In the President's Interest

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Executive Briefing

Despite all the denial, it is beyond doubt that the president’s ill health is hampering his ability to run the country. Davidson Iriekpen thinks that the president will be doing himself a great favour if he graciously resigns to attend to his health

One of the co-conveners of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign group, Aisha Yesufu, last week added her name to the long list of those urging President Muhammadu Buhari to resign on health grounds in order to reduce tension in the country and move the country forward.

In a two-minute video posted on her twitter account last Friday, she also advised the National Assembly to impeach the president if he fails to step down. Yesufu in the video, said that the idea of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo acting as president was not working and that governance was stagnated in the country.

She called on Nigerians to ‘wake up’, adding that the acting president would not be able to do much because he wanted to be seen as a good man.

“For crying out loud, the president is sick, the president is not capable of discharging his duties as president, why can’t he resign? Sickness can be on anybody, nobody is wishing the president bad. The fact that he is sick doesn’t mean he is going to die today or tomorrow. Somebody that is as healthy as I am now can drop dead. It is life! How long are we going to wait and keep watching everything go in disarray? Who is going to sign the budget, we don’t know. The report on Babachir, what is happening to it? Why are we being held to ransom?” she said.

Continuing, she said: “Buhari, you have gotten the best in this world. A lot of things that you have, most people cannot even dream of. You have been president twice, you said it yourself, you have reached the peak of your career as a military man and as a politician. Can you allow each and every one of us as Nigerians be able to reach the peak of our careers? Can you just take some time off, take care of yourself? May God give you good health.

“We need to take our country back, let the president resign, if he can’t resign, let the National Assembly do the right thing and let’s have another president. It is not about President Buhari, it’s about Nigeria, and right now Nigeria is suffering and we cannot continue to allow this.”

The president penultimate Sunday left the country for the United Kingdom for medical treatment. A statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the duration of Buhari’s stay in London would be determined by his doctors.

“The president wishes to assure all Nigerians that there is no cause for worry. He is very grateful for the prayers and good wishes of the people, and hopes they will continue to pray for the peace and unity of the nation. The length of the president’s stay in London will be determined by the doctors. Government will continue to function normally under the leadership of the vice-president,” he said.

Before the president left the shores of the country, his health was one of the most discussed issues in the polity. Worried by his frequent absence from public functions and the tension over his failing health, some human rights and pressure groups had advised him to resign or take time off to attend to his health.

To many Nigerians however, Buhari’s current situation did not come as a surprise. After winning the nomination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to run for the presidency in 2015, reports on the fickle state of his health became one of the campaign issues for the opposition and of course, other concerned Nigerians.

A majority of those in the opposition had maintained that Buhari was ill, and had been on medication for some time. Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose voluntarily led the campaign and at a point placed an obnoxious advertorial on the then aspiring president. Former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan once declared Buhari brain dead too during one of the PDP campaigns.

But this narrative was vigorously contested and denied by Buhari’s handlers. His supporters believed and shared the view that he was as fit as a fiddle. But the concerns did not go away and shortly after his victory at the polls, Buhari had to travel to the United Kingdom for medical attention, confirming to those, who doubted his state health that something was actually amiss.

The height, perhaps, was when at the beginning this year, Buhari went on what was supposed to be a 10-day vacation to London, the United Kingdom and ended spending some 51 days. Since, his return from the vacation, the issue of his health has gained more prominence, with many wanting to know if he was physically and mentally fit to run the affairs of this country with.

This question gained even greater validity against the backdrop of the president’s failure to be physically present in some crucial events. Since his return from London, Buhari has not attended any public function and was unable to attend the last three cabinet meetings and was also absent at the last two Jum’at services, with last Friday’s being at exception.

The president was also absent at the May Day rally organised by the labour unions for the second time since assuming office in 2015, a development that caused commotion at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

From the look of things, it is becoming clearer to many that the presidency and its kitchen cabinet are trying hard to shroud the health of the president in secrecy.

As a democratic nation, the belief is that Nigerians not only have a right to know the true state of health of the president, but to also assess whether the constant distraction by his physical health affects his mental ability to carry on with the enormous task of governing the country, especially at a time Nigeria is battling to get out of difficult economic and political transition.

