Unending Political Intrigues: Osinbajo as Acting President or Coordinator of Governmental Affairs

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The mania of political governance in Nigeria does not send good signals to the international community. First, Nigeria is generally seen as a country with great potentials but the great potentials have not been allowed to be translated into manifest power. It is not that the potentials are difficult to be translated into manifest power but because the power that be simply refuses to do what is appropriate.

Second, what makes life and development difficult is how issues are perceived and dealt with by political leaders and those associated with them. Besides, leaders hardly tell the truth in Nigeria. Civil and public servants create problems for political leaders, who themselves are more self-seeking than service rendering. Political followers also do not help the matter. They aid and abet bad governance, especially corruption, in different ramifications. In fact the generality of the people also acquiesce to it.

As a result, Nigeria has been moving in vicious circles in which everyone complains but the complaints regularly fall on deaf ears. In fact, political governance in Nigeria has become that of the blind leading the deaf and dumb. In Lagos State, for instance, motorcyclists and commercial buses do not respect traffic light. More disturbingly, they drive against traffic and the traffic wardens pass them first. This is one societal indiscipline that everyone sees and that foreign embassies consider in dealing with Nigerians seeking entry visas into their countries.

Is it that Nigeria’s leaders do not have eyes to see? True enough, they do have but they simply refuse to make the eyes see. Many leaders do not want Nigeria to survive or for the political system to work efficiently. Many advisers of government are in this category. So are many chief executives, chairmen of governing boards of parastatals, permanent secretaries, and political party leaders. This is why there are many issues in political governance begging for attention that is far-fetched. The most recent issue is that of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

The elected president of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), has returned to the United Kingdom for further medical treatment. Can it be argued that PMB is not in the position to perform the functions of the President and hence the directive to the Vice President to stand in? Our immediate response is that, yes, PMB, for reasons of ill health, is not able to discharge his lawful presidential functions.

But in standing in for PMB, is it as acting president or as coordinator of governmental affairs? What really are the differences between acting capacity and coordinating capacity? Does PMB has the right to appoint the Vice President as Acting President or as coordinator of government affairs?

The Constitution of Nigeria as amended does not provide for specific duties for the Vice President. His duties are essentially as directed by Mr. President. Is the use of the word ‘coordinator’ in the letter transmitted to the Senate President mean that PMB will be in charge of political governance in Nigeria while receiving medication abroad? What really is the meaning of a ‘vice-president’ in a presidential system and democratic governance?

Vie Internationale observes that constitutional provisions on the issue are not ambiguous and that, without any sophisticated interpretation, PMB is unable to perform his functions as President of Nigeria. It is because of the inability to perform that he complied with Section 145 of the Constitution. Put differently, there was no need transmitting any notice of absence from duty, and for that matter, without specific date of possible return to resume duties, to the Senate. PMB simply acted in compliance with the law. The compliance necessarily admits inability or incapacity to act.

Regarding the use of the word ‘coordinator’, the implication is that Professor Yemi Osinbajo should oversee the affairs of Government in his capacity as Vice President and not as an acting President. As a coordinator, the Vice President is not a plenipotentiary. He is expected to coordinate under the future directives of PMB wherever he may be. This point raises the question of what we should understand by the word ‘Vice.’

In administrative science, there is a clear cut difference between and among ‘assistant,’ ‘deputy’ and ‘vice.’ When the position of a substantive officer is vacant, a deputy is required to fill the vacancy. An assistant cannot. Besides, a deputy is superior to an assistant. A Vice can be synonymous with an assistant or a deputy, especially if and when there is no provision for the position of a deputy. However, going by Section 142 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, Professor Osinbajo is Deputy President of Nigeria by constitutional force majeure. He is an associate of PMB.

