Osinbajo in Charge as Buhari Begins Vacation

• Buhari: Nothing wrong with going on vacation
•Senate protests illegal deployment of troops to Gambia

Tobi Soniyi, Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

President Mumammadu Buhari has sent a letter to the National Assembly, announcing his intention to proceed on a 10-working day vacation beginning from January 23, 2017.
The president in a letter addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said while he is away, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would act as president.

According to Buhari, his correspondence to National Assembly presiding officers was in accordance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Section 145(1) of the Constitution provides that “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 a vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the function of his office, until he transmits to them in written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by Vice President as acting president.”

In the letter, which was read on the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives by Saraki and Dogara, the president said he was embarking on a short vacation and would be back to his duty post on February 6.
The letter read: “In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), I wish to inform the Senate that I will be away on a 10-working day short vacation as part of my 2017 annual leave, from January 23 to February 6, 2017 and while I am away, the vice president will perform the functions of my office.”
However, the content of the president’s letter was contradictory to the statement later issued by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina.

While Buhari in his letter said he would proceed on the vacation on January 23, Adesina in his statement, stated that Buhari would begin a short vacation to the United Kingdom yesterday.

According to Adesina, the president would during the vacation embark on routine medical check-ups before his return on February 6.
Adesina, in his statement, said: “President Buhari leaves for the United Kingdom today (yesterday) on a short vacation. He is expected to resume work on February 6, 2017. During the vacation, the president will also undergo routine check-ups.
“In line with Section 145(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives have been duly communicated. While away, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, will perform the functions of the Office of the President.”

Meanwhile, President Buhari has said there is nothing wrong if he goes on vacation just like he did last year.
While responding to a reporter’s question on why he was going on leave this time of the year, the presudent responded: “What’s wrong with going on vacation? Didn’t I go last year at the same time?”

However, the president’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Adesina, has called for prayers even as Buhari embarks on his annual vacation.
Speaking with journalists after the president boarded the plane and left, Adesina said if God who created the whole world could rest after creation on the seventh day, there was nothing wrong if a human being also takes a break.

He said: “The president is going to rest. You know that God did work of creation for six days and on the seventh day he rested. So if God needed to rest how much more human being. So the president is just going to rest and the statement we have released is straight forward. He will go on this leave and during the leave he will do routine medical checkups.”

Asked if Nigerians have any cause to worry about the president’s health, Adesina replied: “Nothing, absolutely nothing. We need to show good will towards our leaders particularly President Buhari who is working to give Nigeria a new footing, a new orientation. Nothing absolutely to worry about but a lot of good will, a lot prayers are necessary at all time.”

However, it was gathered that before the president left Abuja for the UK, he held a meeting with service chiefs at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
The Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonishakin said the president was briefed on the security situation within and outside the country shortly before he left.

The CDS told journalists: ”The meeting was to give Mr. President update on our operations within and outside the country especially our involvement with the ECOWAS Standby Force that are being inducted into Senegal which has to do with the issue of the mandate ensuring that the president-elect of The Gambia is sworn in.

“The operational mandate in Gambia is in line with the decision of the ECOWAS heads of states and governments that the ECOWAS Standby Force be put in place to ensure that the decision of the people of The Gambia is respected”.

Asked if there were other directives as the president proceeded on leave, Olonishakin replied: “Those were the things we talked about. As the head of the military my work is to ensure that everything is in order and to make sure that the situation is handled appropriately.”

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday protested against last Wednesday’s deployment of armed forces to Banjul, the capital of Gambia, towards the inauguration of Mr. Adama Barrow as the Gambian president without seeking its approval.

The parliament said the move was a gross violation of Section 5(4b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which authorises the president to secure National Assembly’s approval before he could deploy any troop outside Nigeria.

Raising Order 43, entitled: ‘Personal Explanation,’ in the Senate Standing Orders, Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, described the deployment of troops to Banjul for the inauguration of Barow as an affront on the constitution. The troops were deployed following the refusal of Yahya Jameh to step down after losing election to Barrow late last year.

Utazi cited Section Section 5(4a,b) of the Constitution which provides that the president should not declare war against another country except with the consent of the National Assembly neither should he deploy troops outside the country without Senate approval.

In clear terms, the Section 5(4a,b) provides that “the president shall not declare a state of war between the federation and another country except with the sanction of a resolution of both houses of the National Assembly sitting in a joint session; and except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria.”

Utazi had said: “I am saying this because the happenings in our friendly country in Gambia – the ECOWAS countries have been discussing this issue on how to ensure that democratic rights of the people of Gambia are protected. But that this country will go on a warfare in another country without a recourse to this constitutional provision is an affront on the 1999 Constitution and it is a breach of the constitution and even when the Senate has been cooperating with the executive. But let it be on record that if anything of this nature happens in this country, this National Assembly has to be informed properly in writing.”

But Saraki rose in defence of the president, citing a proviso under Section 5 (5) of the constitution which states that the president can deploy troops outside the country on a limited combat if he is convinced that national security is under threat and then seek the consent of the Senate within seven days.

But the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu intervened, pointing out that the proviso read by Saraki was not applicable to the current deployment of troop to Gambia but only applicable in situations where national security is under threat as he noted that the country’s national security is currently not under any threat that would have warranted the deployment of troops to Gambia without seeking Senate approval.

Ekweremadu therefore emphasised that the relevant section which applies to the deployment of troop to Gambia is Section 5(4b) which provides that “except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria.”

He therefore warned against a repeat of this alleged constitutional violation which was perceived as either the president’s flagrant disregard to the constitution or his inability to get himself acquainted with provisions of the constitution which he was elected to protect.
Saraki later agreed with Ekweremadu, saying his observations were noted.

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