It was against this background that some prominent Nigerians like the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (rtd); and APC former National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, among others have expressed worries over the way the presidency is shrouding the president’s health in secrecy.

This, perhaps, also prompted a meeting of three former leaders of the country, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), at the Minna Hiltop residence of Babangida on the way out of the situation the country has found itself.

But a day after the meeting, there was a report that the president came out and held a meeting with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and the Managing Director of the Nigerian National Corporation (NNPC). Many analysts viewed the meeting as a ploy to deceive Nigerians and cover up the president’s true state of health. The interpretation to this was that it was when the presidency heard that the three former leaders met that he managed to come out.

Till date, nobody knows what the ailment the president is suffering from and how bad the situation is. While some of his aides and associates had at various time told the country that Buhari would need time to recover from his first treatment abroad, others said he would stay at home and perform all his official duties.

While many observers have admitted that the president’s graciousness in transmitting a letter to the National Assembly on the two occasions he had travelled abroad for medical treatment, something the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did not do, they want him to display that same grace and courage by resigning since it is becoming clearer that he is unable to concentrate on the job for which he was elected due to ill-health.

With the Yar’Adua scenario still fresh in people’s memory, many are asking: For how long is the country willing to tolerate an ailing president? For how long will his aides handle statecraft on his behalf? At what point will those saddled with the responsibility summon the courage and apply the provisions of Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution?

Section 144 explicitly provides for how to handle the current situation, when the president or his deputy is incapable of effectively or efficiently carrying out his official duties. But the question begging for answers is in a pluralistic society like Nigeria, where cronyism, nepotism, tribalism and ethno-religious sentiments reign supreme, and where allegiance is owed to the benefactor of a favour rather than allegiance to the constitution, will it ever be possible to see the ministers summon the courage to declare a president unfit to govern?

For instance, section 144 (1) (a) states that “The president or vice-president shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the federation, it is declared that the president or vice president is incapable of discharging the functions of the office.” Section (b) further states that, “The declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of the section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Subsection 2 of the section states: “Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion, the president or vice president is suffering from such infirmity of the body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the official gazette of the government of the federation.”

Subsection 3 went on to say that “The president or vice president shall cease to hold office as from the date of the publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section,” with subsection 4 adding, “The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the president of the Senate and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria – (a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned and (b) four other medical practitioners, who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.”

The last subsection in the section, subsection 5, however describes those who will initiate this process. “In this section, the reference to the ‘executive council of the federation’ is a reference to the body of ministers of the government of the federation, howsoever called, established by the president and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of the government as the president.”

But rather than activating this constitutional process for the country to move forward, all that Nigerians have heard from aides of the president is that he was advised by his doctors to rest more and take things slowly after his medical vacation in the United Kingdom. They are also busy assuring their supporters and Nigerians at large that the president would contest the 2019 presidential election, when the issue on the front burner is his health.

Human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, corroborated this view when he said considering the current peculiarities of tribalism, sentiments and religious bias, if members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) would be able to invoke the provisions of the constitution in order to declare the president incapacitated and subsequent removal from office.

He said while the president removal under Section 143 which is initiated by the National Assembly, Section144 is initiated by the members of the Federal Executive Council through a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the council declaring that the president is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.

The human rights lawyer maintained: “It is left to be seen if the Federal Executive Council, a body appointed by, and solely responsible to the president, will summon enough courage to take such steps, even if it were crystal clear that the president is permanently incapacitated to carry out the functions of his office.

He reminded the country of what played out in Taraba State where then governor, Danbaba Suntai allowed to remain in office for over three years, despite his incapacity.

“It is clear from the case of Danbaba Suntai, former Governor of Taraba State, that members of the executive council in whose domain lies squarely the kick-starting of the process for the president’s removal on ground of ‘infirmity of body or mind,’ are never ready, able or willing to commence such a highly politically charged process.” He added: “Danbaba Suntai was virtually a vegetable, could hardly talk, and looked vacant with sunken eyes, when he was ‘packaged’ to address the media, in a most pathetic and incoherent manner.”

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To many Nigerians however, Buhari’s current situation did not come as a surprise. After winning the nomination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to run for the presidency in 2015, reports on the fickle state of his health became one of the campaign issues for the opposition and of course, other concerned Nigerians.