President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly informing the Parliament of his medical vacation in London on Tuesday caused a bit of confusion.
The whole drama started when Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia), raised a point of order to draw the attention of the Senate to what he described as deficiencies in the letter addressed by President Buhari.
He said President Buhari was ambiguous in his letter, by claiming that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will coordinate the activities of the country in his absence, without stating a time frame.
The senator argued that the letter should be returned to the presidency, in order to reflect what he said were appropriate requirements captured in Section 145 of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
Quoting Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) Senator Ohuabunwa said: “Whenever the president transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the house of representatives, a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise that he is unable to discharge the functions of his office until he transmits to them the written declaration to the contrary, such function shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
“Mr President, I do not think in our constitution we have anything like coordinating President or coordinating Vice President. It is either you are the Vice President or you are the Acting President and any letter should be unambiguous and very clear.
“So, I am saying that this letter really does not convey anything because coordinating has no space or any place in our constitution. We have been having letters like this. But we need to know who to deal with as a Senate.
“This is the highest legislative body of any country and if you are sending us a letter, it should be direct and unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter, for me, is not right and should be sent back.”
He was immediately countered by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe), who said there was nothing wrong with the letter.
Lawan called on the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to rule Ohuabunwa out of order, a request quickly obliged.
He said: “Mr President, let me say that the point of order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed should not have been and my responses are simple.
“I still rely on the first paragraph of that letter which Mr President wrote to this Senate and read by the President of the Senate. I will read section 145 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“Any other word in this letter or indeed anywhere else is irrelevant. I therefore feel that Mr President has done what the constitution requires him to do and I urge this Senate not to go ahead to discuss this because its not an issue. We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting.”
Saraki, in his ruling, said President Buhari acted within the confines of the law.
Saraki said: “I think it is a very clear issue and what should be guided by is the constitution and I think that it is clear. The letter has referred to the constitution and there is no ambiguity in the constitution. So, I do not think there’s any issue there. Let me first rule you out of order Senator Mao.”
Saraki, formally read the letter of President Muhammadu Buhari, wherein the former informed the parliament of his long medical vacation to the United Kingdom (UK).
Saraki, while reading the letter, told his colleagues that the Vice President , Professor Osinbajo will perform the functions of the President while he is away.
The letter reads: “In compliance with section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, I wish to inform the Distinguished Senate that I will be away for a scheduled medical followup with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor’s advice.
“While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept the Distinguished Senate President the assurances of my highest consideration.”
This is the third time President Buhari has transferred power to Professor Osinbajo since his inauguration in May 2015.
The first time was on February 5, 2016, when the President embarked on a five-day vacation.
The second was in June 2016 when Buhari traveled to the UK for treatment of what the Presidency described as an ear infection.