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Buhari in London: Senate considers Buhari’s controversial leave letter

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IMAGE: Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari and His Vice Prof. Yemi Osibanjo »



The letter, written by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly, to inform the lawmakers of his medical leave and to transmit power to his deputy, is generating controversy.

Buhari had stated that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would coordinate the affairs of the nation while he was away instead of writing that Osinbajo would act as the President.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, at the plenary on Tuesday, read the letter from Buhari, informing the legislature of his medical vacation in the United Kingdom.

Buhari said his stay in the UK would be determined by his doctors.

While the President said in the letter that Osinbajo would “coordinate” the governance of the country during his absence, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa criticised the letter as not naming Osinbajo as Acting President and should be disregarded.

Three Senior Advocates in Nigeria – Prof. Taiwo Osipitan, Femi Falana and Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe – however, explained that the word used by Buhari was unimportant even though strange to the constitution of the country.

The letter read, “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 scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor’s advice.

‘‘While I am away, the Vice-President will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept, the distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

But Ohuabunwa, while raising a point of order, argued that the letter was not clear on the transfer of power from Buhari to Osinbajo.

He said, “Mr. President, I don’t think, in our Constitution, we have anything like ‘coordinating president’ or ‘coordinating vice-president’. It is either you are vice-president or you are acting President and any letter (on transfer of power) should be unambiguous and very clear.

“So, I am saying this letter really does not convey anything because ‘coordinating’ has no space or any place in our Constitution.”

But the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, countered Ohuabunwa, saying Buhari had fulfilled the provisions of Section 145 of the Constitution by transmitting the letter.

He stated, “Let me say that the point of order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed should not have been and my reasons are simple.

 “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 it is not an issue.

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

Saraki, who presided over the plenary, ruled Ohuabunwa out of order.

Following the controversy generated by the use of ‘coordinating’ President employed by Buhari to describe the transmission of power to Osinbajo, the Presidency said it had nothing to add to the letter.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Mr. Ita Enang, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents.

Enang stated, “Therefore, I don’t have anything to add to what is written in the letter. I also have nothing to add to the provisions of the Constitution that were referred to in that letter.”

Senior advocates react to Buhari’s letter on ‘coordinating’ president

Osipitan, a professor of Law, said there was nothing like ‘coordinating President’ in the Nigerian constitution.

Osinpitan believed that using the word ‘coordinating’ was a mere error on the part of Buhari, more so as the President had, in the past, used the word ‘acting President’ in similar circumstances.

The law lecturer added, “Ordinarily, there is nothing like Coordinating President in the constitution. He should be acting and he should be addressed as acting President. I believe it was a slip of the pen.

“This is not the first time that the Vice-President would be acting as President and having done it before as acting President, there is no difference this time. There’s nothing like ‘coordinator’ in our constitution.”

Asked whether the Senate should have, on that basis, rejected Buhari’s letter, Osipitan answered in the negative, saying doing so would have created a vacuum and unnecessary tension.

“I don’t think the Senate should have rejected the letter. There will be a lacuna which nobody wants. The Senate should be magnanimous and mature to interpret coordinating as acting. The first letter said acting; so, the Senate should take it as a slip of the pen.”

Adedipe, said the choice of word was not important as long as the President had written to the National Assembly that he would be away and transmitted power to the Vice-President.

Adedipe stated, “What we have is acting President. They may give it any name, but in reality and in law, the Vice-President will act as the President once the President has written to the National Assembly that he will be away.

“People like to play around with words and phrases but the reality is that once the President is not able to perform the function of his office, he will write to the National Assembly, transmitting his power to the Vice-President, who will then act as the President.”

Also, Falana said the title of the coordinator did not limit the powers of Osinbajo.

He said, “The description of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as a coordinator in the letter transmitted to the National Assembly by President Buhari  is of no consequence as far as the constitution is concerned.

“In other words, by virtue of Section 145 of the Constitution, once the President transmits a letter to the effect that he is proceeding on a medical vacation, the vice-president automatically becomes the Acting President of the Republic.

“Indeed, upon his arrival in the United Kingdom, President Buhari confirmed that the country is in safe hands of the Acting President.”

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 2 Years ago

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