Should the President be away indefinitely?

Ayuba Iliya | Sunday, 13 August 2017 7:22pm | opinion

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari - President, Federal Republic of Nigeria | Source: @mbuhari

Last Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari clocked the 90 days many thought was allowed by law for a seating President to be away from the country. The Presumed breach of this imagined provision has since caused a feeling of disappointment, extending the already waning confidence in the current administration in some quotas.

As the 90 days approached, the expected arrival of the President took over the political landscape, evident in the news that staff of the Villa are being told to be at alert as they await the arrival of the lion king. Sadly the President never showed up. To the dismay of some, there was nothing binding on the President to return within a time frame. These has prompted the question of how long can the President be away.

In the wake of the Resume or Resign sit- out protest by a civil rights group, the Presidency and the National Assembly issued statements, saying that the President has complied with the law and transmitted power to the Vice President to act in the capacity of the President.

The statement argues that there is no vacancy existing in the office of President with Professor Yemi Osinbajo acting in full capacity. While this is true within the current legal framework, it has been argued by political analysts that the absence of the President has created vacuum politically.

There is no gainsaying that the President acted in obedience to section 145 of the 1999 constitution which states that “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.”

However, the salient question unanswered by the constitution is “For how long can a President be away? Can a president be away till the end of his administration?

Though section 144 of the constitution empowers the executive council to declare the President incapacitated whenever it deems fit, the provision appears weak as it relies on the moral obligation of those in power which in most cases cannot be trusted.

In a political sense Presidential appointees cannot be perceived to be defiant to the powers that be, thus the need to strengthen the law.

The above signals the weakness inherent in Nigeria’s jurisprudence, ushering the current agitations and the applications of doctrines of necessity in state matters.

Lessons not learnt

With a similar scenario, which played out during the then Yar’adua/ Goodluck administration of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), one would expect that the constitutional amendment by 7th Assembly in 2010 would have envisaged further controversies associated with an ailing president, sadly even in the ongoing constitutional amendments, the question of how long the President can be away is nowhere in the 34 amendments proposed by the lawmakers.

It therefore raises the suspicion of whether the lawmakers deliberately turn the blind eye to the lacuna in the provisions or the adoption of doctrine of necessity in such circumstance is most favorable for the political elites.

During the Yar’adua administration, issues surrounding his health were shrouded in secrecy to the extent that the President failed to transmit powers to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan until the National Assembly intervened by transmitting power to the Vice President, which was at the time not within their jurisdiction to do.

Fourteen days after the lawmakers decision, it was widely reported that Yar'Adua returned to Abuja under the cover of darkness. His state of health was unclear, but there was speculation that he was still on a life support machine.

While some have argued that the current situation of President Buhari differs as he has transmitted powers to the Vice President, the question still remains unanswered. “Should the President be away indefinitely? How long should a President be away? Do Nigerians deserve to know the health status of the President? Should the President address Nigerians?

Although there are many voices around the issues of the President’s ailment, not many see the weakness in the law as many of the arguments is along party, ethnic or religious lines.

It means therefore that Nigerians must begin to talk about the office of the President and not the person of the President, conversations should centre on the provisions of the law, its inefficiencies and how to make systems better.

Matters associated to the office of the President, particularly of his capacity to deliver are of National Interest and must be treated as such.

Lawmakers, Civil society organizations and politicians must see this as an opportunity to make the current legal framework better to avoid future occurrence rather than an opportunity to score cheap political goals.

It may not be out of place therefore to recommend that the legislature do consider giving a time frame and the conditions within which the President can be away.

In the event of a deteriorating ailment, the constitution should mandate the executive council in collaboration with the National Assembly to conduct two medical examinations within the interval of three months to ascertain the health status of the President.

Results or report of such medical examinations should be published in the National Dailies to inform Nigerians on the health status of the President.

Where two thirds of the lawmakers and the executive council members are convince that the President is incapacitated from discharging his duties, the President shall be removed from office and be subsequently replaced by the Vice President.

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