenly go off colour upon his arrival? His coming back should show his readiness to serve. If he wanted an extension of Osinbajo’s time in power, he would have made it known via a phone call – doing so inter praesentes did not reflect NEED. Such commendation was not to them that place rationality first. Striking is the fact that CISLAC should be a body we could hit our chest knows the law.
This paper is of the submission that there was never the constitutional permission of two presidents to rule. Submitting as well is the fact that the statement of the President was in error and too gratuitous for comfort. Inclusive is the submission that CISLAC was in error to have allowed incorrectness to have stained their brain. The argument that Pr. Buhari could not have been in error as he could not have transmitted a written declaration to assume office on a weekend is not in issue and in fact constitutes an afterthought. It is for enlightenment that this paper exposes the fact that the President, having done the necessary, is in order. But it must not suffer omission that his words should be properly guided. It can be safe to say that upon his arrival, there was no office of a vice president automatically as we awaited a letter sent to the National Assembly. It can be safe to say that we never had two presidents at a go. Hence, the president was not in order to call any short or grant such bogus showering a mandate on his subordinate. We are led by the constitution and not by emotions – it is very disposed to faults especially when applied instinctively. It is hoped that his health remains intact for effective governance. Once more, welcome Mr. President.
© OKOCHA OBED