Issues on Buhari’s health controversy
Until President Muhammadu Buhari eventually left the country for London in continuation of his medical vacation last Sunday, information managers of the administration had dismissed reports of his failing health as handiwork of political opponents.
Before his departure, there were clear indications that the President was yet to recover from the undisclosed ailment that had seen him spending nearly two months in a London hospital, earlier in the year.
Incidentally, while Buhari stayed out of public functions, statement from Aso Rock claimed that he was in good health and was carrying out his duties in his residence.
Two major developments in quick succession finally raised the curiosity on the uncertain state of his health. One was his absence from the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, the third in the series, despite earlier assurances from his media handlers that he would show up.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo chaired the meeting in place of the President.
Buhari was also absent from the Muslim traditional Friday prayers the preceding week.
It was his failure to attend any of the two events that escalated speculations that his health, which has not been exciting since March, may have again, gone bad, perhaps, worse than it had been.
Calls, thus, arose from many quarters on him to come clean on the actual status of his health. Even with the deafening calls, Buhari and his managers, initially appeared unperturbed.
TheNiche however learnt that it was the intensity of the demands on him to make the disclosure and the fear of Nigerians asking the National Assembly to invoke the principle of the Doctrine of Necessity against the President that he succumbed to the suggestion of travelling abroad for further treatment.
Doctrine of necessity was introduced into the country’s political lexicon during the critical days of the late Umaru Yar’Adua. Following his refusal to transmit power to the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, while away on medical vacation, the Senate came up with the instrument to empower Jonathan to act as the Acting President. Jonathan functioned in that capacity till Yar’Adua’s death on May 5, 2017.
“That is why Buhari and the cabal managing him eventually caved in. They knew that it was in their interest for the President to be taken out of the country on medical ground with appropriate transmission of power to the Vice President. By that, Buhari will still retain his position and they will not lose out entirely. Anything short of this would have seen them losing out in their own game”, a former member of the House of Representatives, told our correspondent.
Buhari, in his letter to the Senate, had informed the lawmakers that the duration of absence would be determined by his doctors.
The letter dated May 7, 2017, read in part:
“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”.
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.”
The constitution is silent on how long the Vice President would act in this capacity. It is also silent on how long the President can be away. Section 146 (1), however listed conditions upon which the vice president can take over. These include factors of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacitation of the president and other conditions earlier stated in the condition.
It is the silence of the constitution on the extent the President would stay away and still retain his office that is provoking debate among analysts.
Lagos lawyer, Ayodele Ibidun, argues that there is little anybody can do in the present circumstance. He likens the unfolding scenario to that of a family head transferring power to his younger brother while embarking on a journey. According to him, as long as the man remains alive, he is the head of that family, no matter wherever he may be and how long he stays.
“The constitution is explicit on the matter and there is nothing we can do about it. The President has duly transferred authority to his deputy. No matter how long he stays abroad, he has not committed any constitutional breach. All we need to do is to cooperate with the Acting President”, he said.
However, a lecturer in History, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, who spoke on anonymity, reasons that there should be human face to any argument, regardless of whatever the constitution may have stated. In his view, the constitution may not have contemplated a complicated situation as the country is driving into, hence commonsense may need to be applied in resolving the issue.
“Are you saying that if Buhari stays in London for the remaining part of his tenure, he would continue to answer the President while somebody will be doing the job?. That will not be fair”, he said.