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Senate chides Buhari for calling VP ‘coordinator’

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja) and Seye Olumide (Lagos)
10 May 2017   |   4:36 am
The Senate yesterday declared that Professor Yemi Osinbajo should function as Acting President pending the return of President Muhammadu Buhari from medical vacation.

• Says Osinbajo must take full control of governance now
• ‘Cabals desecrating the presidency, proposal alien to constitution’

The Senate yesterday declared that Professor Yemi Osinbajo should function as Acting President pending the return of President Muhammadu Buhari from medical vacation. The upper legislative chamber insisted that it would fully adopt and apply Section 145 of the constitution, which clearly spells out what should happen when the president proceeds on vacation.

It overruled Buhari’s statement that Osinbajo would only “coordinate the affairs of government as vice president.”

The position of the Senate now confers enormous powers, akin to those of a substantive president, on Osinbajo, with liberty to effect sweeping changes in policy. The president’s letter as transmitted to the Senate would have left actions of the acting president almost ineffective.

The Senate’s action followed a protest on the floor by Senator Mao Ohuanbunwa (PDP, Abia North) against what he called suspicious ambiguity in the contents of the president’s letter.

Buhari’s letter which was read to the Senate by Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki upon the commencement of the chamber’s session yesterday reads: “In compliance with section 145 {1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, I wish to inform the distinguished Senate that I will be away for a scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor’s advice. While I am away the vice president will coordinate the activities of the government.”

But Section 145 of the constitution reads: “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.”

Ohuanbunwa had drawn attention of his colleagues to the danger in the president’s letter particularly in the suggestion that Osinbajo could not act as president in his absence and could only coordinate as vice president.

The lawmaker said: “I don’t think in our constitution we have anything like coordinating president or coordinating vice president. It is either you are vice president or you are acting president and any letter should be unambiguous and very clear. So, I am saying that this letter really does not convey anything because coordinating has no space or any place in our constitution. We have been having letters like this, you tell us who is the acting president and we know who to deal with as a Senate. This is the highest legislative body of any country and if you are sending us a letter it should be direct, unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter for me is not right and maybe should be sent back.”

In a swift response, the Senate majority leader, Ahmed Lawan said that whatever messages were contained in the president’s letter that were in conflict with the provisions of the constitution would be ignored by the Senate. He said that “Àny other word in this letter or indeed anywhere else is irrelevant.”

Ruling on the matter, Saraki said: “I think it is a very clear issue and what we should be guided by is the constitution and I think that it is clear.”

Former Minority Leader in the Senate, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora said the word ‘coordinating’ was foreign to the nation’s constitution.

According to him, “There is no need to create unnecessary ambiguity. The constitution is clear. It makes no provision for coordinating president but acting, we should leave it at that.”

Calling on the Senate to commence impeachment procedure against President Buhari, a constitutional lawyer, Ebu Adegoruwa said the decision to write the Senate that his deputy should coordinate was a breach of Section 145 of the Nigeria Constitution.

According to him, “What he has tactically told us is that he has no confidence in his deputy but that his confidence is in the secret cabal, whom he handed over to because a coordinator is not a leader, he has no constitutional power and is also alien to the constitution.

“Another implication is that as we are there is no leader in Nigeria. Buhari, from the tone of the letter has undermined the position of the vice president, therefore we have a vacuum in the leadership at present.”

He added that Buhari could not continue to rule the country indefinitely from his sick bed in London since he didn’t hand over power to anybody. I therefore urged the Senate to return the letter and commence a process of impeachment.”

But a founding member of the All Progressives Congress (AP), Prince Tony Momoh pleaded that Nigerians should not read an ambiguous meaning to the letter since this was not the first time President Buhari would be handing over power to his deputy.

A non-governmental organisation, Advocacy for Integrity and Economic Development (AIED) described the designation of Osinbajo as a coordinator as a desecration of the office of the president and a complete aberration.

In a statement yesterday by its Director of Research and Publicity, Comrade O’Seun John, the group accused the ‘cabal’ within the presidency of plotting to create confusion in the country by its continuous interference with the decision of the president.

“ We are extremely saddened with the content of President Buhari’s letter where he neglected tradition and voice of sanity to dance to the tune of political vampires by importing a lexicon alien to our constitution. While we are aware of the unambiguous provision of section 145, we are frightened by signals such as this on the peace and unity of our country.

“The new designation of Professor Osinbajo can only be interpreted to mean that President Buhari does not trust him enough to act as the President in his absence. With this reality, we are now forced to ask: who does President Buhari truly recognise as the acting president?

“This act has put paid to any form of doubt that the powers controlling the affairs of the country have greater influence and perhaps, control than the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo,” the statement read.