The extension of President Buhari’s vacation has thrown the legitimacy of the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, into fresh doubts following comments by barristers at law after the expiration of Osinbajo’s short stint as the acting president. By implication, Nigeria is adjudged to be on autopilot.
The president announced he would be embarking on a 10-day vacation – which has now been extended for medical reasons – on January 19, scheduling his resumption for February 6. However, the fact that he left the shores of Nigeria about 48 hours before the official commencement of his leave gave life to a number of erroneous reports of his death barely hours after leaving the country. The efforts of the media aides to set records straight have only, at best, echoed those of the last president of the country to die on seat, Musa Yar’adua.
In a development long predicted by some analysts in the wake of the uncertainties surrounding his health, President Buhari’s scheduled return date was postponed indefinitely, in another statement released by a Special Adviser to the President on Media and Communications, Mr Femi Adesina. The statement put out by the adviser ─ who by way has only been in touch with the president through proxy ─ read that the President would be staying back in London to get doctors reports of test underwent.
The release saw a resurrection of the rumours that trailed the president’s health, largely shrouded in secrecy.
Senate president Bukola Saraki is the latest to express confidence about the president’s well-being right after vice president Yemi Osinbajo and one of the president’s sister’s, had said they were in contact with him almost daily. However, a source quoted went a bit further than the three to express the possibility of the president returning to the country on Saturday. The source, however, reminded us of the uncertainty trailing the president’s state of health when he added, “barring any last minute change” to his statement.
However, there appears to be contention about who gives the final order in a country without a President after it emerged that the president by letter had not extended the acting presidency of the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, but has only extended his stay. More so, with the letter yet to be read on the floor of the house, according to an interpretation given by a barrister at law, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, Nigeria at the moment is without a president, and the acting presidency of Osinbajo is of no effect until the letter is read on the floor of the house.
The consistency of the argument put forward by Barr Olu-Adegboruwa has however been rubbished by other interpretations of the same law posited that no part of the 1999 constitution states that the letter must be read to take effect. All the letter needed to take effect and extend the acting presidency of Osinbajo was an acknowledgement by the Senate. If the statement put out by the senate is to believed, then they have received the letter from the president and by that, the acting presidency of Yemi Osinbajo is again activated.
The legitimacy of the acting presidency of Yemi Osinbajo is further validated by section 145 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The constitution 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 or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
The absence of the president at this point in time is a serious issue that is made less serious by the fact that the president transferred power to the vice president before departing the chores of the country. On the other hand, what makes the situation very serious is the fragile history of political succession in the country. In the event of a prolonged absence of the president, the country will likely be thrown into a round of vicious debates on who succeeds the President irrespective of what the law says. We have once witnessed the extent to which the regional differences and claims to power could turn into a full-blown political war in the wake of President Umar Musa Yar’adua’s demise. The best we could wish for as a country is that the president is well and able to lead, from the front.