Wrong people visiting President Buhari -By Lekan Sote

Filed under: Political Issues |

Buhari received a delegation of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum led by its chairman, Gov. Abdulaziz Yari in London.

 

After a coalition of civil society groups led by maverick Charles “Charly Boy” Oputa demanded President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation or return from his medical tourism matters have got to a head. Nigerians are worried sick about President Buhari’s sickness. Sounds like tautology? People want to know what is exactly wrong with his health, and for how long he will be absent from his duty post.

But for the purpose of fulfilling the requirements of the constitution, those who have visited the President so far are the wrong people. The Nigerian Constitution does not recognise them as legitimate bearers of the news of the President’s health.

Among the constitutionally wrong visitors to the President are some notable traditional rulers; the ruling All Progressives Congress chiefs like National Leader, Bola Tinubu; former Interim National Chairman, Bisi Akande; and current Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, who led some APC governors.

Others are Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; and some members of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, led by Chairman Abdulaziz Yayi. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo went in tow with Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a former Osun State governor. Even Justin Welby, Archbishop of the Canterbury, called.

These teams or individuals bear the same refrain – the President is in good health; remains his humorous self; and will return to Nigeria when his doctors say so. Mercifully. But neither these delegations nor the doctors have the constitutional mandate to contribute to the process of keeping the President in or out of office.

Of those who have visited the President, only Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, and respective Ministers of Transportation and Information and Culture, Rotimi Amaechi and Lai Mohammed, are members of the Federal Executive Council that can constitutionally kickstart actions to determine if the President is incapacitated or not.

But neither the Acting President nor the ministers claimed to have been sent by the Cabinet. If a delegation of Ministers Isaac Adewole, of Health; Adebayo Shittu, of Communications; Lai Mohammed, of Information and Culture; and Adamu Adamu, of Education paid a condolence visit to the Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, who lost his mother, another delegation could have visited the President.

The visitation team led by Mohammed included Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora; Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity; Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity; and Lauretta Onochie, Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media, is ok, but they have no constitutional mandate to tell if the President can continue to serve.

But the trip saves the President’s image makers from further wringing their hands in resignation when the media enquire of them about the state of their principal’s health. Now, everyone can see the film footage and sound bites of an obviously recovering President Buhari.

Section 144(1) of the Constitution provides that “The President… shall cease to hold office if (a) by the resolution passed by two-thirds majority of the Executive Council of the Federation, (or the Cabinet) it is declared that the President… is incapable of discharging the function of his office.”

Obviously, only three members are not equal to two-thirds majority of the Executive Council of the Federation. In addition, all must have access to the President to be constitutionally competent to vote on the resolution.

The constitution further provides that after receiving the cabinet’s resolution that the President cannot perform his duties, the Senate President shall set up a medical panel – that includes the President’s personal physician – to examine and advise on the President’s state of health.

After the report of the medical panel declaring that the President is incapacitated is published in the official gazette of the Government of the Federation of Nigeria, the President ceases to hold office. The Vice President is then sworn in as President, and he appoints his Vice President.

Someone has suggested that there is an unwritten understanding that the ministers shall not officially send a delegation to the President. This, he reasons, will prevent the meddlesome media and civil society organisations from goading the ministers to send a resolution to the National Assembly.

If that is so, this avoidance theory route is indeed a clever trick to avoid doing the needful. The entire train of visitors is no more than a ploy to divert attention from the constitutionally required visit of the cabinet to the President.

You may recall that it took the audacious temerity of patriot Prof Dora Akunyili, a former Minister of Information, before the matter of the incapacitation of former President Umaru Yar’ Adua could be broached and adroitly attended to. Nearly everyone kept skirting the issue.

If the health of the President were of no consequence to the well-being of the polity, the constitution wouldn’t have dwelt on it. It is not out of place for a President to fall sick, and he deserves all the sympathies he can get. He’s only human.

Those who ask to know the state of the President’s health want to be able to decide if his onerous responsibilities should be assigned to a healthier person, so that Nigeria can get back to work again. Though Acting President Osinbajo is doing well, he can only stay the course; he won’t introduce fundamental, even ideological, changes.

As a citizen, Acting President Osinbajo believes in state police, fiscal federalism, more local governments, and devolution of powers without reverting to ethnic regionalism. But he won’t lobby the National Assembly to include these in their constitution review.

Otherwise, the cabal will take the “underground railroad” to fill the President’s ears with tales of sabotage and bad faith. Remember, this is not Osinbajo’s presidency! The President’s absence leaves room for broadsides and skirmishes.

Also, the country suffers from the indecision that trails the absence of the President: Acting President Osinbajo did not swear in new ministers, or redeploy the Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, until his return from visiting the President. (Even until now, he has yet to assign portfolios to the two ministers he swore in weeks ago, something he should have done briskly were he the one in charge fully.)

Evidently, he had to consult the President over these and other matters that will soon be unveiled. Nothing wrong in that; but you can imagine the quantum of policies and actions that are in limbo. Some ministers should have been let go by now.

Senator Ben Murray-Bruce’s suggestion that the Senate should review the state of the nation when the President returns was a hint at the inertia that came with the President’s absence. Murray-Bruce reportedly said, “There is no point having a conversation with anybody who is not President.” Surely, he does not reckon with Acting President Osinbajo.

Now, everything is bordering on the ridiculous, with NaijaBet.com, an online gaming site, asking Nigerians to bet on whether the President would return from his medical tourism in the first or the second week of August 2017. It’s probably too late to place your bet now.

Some Nigerians are beginning to think that the embarrassing development vindicates Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose’s frank, if uncouth, expression of concern for the health of Candidate Buhari during the 2015 presidential campaigns.

The APC propaganda machine strongly shot down the concern, now Fareed Zakaria of the CNN is making cruel TV joke of the President’s absence. However, it’s great that the President appears to be making appreciable recovery sha.

 

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