THE latest letter of President Muhammadu Buhari on his second vacation leave to the National Assembly has raised a furore among Nigeria’s literati. Section 145 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) unambiguously provides:
“Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President.”
In view of the above-quoted section of the Constitution, a barefaced letter by the President, stating, without more, that he was going on vacation or, more specifically, on medical vacation, would have sufficed. Instead, he or his scriptwriters went on a voyage of discovery and wrote the following equivocal letter that is capable of multiple interpretation to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives:
“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. Please, accept, distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
After the Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki, had finished reading the eerie letter, a Senator, with a perspicacity of mind, raised an objection to the words “co-ordinate the activities of government.” The penultimate sentence in the President’s letter is otiose and unwarranted. It would have been ignored by reason of the clear provisions of section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution if not for the noisome ambiguities with which it is fraught. Those underlined words, as the objecting Senator correctly pointed out, could be the subject of multiple constructions.
First, they could imply that the Vice-President is a coordinator of an Acting President; yet such a designation is alien to the Constitution, which the President swore to uphold. Secondly, the underlined words could mean that the President does not trust the ability of his Vice-President to steer the ship of State while he is away. Thirdly, they could mean that the President has shared the functions of his office among several members of his kitchen cabinet and the Acting President will merely coordinate the activities of those people, contrary to the lucid provisions of section 145 (1) of the Constitution, which the President swore to uphold. Fourthly, they could mean that, as between the President and the Vice-President, there is no love lost. Fifthly, they could be construed to mean that the President espouses the opinion, generally held in the North, that a Southerner should not rule this country, for whatever reason, when it is the turn of the North to rule, as was demonstrated in the days of Yar’Adua and Jonathan, therefore the President appointed some Northerners to administer the affairs of State along with the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
We advise that the handlers of the President should, at all times, study the Constitution perfervidly and abide by its provisions, in the overall interest of the peace, order and good government of the tottering Federation.