Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Implications Of Buhari’s Absence

By Carl Umegboro
President Muhammadu Buhari officially embarked, at first instance, on a ten-day official leave and on its expiration, sought an extension on medical grounds. According to information from the Presidency, Buhari sought for an extension to enable him complete series of tests and medications as prescribed by his United Kingdom-based physicians. Since then, all manner of ugly insinuations and assumptions have trailed the development with a good number of people calling for Buhari to address the nation to rebut sundry allegations. Even in the United Kingdom, a group of Nigerians besieged the Nigerian High Commission seeking to know the health status of the President.
*Buhari 
Even after the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, tried to douse tension by assuring the nation of the president’s good health, it sounded as if water was poured on a stone. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), who stands to personally benefit more if the President is permanently incapacitated as alleged, as provided for in Section 146 of 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria, confidently testified that Buhari was hale and hearty. His explanations were    regarded by some people as the recitation of Hollywood scripts.
Some claimed that as the President of the country, and by implication, a public officer, his whereabouts and health status must always be public knowledge. Incidentally, the President formally took some days from his statutory annual vacation as stipulated by the laws of the country. To start with, official leave implies a temporary disengagement from official duties and position. It, therefore, connotes that President Buhari is at the moment officially not the head of government by virtue of his letter to the National Assembly for temporary disengagement from duty as the President. 

The sovereignty of the nation is, therefore, on Osinbajo, until further notice.  As a matter of fact, by virtue of Section 145 of the Nigerian Constitution, Buhari lacks the legitimacy to sign valid documents as the President of the country until he transmits to the National Assembly his willingness and readiness to take back power.
This is all about sovereignty and clearly indicative that Buhari is not accountable to anyone over his whereabouts or health condition until after his vacation. With Osinbajo temporarily at the helm of affairs, it is clear that there is no vacuum in the presidency.  Without a doubt, from Buhari’s request for extension of leave, and his non-specification of the duration of the extension, it is only logical that his leave will aggregately end on, or prior to, the end his statutory period of annual vacation.
Interestingly, by his transmission to the National Assembly, automatically, the Vice President, Osinbajo stepped into the shoes of the president which required no ceremony. Thus, there is no vacancy or lacuna of any sort. As it stands, all decisions taken by Osinbajo as the acting President are as valid as if Buhari took them while on seat. The President albeit is a person but more of an office. Democracy is not commonsensical, instead, it is a constitutional institution. Therefore, as long as the provisions of the constitution are adhered to, no blunder is committed anywhere. The polity would have been sensibly heated up if Buhari adopted ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s style and left the shores of the country without following the conventional procedures of official temporary handover. Obasanjo, due to the cat-and-mouse relationship with his Vice, Atiku Abubakar, then embarked on vacation but left office for his political appointees instead of the Vice President, ostensibly targeted for settling political scores and supremacy battle.   
As a matter of fact, Buhari’s whereabouts as the President would only become a serious issue after exhausting his annual vacation. At that point, the National Assembly, which exercises oversight functions, would have justifications to demand his whereabouts or state of health.
At the moment, nobody has powers to disturb his rest as Section 37 of the Constitution, which provides for the right to Privacy for all citizens, as a fundamental human right, is available and applicable to Muhammadu Buhari, too. Even if he faces health challenges, he is entitled to privacy until his annual vacation, which was approved by the National Assembly, is over.
It is unjustifiable, impious, iniquitous and inhuman for citizens to add more stress on him. If after his official leave, he remains unavailable, certainly, questions must be asked but for now, he deserves to enjoy his vacation without stress. As a conventional norm, even in the private sector for instance, a staff who, after exhausting his official leave does not report for duty, will likely be issued a query and sanctioned. Thus, to tirelessly demand for someone on leave to show his face or say something, is the height of naivety.
An official on leave, irrespective of the office occupied, is not accountable to anyone on official matters except Buhari’s official leave is distinct from other citizens’ annual leave. Some people even erroneously compared Buhari’s case with that of the deceased former President, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, who then already exhausted his statutory annual leave but remained offshore with no clear information on his whereabouts.
Admitted, Buhari could be ill; fortunately, the Constitution never frowned at the  ill-health of the president, except terminal illness, which shall be tantamount to certified permanent incapacitation.
Overall, the most outstanding attributes of democracy are electoral franchise and time limit; no one rules forever. By implication, if Buhari’s government and party fail to meet the expectations of the citizenry, fight back at the next poll with your votes. It successfully happened on Goodluck Jonathan and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
I believe that’s the greatest record Jonathan set in Nigeria that an incumbent that failed to meet the targets of the people must pack his load. It is no longer unprecedented to remove an incumbent from power. It has happened in Ghana too. Hence, appraisals if poor, shouldn’t degenerate to odium or show of aggression.
*Umegboro writes from Lagos 

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