How much longer can Mr. President be away from office

Buhari; Going to London on January 19

Against the background of the letter he sent to the National Assembly announcing his intention to take a ten-day vacation and on the sideline, do some medicals; the search for President Muhammadu Buhari seems largely uncalled for.

But once beaten, twice shy; so the saying goes. Nigerians were quick to recall the events preceding 2010, when the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua proceeded on a similar trip, only for what began as a mere medical tourism dovetailed into national and constitutional tragedy.

However, in the prevailing instance, there appears no basis for such association. However, given the fact of the intense and divisive electioneering campaigns preceding the 2015 Presidential election, as well as, the dour economic situation in the country, the President’s decision to retreat to London has raised public eyebrow.

As it has turned out, presidential communication is to blame for the current frenzy on the whereabouts of Mr. President, even when it is public knowledge that he traveled to the United Kingdom. Presidential communication ends up with scant details, leaving much to the imagination.

And Nigerians, blessed with fertile imagination, are quick to fill in the blank spaces. While the rumour mill swelled with fanciful conjectures and third person narratives, the President’s spokespersons come up with declarative statement announcing that His Excellency is hale and hearty, followed by still pictures showing the number one citizen and his spouse.

Later still, in the tribe of pictorial communication, the President was shown seeing off chieftains of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), who visited London, ostensibly to know how their champion was doing.

With all the theatricals and sparse concrete information about the real situation, it was not surprising that Nigerians began to situate the narrative alongside the 2010 experience. Moreover despite the shifting communications from the Presidency regaling the countrymen of how their president was homesick and tired of further stay in foreign land, what remained was for the President’s aides to say as happened in 2010 that the President could govern from any part of the globe.

The refrain was rather that there was no vacuum in the governance as the President did the correct and constitutional things before proceeding on his vacation, cum health survey. At the height of the confusion caused by the awkward position of the President, which verges on the mix between his annual vacation and medical examination, Buhari was said to have spoken with the United States President Donald Trump.

That development also brought about new worries. Nigerians who expressed satisfaction with the deputizing role of the acting President noted that Buhari, being on top of the ticket should take charge or even speak to the citizens to douse their apprehensions.

The hide and seek in public communication was accentuated by the latest claim that the President called Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, midway into a prayer rally organised by Muslim clerics. Has that communication a tinge of replay of the Yar’Adua episode, when midway into a campaign rally he was billed address, a former President telephoned to ask, “Umaru are you dead?”

More questions ensued: Do the citizens have right to enquire into the nature of their President’s health condition? Does the Hippocratic Oath debar public information on the status of a public officer, whose medical bill is being defrayed from the national treasury?

Ask The Constitution
NIGERIA’s grundnorm, the 1999 Constitution as amended, spelt out the processes of interrogating the medical fitness and therefore, ousting of a President on account of illness. But, notwithstanding the openness and clarity of Section 144 of the Constitution, the country’s sensitive geopolitics and sundry sentimental considerations, always supervene.

It is perhaps these interferences that have triggered the mass hysteria about the President is missing in action. Aside from Yar’Adua, other public officers had been distracted by their health challenges. That also may be why Buhari’s present predicament is stoking much public interest.

For greater part of his second term in office as governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime, kept Enugu people guessing as to why his prolonged sojourn in the same United Kingdom. As was later disclosed after the governor returned, he was battling with a benign boil, which had the potential of developing into full-blown cancer.

Also former Taraba State chief executive, Danbaba Suntai, who survived an air crash after obdurately flying himself in chopper, took the citizens on a tour of prolonged suspense as he battled with the life threatening injuries and trauma sustained from the air mishap. And in a bid to keep him in the Government House and sustain government funding of his medical treatment, Suntai’s handlers carried on with calisthenics communication to mask his inability to perform official functions.

For Buhari, who left the country since January 19, 2017; a whole lot of issues are fueling the intrigues about his health condition and ability to continue with the demands of the office of President of Nigeria. And given the intricate geopolitical calculations that fueled his ascendance, despite his avowals to quit further electoral contest, the curious mix between emotion and constitutional stipulations make the situation very dire.

Perhaps, in anticipation of the prevailing circumstances, the President had in spite of public outcry, skewed his appointments to favour his geopolitical origin. In consequence, if the situation warrants the resort to the Constitutional requirement on the Federal Executive Council to embark on dispassionate inquiry into the capacity of their principal to continue in office, it would be a tough moral demand.

Then, realising how hard they worked to come to power, both the APC and the National Assembly, which its members dominate, may need prodigious prodding of patriotism to act. Chances are that after next fourteen days and the President could not regain his seat, a constitutional impasse may become the lot of Nigerians.

Frantic prayers are being said for the early recuperation of the President, not only because he is the glue that holds his party together, but above all the intricate, but precarious political situation in the country. Quite like in 1983, when he was military head of state, the President had in his brief stay in office began some wars Nigerians are interested in seeing him complete.

Even within the National Assembly, never did the President anticipate that beyond the fiscal spats about the budget, a time will come when his fate will lie on the hands of the members. Would the lawmakers choose political charity over constitutional necessity? Or, in the Presidency, how would the hawks comport themselves, in the light of the perceived excesses of the famed cabal?

As some respondents to The Guardian’s inquiry say, all these may be unfounded fears after all. The Presidency also has said that there is no cause to (not for) worry. Yet, Nigerians have been divided in their calls for resignation or full disclosure of the health challenges of Mr. President.

The National Assembly seem not to be perturbed by the babble of voices, especially after the leaders, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, among other lawmakers visited Buhari in London. While Saraki disclosed that “there is no cause for alarm”, Dogara concurred, saying: “I’m so elated he is as fit as a fiddle.”

Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, believes that having done the needful by transmitting a letter of his travel and empowering Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to act in his absence, Buhari “has done the constitutionally required thing to do.”

Appealing to Nigerians not to pre-empt the process, Namdas said even though the Constitution was not explicit on the number of days the President’s absence should warrant the incapacity charge, the lawmakers would review the situation if the President stays longer than necessary.

Despite the optimism among the lawmakers, some people still believe that the President’s letter to the National Assembly announcing extension of his stay in UK for further medical examinations is enough to warrant putting in motion the necessary constitutional provisions to investigate the President’s capacity for the job.

Whatever becomes of the prevailing vague political circumstance in the country and the President’s state of fitness for the job he sought earnestly would depend on how far Nigerians are prepared to face the realities of constitutional democracy. But no doubt, President Buhari’s absence from the country at this point in time when the economy is writhing in pain, gives cause for serious worry in a nation where insecurity and internal strife are at on all time high.

For now the situation has given fresh reasons for the citizens to take a drastic look at the Constitution. After the third term imbroglio, what to do when a chief executive goes missing midterm requires new thinking in view of Nigeria’s curious federal structure and brand of democracy.

In this article:
Muhammadu Buhari‎
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