As provided in Section 142 of the Constitution, ‘… a candidate for an election to the office of President shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party for his running for the office of President, who is to occupy the office of Vice President and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Vice President if the candidate for an election to the office of President who nominated him as such associate is duly elected as President…’

Many points are noteworthy here: first, like a man is considered incomplete without his spouse, so is an elected president incomplete without the Vice in a presidential system of government. The constitution makes it crystal clear that the nomination of any candidate for the presidency is not valid without factoring in that of the associate or Vice President. Now that both candidates have been jointly elected, whenever PMB is not available, it is natural that the Vice President should simply step into PMB’s shoes without any equanimity or any application of the doctrine of necessity. In fact, there cannot be any good basis to prescribe what exact functions the Vice President should be preoccupied with.

However, because the Nigerian system never allows truths to prevail, because political leaders create unnecessary myths around presidents, because the system is made to create jobs for very empty so-called leaders who simply should have been allowed to be frolicking around rather than giving them appointments on the boards of government parastatals, and because the Government of Nigeria also aid and abet anti-Nigeria elements by refusing to investigate allegations contained in reports given to it, individuals have become more powerful than the Constitution of the land. That is why people now talk about cabals in the presidency. That is why even PMB can talk about the Vice President as a coordinator of government affairs.

Our view here is that PMB’s appointment of the Vice President as a coordinator of government affairs is illegal. It is an abuse of interpretation of Section 145 of the Constitution and PMB will need to exercise greater caution in the discharge of his functions as President of the whole of Nigeria and not simply as President of a section or group of people.

Section 145 of the Constitution
The Section stipulates that ‘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 transmit to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President.’ Again, there are many understated issues in the provision.

First is the inability to discharge presidential functions. In this regard, is PMB proceeding on vacation or he is unable to discharge his functions? In whichever way vacation is interpreted and in whichever way we want to look at inability to perform, both cases largely bother on physical presence or absence of the president. PMB said in his transmitted letter to the Senate President, that he would be going on medical vacation and that the length of his staying away would be determined by his doctors. More significantly, PMB said that when he would be away, ‘the Vice President will coordinate the activities of government.’ Whereas, in the first declaration sent to the National Assembly when he first went on medical vacation, PMB said Professor Osinbajo should ‘perform the duties of (his) office.’ This time, he says he should coordinate government affairs.

Is the performance of presidential functions or duties of (his) office different from coordinating government affairs? Performing the duties of the president has a presidential aura. Coordinating role does not have such aura. Essentially, it is the associate of the president that has to act in both capacities in the absence of the president.

In other words, whenever presidential functions would not be performed as a result of absence of the president, the President is simply required to inform the Senate President and the Speaker of the House through a declaration. But what is declaration in this context? It is not an agreement in the context of international law, but ordinarily a statement on the rationale for absence.

Secondly, the Constitution is quite silent on what the Senate or the House should do on the declaration of PMB: should it be debated for possible approval or rejection? In other words, it is just sufficient for PMB to transmit a statement on his intended absence from duty to leaders of the National Assembly for an obligation of transfer of the baton of power to the Vice President.

Thirdly, the coinage of the following part of the provision is noteworthy: ‘…and until he (PMB) transmit to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting president.’ The word ‘until’ implies duration. It is about the duration from the time of expression of either leave of absence or inability to discharge one’s functions to the time of return for resumption of presidential duties.

What the Constitution is saying here is that whenever a president is not available for whatever reasons (please note the words, ‘or is otherwise unable’ to discharge), the Vice President is required to act the office of the President. This is made clear and implicit in the provision of the Constitution. In other words, in the absence of any new declaration or statement or affirmation negating the first declaration transmitted to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, ‘the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President.’

Perhaps more interestingly, even if PMB returns to the country and does not transmit a new declaration on his resumption of duty to the leaders of the National Assembly, the Vice President owes it a lawful obligation to continue to be Acting President. The use of the word ‘until’ raises the issue of when, tenure, beginning and end, and most importantly, transfer of authority to act as president without PMB having to so decide.

It is useful to caution against bringing personal sentiments to constitutional obligations. Some newspapers have it that the Vice President declared during his visit to Katsina State that PMB has been treating him well as a son. In other words, the occupation of Aso Rock by PMB and the Vice President is on the basis of a father-son relationship. As good as this may appear to be, political governance of Nigeria should not be run on the basis of father and son relationship. In many cases, it has been detrimental to national unity and development.

