- Shows irritation over questions on signature, date on letter
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate yesterday said it had received President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter announcing the extension of his vacation beyond February 7.
Answering questions from journalists in the National Assembly tuesday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said he didn’t know the date indicated in the letter neither did he know the day that the letter was received.
Responding to a question on whether National Assembly’s failure to reconvene for plenary so that the letter can be read on the floor of the Senate does not invalid the letter, Abdullahi said the parliament was not obliged to reconvene because it is not an emergency matter.
“As it is, we have suspended plenary to allow the various committees attend to the national budget which is a very important document that Nigerians are waiting for. There is no emergency for us to say we are suspending or recalling ourselves back. When we resume, all communications that come in will be taken. There’s no emergency here because he has done what is constitutionally mandated by him to transmit a letter to us and he has done that,” Abdullahi said.
On when the letter was received, he said: “Let me tell you, the letter was received by the Senate president and I was briefed today (yesterday). Is it yesterday (Monday) or today (Tuesday) they received it? I cannot give you a concrete answer but definitely as at today (yesterday), the letter is in the hands of the Senate president.”
However, Abdullahi was angered by a question seeking to know who signed the letter in view of the president’s non-availability in the country.
According to him, the question was uncomplementary, arguing that the president could have sent the letter through the courier. He, however, failed to categorically state how the letter was sent.
Abdullahi had been asked to respond to a submission by a lawyer that as long as a transmission from the president to the National Assembly is not read on the floor of each of the two chambers and captured in their votes and proceedings, such transmission is invalid.
But Abdullahi said the lawyer was only entitled to his own opinion. “Well, with due respect, I found the last question (who signed the letter) very uncomplimentary to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I listened to you and I thought it’s also my time to say whatever I want to say. And I have no control over what you say. I am saying the last comment you made is very uncomplimentary to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I have no apology for that.
“If he’s there, he can’t write a letter and forward it to the Senate through DHL? He can’t do that? If at this level, we cannot trust ourselves to do certain basic things then, why should I trust you? You are a Nigerian. I think it’s important we give ourselves some level of modicum, respect and trust.
“We are telling you a letter has been signed and sent to us. Are you saying that the Senate is not an institution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Am I speaking to you on Senator Aliyu Sabi’s terms? I am speaking to you here on behalf of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is not the first letter president will be communicating to us.
“Are you saying that if we received a letter from the president and we say we received a letter from the president, we don’t know what we are saying? That’s why I said that I found that uncomplimentary.
“You asked a fundamental question – the first one you asked with respect to the lawyer – the lawyer is a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and he’s entitled to his opinion. But as far I am concerned, l am not holding brief for the lawyer. So, I don’t have to react to his statement. I am here to speak on behalf of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are in receipt of that letter and we are telling you.
“Whatever is reported through whatever medium is not my own business. Our business is what we do here and that is why we are here now to say that we have the letter. I am here and I said we have the letter and that is what is important,” he added.
On the general content of the two letters, he said the president had done what was constitutionally required of him but added that the duration of vacation conveyed by the second letter was not indefinite, arguing that it only stated that the vacation had been extended beyond February 6.
“As you are aware, the Senate suspended plenary to carry out one of the most important duties which is the interaction with the (ministries, departments and agencies) MDAs on the 2017 budget and you will recall that we received before we suspended plenary a letter from Mr. President which was dated 17, January 2017 where he informed the distinguished senators that he was proceeding on his vacation for 10 days and this is to meet the constitutional provisions.
“In the letter, he stated very clearly that the vice president will take charge of the running of the country. This is a normal thing and of course, based on that timing, Nigerians were expecting the return of the president. Now, we are in receipt of the second letter from the president where he is informing the Senate that he is extending his vacation and this arose because in the first letter, he did inform us that he will use that opportunity to see his doctors.
“In this second letter, he is informing the Senate that he’s extending his vacation because in the course of that routine medical check-up, there were still some tests his doctors still wanted to run further and so because of that, he’s extending his stay. This is a constitutional provision and let me say it is within his prerogative to do so and we are in receipt of that letter accordingly. “This is why we had to brief you so that we are now confirming that yes, we are in receipt of that letter formally and we know that many things have been going on but this is our formal and official pronouncement to Nigeria on this particular subject matter,” Abdullahi said.
On whether the second letter stated that the vacation would now be indefinite, he said: “It didn’t say indefinite because indefinite is taking the matter out of context but then, he said he’s extending it beyond the 10 days he had asked for and because the test that is going to be run is not in his hand, it is in the hands of the doctors, he is not giving us a date. But definitely, he’s extending and I think that is what is important.”