Ozekhome Faults Buhari for Signing Bills into Law in UK during Private Visit

Mike Ozekhome

Davidson Iriekpen

Human rights activist and senior lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), has described President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing into law of a bill tagged, ‘Amended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Bill’ into law in the United Kingdom during a private visit as a constitutional aberration.

President Buhari had last Monday in London signed into law the ‘Amended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Act’ after Nigerians were told that he travelled to the UK on a private visit.

Ozekhome wondered why the President Buhari did not hand over powers to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who could have signed the bill into law if it was urgent.

He argued that because the Nigerian Constitution did not envision a man-presidency where the absence of the president would automatically cripple governance, it made provision in Section 5(1) where it stated that the executive powers of the president be exercised “either directly or through the vice president and ministers of the government of the federation or officers in the public service of the federation.”

The activist stated that Nigeria as a sovereign country, has geographical boundaries, which cannot be arbitrarily extended or expanded whether in governance or influence.

He argued that signing the bill in a foreign country has evoked mixed reactions from Nigerians.

“As expected, some government apologists and sympathisers have already queued behind him and argued that he can govern Nigeria from any part of planet earth. This is a constitutional aberration, to say the least.

Ozekhome stated that travelling abroad outside the shores of Nigeria especially when it was not declared official duties certainly amounts to proceeding on vacation which required transmitting a letter to the National Assembly.

“The UK where Mr President is not part and parcel of the entity Nigeria. That is why Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution makes provisions for transfer of powers to his vice president as ‘Acting President’ with the approval of the National Assembly, through a letter to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, whenever ‘he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.’

“The president’s spokesperson had publicly told Nigerians that the president would travel abroad to spend 15 days on ‘a private visit’ and return on November 17, after attending an official Summit in Saudi Arabia. A private visit is what it means. ‘Private’ and not ‘official.’”

The human rights lawyer expressed anger that the president of the biggest black nation on earth would perform functions as important as signing an Act of parliament in a foreign land.

He asked: “Why did the Constitution provide for a joint ticket for a president and vice president in Section 142(1) of the Constitution?

“Can President Donald Trump of the United States or Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom or even President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa come to Nigeria on “a private visit” and begin to sign laws for their country right here in Nigeria?”

The human rights lawyer wondered what was so urgent about the bill that it could not wait for Buhari to return and sign at home. He disclosed that Nigeria has become a laughing stock among comity of nations due to the embarrassing conducts of her leaders.

The senior lawyer asked rhetorically: ‘Can the National Assebly or Supreme Court in Nigeria therefore take a cue to go and sit in London to conduct legislative and judicial duties respectively?”

He lamented: “Don’t we have national pride or self-esteem as a sovereign nation? Why is the vice president there in the first instance?

“I get embarrassed by the kind of condescending questions I am asked about governance in Nigeria whenever I travel abroad. We are fast reducing the serious act of governance in a constitutional democracy of a 200 million people to the ludicrous template of a Baba Sallah’s Alawada Keri Keri Dance Troupe’s histrionics and the theatrical melodramatic.”