May 10, 2017

Osinbajo is acting president, forget the words in Buhari letter

I've been following the controversy over the letter Mr. President sent to the senate but due to other engagements I couldn't take up the matter yesterday. TYhe constitution is clear on this matter.

Senators were on Tuesday locked in a big argument over the President’s medical leave letter. Issue was President Muhammadu Buhari’s description of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo as the person to “coordinate activities of the government”.

But to Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan, it was all a storm in a teacup. He criticised the point of order raised by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa.

SP Bukola Saraki upheld Lawan’s argument and declared Osinbajo Acting President.

It was all at the Senate plenary after Saraki read the letter from the President who has travelled to London on “medical follow-up”.

However, at the House of Representatives, there was no controversy when the letter was read by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.

President Buhari’s letter states that while he is away, the vice president will “coordinate activities of the government”.

The length of his stay in London will be determined by his doctor’s advice, the letter states.

Hardly had Saraki concluded reading the letter than Senator Ohuabunwa raised a Point of Order.

Ohuabunwa (PDP Abia North) had noted that the Constitution had no provision for a coordinating president or a coordinating vice president.

He said presidential letters to “the Senate, the highest legislative body in the country, should be direct and unambiguous.”

Ohuabunwa said: “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 otherwise that he is unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such function shall be discharged by vice president as acting president.

“Mr. President 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’m 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 and 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 the country and if you are sending us letter it should be direct and unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter for me is not right and maybe should be sent back.”

But Senator Lawan urged the Senate to disregard the point of order noted that Section 145 (1) of the Constitution which Buhari quoted is clear on who should act in the absence of Mr. President.

Lawan said: “Mr. President, let me say that the Point of Order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed shouldn’t have been.

“I still rely on the first paragraph of that letter which Mr. President wrote to this Senate and read by the President of the Senate and I will read Section (145), which 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…”

“Any other word in this letter or indeed anywhere else is irrelevant. I therefore feel that Mr. President has done what the Constitution requires him to do and I urge this Senate not to go ahead to discuss this because it’s not an issue.

“We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting.”