Constitutional Posers Over Buhari’s Latest Medical Tourism

Emameh Gabriel writes about constitutional issues raised over President Muhammadu Buhari’s latest trip to London, the United Kingdom, for routine medical checkup

Provisions of section 145(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) was last week put to question by concerned Nigerians who called out President Muhammadu Buhari over his frequent medical trips overseas without transmitting power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Among the concerns raised was the dangers of creating a vacuum that might escalate the frequent power tussles by different power blocs in Aso Rock and the fear that, like late President Umaru  Yar’Adua, Buhari might plunge the country into another constitutional crisis for his refusal to adhere to the provisions of the constitution, should anything go wrong. 

Concerned Nigerians have therefore challenged the President to make public his health status for Nigerians to be sure of the true state of his health, citing how late President Yar’Adua left the country in 2010 without transmitting power to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and ended up setting the country into constitutional crisis till the doctrine of necessity was invoked.

President Buhari last week left the country for a two- week routine medical checks, but again refused to transfer power to his deputy on an interim basis as constitutionally expected.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had disclosed scant details about the latest travel on his personal Twitter handle. There was no prior information about the President’s plan to leave the country.

Buhari had earlier on Monday presided over an emergency National Security Council meeting at the State House, Abuja and there after proceeded to Owerri, Imo State, for a conference and retreat for senior police officers.

That the President left without handing power to Osinbajo through the necessary channels by writing to the National Assembly was not only the reason that provoked the consciousness of Nigerians, but that his intending medical trip was announced when he was in Owerri, same day he jetted out of the country.

They said such display of indifference about the feelings of Nigerians clearly expressed how much the President and his handlers are taking Nigerians, to whom he holds the country in trust for, especially tax payers whose money he uses for his numerous overseas trips, for granted.

Elder statesman and leader of Pan Niger Delta  Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, could not hold his displeasure when he spoke at his Asokoro residence in Abuja just hours after President Buhari jetted out of the country.

Pa Clark in a four-page statement warned that President Buhari might plunge the country into another constitutional crisis, reminiscent of the era of former President Umar Yar’Adua, who died in office in May 2010 after a terminal ailment.

He called on Buhari to handover power to his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and “allow him act on his behalf in accordance to the constitution”, just as he enjoined the President to declare his health status to Nigerians, whose money he used to run his numerous overseas trips and medical expenses.

The former federal information commissioner was also quick to remind the President and his handlers that whatever actions about the government the president took outside the country was illegal and against the constitution of the land.

Clark who lamented that Buhari is taking Nigerians for granted expressed worries that Nigerians were silent while Buhari continues to abuse provisions of the Constitution to which he sworn an oath to with impunity.

According to the elder statesman, “Laws deriving from the constitution are made to enable smooth running of societies and governments. Therefore, all and sundry, especially people in authority, are expected to obey and abide by the laws of the land.

“Once again, yesterday, Monday 31st of October 2022, in the afternoon, the Nigerian nation was greeted with different descriptions of news headlines, such as, ‘Breaking: President Buhari jets out to London for medical treatment’, ’Buhari jets out for two-week medical check in London’, etc.

“But in all of these readings, I did not read where it was reported that for the two weeks President Muhammadu Buhari will be away in London for medical reasons, he complied with the provisions of chapter six, part one section 145 of the 1999 constitution.

“The Nigerian constitution provides that when the president is going on vacation or is unable to discharge the functions of his office, he will notify the National Assembly and temporarily transfer power to his deputy.

He quoted: “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 transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President,” Section 145(1)(2) of the Nigerian Constitution states.

“The constitution of the nation is the grundnorm and every aspect of it must be obeyed. Thus, section 145 is mandatory and not discretionary. The transmission of a letter to the National Assembly ought to be automatic. And the president of the country does not have a choice to tinker with it, or whether to comply or not.

“A president’s inability to perform his functions, even for a few hours, mandates such action of transmitting a letter to the National Assembly. This is what is done by any responsible government. Therefore, it should not be treated as breaking news.

“Taking the whole nation by surprise, especially, since it was not an emergency, President Muhammadu Buhari must have long secured this appointment with his physicians for the checkup.

