President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday sparked yet another round of controversy over his foreign trips, failing to hand over power to his vice president in an apparent disregard of the Nigerian Constitution.
Mr Buhari departed for London on a medical vacation to his UK doctors overnight, a trip that should have required a transfer of power for the duration of two weeks it was scheduled to last.
The Nigerian Constitution required the president to formally communicate a vacation or similar trips that will take him out of the country for long to the National Assembly, which would then allow the vice-president to play an acting role.
Yet, the president failed to relinquish presidential authority to Yemi Osinbajo, fueling fresh concerns that he had failed to learn from past controversies over similar trips.
Presidential media aide Garba Shehu said it was “not warranted” for Mr Buhari to transmit power even though his principal travelled to the UK for medical reasons.
“He (Buhari) will continue from wherever he is,” Mr Shehu said during an appearance on Channels Tuesday. “The requirement of the law is that the president is going to be absent in the country for 21 days and more, then that transmission is warranted. In this particular instance, it is not warranted.”
Mr Shehu maintained that no laws were broken by not transferring temporary powers to Mr Osinbajo in the president’s absence, adding that Mr Buhari is expected back in the country in the second week of April.
He insisted that the president was not sick, rather he only travelled to the UK as part of routine medical care.
But Mr Shehu’s comments failed to clarify Mr Buhari’s apparent disregard of the Constitution.
Section 145 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution said: “Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his Office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President.”
Mr Shehu’s claim about 21 days’ window for power transfer was a false interpretation of Section 145 (2) of the Constitution, which said: “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.”
Contrary to Mr Shehu’s claim, the Constitution said Mr Buhari must first transmit a letter to the parliament whenever he is embarking on a vacation in order to allow his vice-president to take charge. It is only when the president fails to transmit such communication within 21 days that the consequences of the National Assembly passing a resolution to give vice-president presidential authority would kick in.
The Constitution was amended following the stalemate created by former President Umar Yar’Adua, who had similarly failed to transfer presidential authority to his then-Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan despite being on a sickbed in Saudi Arabia for several months.
Mr Buhari’s so-called medical vacation came at a time when the National Association of Resident Doctors threatened a nationwide strike effective Thursday (April 1), after the federal government failed to meet the doctors’ demands.
Vice President of NARD Arome Adejo a recent media interview said the government failed to honour an agreement reached with the doctors at a meeting three weeks ago.
The doctors demanded the immediate payment of salaries the government owed to house officers, including March salaries before the end of business on March 31, 2021, immediate payment of salary arrears including March salaries for members in federal and state tertiary health institutions and an upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state owned-tertiary institutions.