In 2017 alone, President Muhammadu Buhari has spent over 140 days on medical vacation abroad and many Nigerians are not pleased leading to protests calling for his return or resignation, GBENRO ADEOYE writes
President Muhammadu Buhari has been in London, United Kingdom for medical treatment for over 90 days with Nigerians left to guess the nature of his ailment and the date he is likely to return home.
The logic of the situation appears to have eluded many Nigerians, some of whom have vowed to hold daily protests to demand that the President return to the country or resign his appointment. Championed by a coalition of civil society organisations under the aegis of Concerned Nigerians, the peaceful protest was disrupted on its second day by the police, which said the demonstrations had been hijacked by hoodlums.
But that did not stop the protesters from continuing with their protests with renewed vigour on the subsequent days.
Incidentally, in February, while Buhari was also away on a medical vacation to London, the police had attempted to stop a similar protest, tagged, ‘#IStandWithNigeria,’ which held in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other major cities. However, in that case, while there were calls on Buhari to disclose his health status and return home, the demands also included good governance and an urgent explanation for the country’s economic downturn.
Some lawyers have, however, described the defence of the police as ridiculous, saying Nigerians’ right to hold peaceful protests is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
For instance, an Akure-based lawyer, Mr. Yemi Adetoyinbo, said, “It is the basic fundamental right of the protesters to freely express their position and views concerning national issues, especially one that has to do with the president of Nigeria, who has been away for over 90 days.
“The President’s absence means that he has been unable to live up to the constitutional oath of office he took to discharge his functions, and in line with that alone, Nigerians all over the world should share the concern that those protesters have openly expressed by saying the President should either resign honourably or step aside for somebody who will be functional and be able to discharge the duties of the office with all the energy it requires.
“The office is not for someone who is sickly or with bad health, more so, when the nature of his ailment has not been made public. So for the police to teargas and cause injury on peaceful protesters is very wrong.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, also expressed disappointment with the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government and the action of the security operatives, saying, “The same police that are supposed to protect people’s rights are the same police that the government will use to infringe on your rights to hold peaceful protests. And this is supposed to be a government of change, what is the difference now?”
Although, the President’s earlier trip to the UK was meant to last for 10 days; eventually, he did not return to Nigeria until after 49 days. A letter from Buhari to the Senate had stated that the President would be away from January 23 to February 6, 2017, but he did not return until March 10.
In a meeting with government officials after his return, Buhari noted that he had never been that sick, adding that he could not recall the last time he had a blood transfusion. But no information was given about the nature of his ailment as being demanded by Nigerians.
So when the President again left for the UK on May 7 for the continuation of his medical treatment, with no expected date of return given, it triggered fresh calls by some Nigerians for details of Buhari’s ailment and his resignation if he could not cope with the pressure of his office.
One of the early proponents of such calls was human rights activist and lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, who had asked the National Assembly to impeach Buhari if he failed to return to the country after the expiration of his annual leave period of 60 days.
Adegboruwa had urged the Senate not to allow the President to take an indefinite leave because of the sensitive nature of his office, saying, “Once it is impossible to determine definitively, the period of days to be spent by the President, whether on annual vacation or medical vacation, what that translates to in law is that the President has given indication of his inability to perform the functions of his office, leaving Nigerians with no other choice than to replace him immediately, with the acting president as the substantive president.”
During the recent protest, however, Concerned Citizens had similarly insisted that Buhari should resign if he had become incapacitated to run his office.
“We hereby demand that the National Assembly invoke Section 144, sub Section 4 of the Nigerian Constitution and direct the setting up of a medical panel in conjunction with the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to ascertain whether the President is incapacitated,” the convener, Deji Adeyaju, had stated.
Although, the Presidency has consistently reminded Nigerians that the President handed over to the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, to be the Acting President in his absence, in line with the constitution, some lawyers and public commentators have failed to see how that can give Buhari the licence to be away from the country indefinitely.
In Oshoma’s view, the moment a man becomes the President of a country; his private life is all gone as he has become a public person.
Oshoma said, “The public pay him, feed him, clothe him and take care of his medical expenses. And the moment you become a public person and enjoy the best of medical facilities paid for by the public, they have a right to know what is wrong with you.
“It is like telling a company that employed you that you are ill, but that it doesn’t have the right to know when you are coming back, after all, you handed over to somebody in the office who is acting for you. People collectively employed him with their votes and asked him to do the job. If for any reason, he feels he is incapacitated to perform the duties of the office, the people have a right to know.
“So whether he hands over to someone or not, the people have the right to know the nature of his illness and when he is returning to the office, after all, they are still paying him and also paying his hospital bills.”
Meanwhile, some lawyers believe that the Presidency has been taking advantage of a lacuna in the constitution, which fails to stipulate any time limit on how long Nigeria’s President can be out of the country, for health or other reasons.
However, the constitution gives the Federal Executive Council, made up of ministers, the power to declare the President unfit to perform the functions of his office based on the report of a medical examination it must have initiated to be carried out on their principal.
For instance, Section 144(1) of the Constitution says, “The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation, it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
According to the constitution, “Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.”
The constitution stipulates that the medical panel “shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria, one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned.”
But in the constitution, there was no mention of how long the President can be on medical vacation or for the Acting President to remain in an acting capacity.
Oshoma, however, lamented that it would be unrealistic to expect the same ministers appointed by the President to be the ones to initiate the process to determine if he was fit to continue to hold office or not.
He said, “The ministers are enjoying the pleasures of their offices because they were appointed by the President. Will they be the ones to declare him incapacitated? That will never happen. What that would mean is that they would also be signing their resignation letters.
“But as Nigerians, we should be thinking more of Nigeria than the individual. If we put the country first, all of this would not be happening. The ministers would not even be pandering to the whims and caprices of the person that employed them.
“And there is a lacuna in the constitution on how long the President can stay outside or for how long he can remain ill, but if we follow the practice and procedures of political office holders, can we in all honesty say that a director who is a political appointee can be ill ad infenitum, without the office or the ministry knowing what is wrong with him? In this case, Nigerians are the President’s ministry and his constituency.
“When the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua was ill, even Buhari was among those that called for his resignation. Although, some people will say Yar’Adua didn’t hand over, but that is immaterial. Recently, US Senator, John McCain’s office disclosed that he had brain tumour and that a surgery would be performed to remove a blood clot above his left eye. Although, he is a Republican, both Republicans and Democrats rallied round to offer support and pray for him. That is a civilised country.”
Oshoma noted that with the type of politics being practised in Nigeria, the Acting President cannot be said to be “fully performing the functions of the office of the President because of so many inhibitions.”
“When it was time to sign the budget, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, could not even come out to say the Acting President would sign it. And when it was eventually signed, an aide to the President, Garba Shehu, said the President had instructed Osinbajo to sign the budget. So we have an Acting President in Nigeria still taking instructions from a President in London, who is supposed to be on medical vacation. These are the reasons why people are saying, ‘Let us know what is going on or the President should resign.’”
“I think what the protesters are saying is that they want the Acting President to have full presidential powers as he cannot exercise full presidential powers because of the ethnic divide in the country. No job; no food; Nigerians are hungry and angry, so we need someone who will carry the functions of the office as stated,” Adetokunbo added.