“Secondly, the president of Nigeria is constitutionally bound to inform Nigerians of whatever ailment or disease he is suffering from, especially one from which the government money is being spent. Nigerians will understand he is  human and that is why the framers of the constitution provided section 145. Unfortunately, up till now, Nigerians do not know how much of taxpayers’ money is being spent on their president.”

Clark said in spite of the breaches, it was unfortunate that “nobody bothers to take appropriate measures to ensure that the right things are done properly, particularly, in a situation, where the president of the Senate is in partnership with the executive and is willing to do whatever the executive says.”

He lamented that Nigerians had “had more than enough. We are not in a military regime, where people are treated as conquered people”.

Clark also expressed suspicion about a grand conspiracy against the vice president, because of his proven records as acting president.

Said he: “One is forced to wonder what are the fears of President Buhari? He has a competent and fit deputy in person of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who is very able to hold the fort. He has proven this in 2017, when Mr. President was away on one of his numerous medical vacations.

“The nation is bleeding financially. The government of the day undertakes wasteful ventures. We understand that files are taken to Mr. President abroad whenever he is away for him to append his signature. This is spending money and other resources recklessly.

“Not to talk about the cost of parking the presidential jet outside the country with the number of personnel and security detail, who accompany Mr President on these trips. These avoidable expenses must be stopped. Presently, the nation is so indebted that it is feared the debt burden is left for the future generations of Nigerians.”

Citing what transpired during the last days of late President Yar’Adua in office, Clark recalled how the country was dragged into constitutional crisis, because the former president did not handover power to then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

He said, “We remember what happened, when Yar’Adua travelled for treatment and did not transmit power. He left the country in a serious constitutional crisis till the Doctrine of Necessity was invoked. This is a mere expression of arrogance of power for Mr. President to think that he can run Nigeria, a country with more than 200 million people, from faraway London. Something he has not done effectively, even when he is in the country.”

Also reacting, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), condemned the President’s action against the backdrop of “the deplorable and collapsed state of the public health care system in Nigeria”, adding that he has failed on “his resolve” to end medical tourism in Nigeria, which he said was costing the country so much foreign exchange.

In a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA said Buhari at every point before he came to power in 2015, criticised medical tourism, “But since coming on board, the few healthcare facilities that were put in place by previous governments, even the Federal Medical Centres that were hitherto functioning optimally, have all become moribund, largely due to mismanagement of funds for public healthcare by officials at various levels.

“The health care system has also witnessed several industrial actions and strikes by medical staff and non-medical staff. Yet, President Buhari has spent over 200 hundred days on a foreign medical trip with our money, he said.

In one of his trips this year, while he was away, Buhari had told Nigerians that Vice President Osinbajo would be in charge.

“The government is fully represented; the vice-president is there. Constitutionally, when I’m away, he’s in charge. And the secretary to the government and then the chief of staff. So, I have no problem,” he said.

But this statement was not backed with an official letter to the national assembly as required by the constitution.

While the President’s aides have consistently defended his action, saying he could run the country from any part of the world, Nigerians keep referring them to what the Constitution says.

What Went Wrong?

Checks by THISDAY have shown that the last time Buhari handed over to his deputy was  while embarking on personal medical trip in 2018.

In the early period of the Buhari administration, the President used to notify the National Assembly of such medical trips and temporarily hand over power to Osinbajo.

In June 2016, President Buhari wrote to the National Assembly, notifying them of a 10-day medical trip to the UK, and temporarily transferred power to Vice President Osinbajo. That was the second time such would be done in about a year after Buhari assumed office.

During these period, especially the last one, Osinbajo took some drastic actions both on economy and security breach by some intelligence officers.

Sack of Lawal Daura

On August 2018, the sack of former Director-General, State Security Service, Lawal Daura, was one of such actions taken by Osinbajo that was reported not go down well with most of President’s henchmen in the State House and some Northerners.

Daura, a close ally to the president, was sacked for ordering SSS officials to illegally invade the National Assembly without notifying or seeking permission from the acting president.

Before his sack, Osinbajo, according to sources in his camp, had earlier drew the attention of the President to the incident and explained in details to him the consequences of such act.

Even if the information about why the President has refused to cede power to his vice, even at long medical trip is scanty, especially in relation to the sack of Daura, there could be no other reasons for the President to continue to execute presidential functions, including when abroad for medical treatment since 2018 when he has someone like Osinbajo who is intellectually fit to run the country effectively.

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