How do we explain the situation in which the attention of the PMB administration was drawn to a case in which the Major-General Ike Nwachuku-led Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs has not only bastardised, but has also destroyed the Institute beyond repairs but there is silence over it? How can a government claiming to fight corruption and seeking to build a new Nigeria that will be free from political chicanery keep silent on a Director of Administration and Finance, Ms. Agatha Elochi Ude, who is accused of removing queries from her file and falsifying examination results in favour of some ethnic staff? How do we also explain the refusal of Government to investigate allegations of non-compliance by the Director General with the due process in the construction of the new international conference centre? One explanation that is not far-fetched is this type of father-son relationship, camaraderie or esprit de corps relationship, ethnic solidarity relationship, etc.

For Nigeria to survive and be more effectively united, it is not ordinarily PMB that is sick and that should go for further medical care, it is also the whole people that are consciously but wrongly advising PMB either in the Presidency or in the political parties, religious organisations, ethnic communities, and professional organisations that need to go for mental surgery.

A mental surgery will help people to see that the Constitution provides and enables the Vice President to act as President of the Federal Republic in the event of official absence of the president.

What Nigerians are witnessing today is a replay of the late President Yar’Adua’s case when the people who elected him were prevented from having access to information on the situation of his health and his Vice President became more of an observer in the management of state affairs. Consequently, whether or not PMB considers the Vice as a coordinator, the provision of the Constitution takes priority. The Vice President is currently the Acting President of Nigeria by virtue of the Constitution.

Saga of the Foreign Ministry
As regards the saga of the Foreign Ministry, it cannot but be most unfortunate. Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, was reported to have said that Nigeria would not retaliate the killing, last week, of two Nigerians in South Africa.
Retaliation and retorsion are two elements of reciprocity in international relations. Most unfortunately, reciprocity is the first pillar of international politics and relations in the quest for protection of national interests. Whatever might have informed the non-retaliatory approach of Government, the truth is that Nigeria’s altruistic, or big brother policy, or giant size policy or good neighbourliness etc does not appear to be sincerely appreciated by those countries the Foreign Minister is seeking to defend or protect.

It has even become necessary to ask whose interest is Geoffrey Onyeama protecting as Foreign Minister. In the past two years, not less than 116 (one hundred and sixteen) Nigerians have been killed in extraordinary circumstances in South Africa. And yet Nigeria’s Foreign Minister can have the luxury of condoning the killing of Nigerians under the pretext of an archaic diplomacy and self-deceit. What really is Nigeria’s foreign policy in light of global trends?

It has now become necessary for Nigeria to begin to behave as a regional power. In doing so, the rule of reciprocity must be applied where and when necessary. The principle does not have to be of general application. If there is any good rationale the Minister has for government’s position, all that is required is to explain it, assess the policy in light of the taking of the life of Nigerians, as well as consider the gains for the generality of the people in terms of long-term national security interest. For now, Nigeria’s foreign policy has no focus. It is increasingly and unnecessarily being de-professionalised, because those who are professionally well trained are hardly put where their expertise will be needed. Besides, the current Government does not have a foreign policy philosophy that can respond to the challenges of new global security threats.

The critical point being made is that the Nigeria of today is that of national self-deceit. It is that of anti-Nigeria and people who cannot survive without preying on Government. When you prevent people from undermining and killing Nigeria softly, they tell lies against you and seek to kill you. But this cannot address the problems of Nigeria. Only the truth and fear of God can sustain Nigeria. Most of those destroying Nigeria are church and mosque goers. They all sit in privileged areas and yet, what is their handwork? Wickedness!!!

QUOTE: Because the Nigerian system never allows truths to prevail, because political leaders create unnecessary myths around presidents, because the system is made to create jobs for very empty so-called leaders who simply should have been allowed to be frolicking around rather than giving them appointments on the boards of government parastatals, and because the Government of Nigeria also aid and abet anti-Nigeria elements by refusing to investigate allegations contained in reports given to it, individuals have become more powerful than the Constitution of the land. That is why people now talk about cabals in the presidency. That is why even PMB can talk about the Vice President as a coordinator of government affairs