Osinbajo and the perceived ‘coordinating’ mandate
President Muhammadu Buhari transmitted a letter of notice to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for a medical vacation in the United Kingdom a moment ago. The construction of the letter which contained among other terms, ‘coordinating’ has been subjected to severe criticisms among the political class and finally down to the masses questioning the rationale behind the use of such term in place of ‘acting’ as previously used during Buhari’s earlier vacation. The observation was raised by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP) representing Abia North senatorial district at the Senate plenary when the letter was read, and vehemently condemned the term, indicating his smell of a rat at the presidency. Since then, other politicians alongside the masses particularly from the opposition have continued to dwell on sundry insinuations, pointing at gigantic skeletons in the cupboards in the presidency.
Emphatically, the enabling constitutional provision is clear on the matter. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, provides, “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.”
Clearly, the above provision did not give the President powers to recommend, appoint or make his Vice an Acting President; instead, it simply gives an outline on how powers can be transmitted from the President to the Vice on temporary basis, especially while he or she is indisposed to discharge duties temporarily. As a matter of fact, President Buhari needed not to inform or be at peace with his Vice for the office of Acting President to come on board. As long as a letter is transmitted pursuant to Section 145 supra, it is immaterial if the letter mentions Vice President or not, and will be automatically incumbent on the Senate to invoke or apply the constitutional provision as the office of the President makes no room for vacuum.
By implication, the President does not need to mention either ‘acting’ or ‘coordinating’ in his letter to the Senate as long as the letter clearly points to vacation or short-term unfitness. The constitution is supreme. It explicitly states that on such a situation, once a formal communication is transmitted to the upper chamber of the National Assembly by the President, power shifts to the Vice President pending the resumption accordingly. Thus, the needful is for the President to formally transmit a correspondence on his vacation. To even use the word “acting’ in the letter by the President is akin to a directive or directions to the Senate. Incontrovertibly, the Senate knows that the legitimate step is to declare Professor Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President pending when counter-correspondence is received from the President on his readiness to resume duties. Osinbajo can only do mere ‘coordination’ if no correspondence was sent to the Senate on the medical trip.
The hullaballoo is therefore uncalled for, and reduces the architects as mischief makers. Nigeria as a nation should face important issues that would bring substantial dividends of democracy to the people. Criticisms are essential characteristics of leadership especially in a democracy but when they lose constructive elements and values; it becomes bickering, loquacity and pull-down syndrome. The hate politics in Nigeria in recent times is monumentally grotesque, bizarre and barbaric. The country is greater than any individual or political affiliations, and therefore national interests should be utmost priority.
All that most critics are desperate to hear is President’s death or resignation due to his unwavering dispositions on corruption. The unprecedented discoveries recently of public funds in billions of naira, dollars, pounds inside pits, septic tanks, uncompleted buildings, serviced-flats, locked-up shops and others amidst of economic recession in a society most average families and pensioners are facing hell meant nothing to the critics. The sole target of these detractors is to plant seeds of discord between Buhari and Osinbajo whose working relationship since inauguration has remained cordial, exemplary and brotherly despite religious differences, ethnicity and careers. However, they will not succeed. Buhari and Osinbajo will complete the missions Nigerians entrusted to them.
The cleansing and change must continue until a new country is reborn. The challenges facing the nation are enormous, and therefore unacceptable for the red chamber to concentrate on such frivolities. There are numerous executive bills awaiting legislative processes, as well as other relevant sensitive issues to address towards improving the standard of living of the citizenry and governance. The uproar is a futile exercise. In the first place, Nigeria’s President presently does not have constitutional powers to appoint Acting President but strictly affairs of the Senate, and the presidency understands it clearly.
Secondly, the section of the constitution cited in the letter made the intention of the President unambiguous. Thirdly, the perception and claims that Buhari didn’t appoint Osinbajo to be Acting President is ridiculous and the height of naivety. The office of the Acting President is provided in the constitution and the prerequisites clearly spelt out. It is an office recognised in law and invoked upon exclusively by the lawmakers on meeting a specified condition; transmission of a notice by the President. Without a doubt, the President can magnanimously mastermind his deputy to become an Acting President. Nonetheless, he doesn’t do the ‘appointing’ but can only stop at creating the way by transmitting in writing his vacation or inability to discharge official duties. Importantly, the office of the Acting President does not fall within the appointments designated for the President as ministers and aides. It is sacrosanct on the Vice President. Thus, no space for unnecessary distractions.
Umegboro, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.