The Federal Government has declared that there is nothing wrong with the content of the letter sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari transmitting power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in an acting capacity. “I think it is a needless controversy, just a distraction.
The operative sentence is `in compliance with section 145 (1)’; any other word used is not relevant,’’ Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, said yesterday. Buhari’s letter, dated May 7, stated that “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 follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctors’ 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.” The letter, which was read on the floor of the Senate on Monday, generated some heated debate from the lawmakers who faulted the choice of the word ‘coordinate’ as used by the President in the letter.
Speaking to State House Correspondents after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) which was presided over by Vice President Osinbajo, the Information Minister described the uproar trailing the matter as ‘a needless controversy’. The minister explained that the arguments over the content of the President’s correspondence were just “a distraction.”
Mohammed urged Nigerians not to allow themselves to be swayed by the divergent interpretations. He insisted that the operating sentence in the letter sufficiently complied with the relevant provisions of the constitution which is reference to section 145(1) of the Constitution.
Section 145 states: “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 that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
This is the second time that Buhari is transmitting a letter to the National Assembly regarding the transfer of power to his vice since May 29, 2015 when he was inaugurated into office. Meanwhile, the Presidency has stated that Osinbajo remains acting President in the absence of President Buhari.
A top presidential official stated that Osinbajo has been acting on behalf of the president in the discharge of the functions of the office. The source stated that the acting President presided over the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting which is the prerogative of the president.
“Osinbajo is the acting President. He has been carrying out the functions of the office in the absence of the president. There is no question about his status as the acting president,” the presidential source told New Telegraph last night.
It will be recalled that as soon as Buhari’s letter was read in the Senate on Tuesday, Senator Mao Ohaunbuwa (PDP Abia North) raised a point of order faulting the language of the letter. Ohuabunwa argued that contrary to the rule, the President did not state the appropriate designation of the Vice President as Acting President as stipulated in Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution. According to him, the position of the “coordinator of government activities” does not exist in the constitution and should not have come up in the President’s letter.
He, therefore, suggested that the letter should be rejected.” But, Majority Leader of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, raised a counter argument that the letter should be accepted in principle as long as it was based on provisions of Section 145 of the Constitution.
“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 it’s not an issue,” Lawan said.
At this point, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, said there was no ambiguity and no contest as to the position of the law on the designation of the Vice President whenever the President was absent and had duly communicated same to the parliament. Saraki said: “In view of the fact that the letter quoted Section 145(1) of the Constitution which stipulated that the Vice President would work as Acting President, the word ‘coordinate’ should be disregarded.
“I think it is a very clear issue and what we should be guided by is the Constitution and I think that it is clear. “The letter has referred to the Constitution and there’s no ambiguity in the Constitution. So, I don’t think there’s any issue there.’’
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, said naming the Vice President as ‘Cocoordinator’ is unconstitutional. Ozekhome said: “That is a strange importation of an unknown term into our Constitution. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution specifically refers to “Acting President”, who “shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President” whenever “the president is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.”
Another lawyer, Dr. Abdul Mahmud, also said the description of the VP as cocoordinator is superfluous, adding that the description suggests that there are other VPs, with Osinbajo acting as the coordinating VP, a sort of VP inter pares. Lawyer and rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, faulted the president on his choice of word, saying he has not transmitted power to the Vice President. “As it stands in Nigeria today, we have no leader. There is no president and there is no Acting President in line with the provisions of the Constitution.
There is a vacuum. “The letter written by the president does not meet the requirements of Section 145 of the Constitution,” he stated. However, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) was of the view that there should be no concern about the language used by the president to describe the Vice President in the letter. According to him, the most important thing is that the president has complied with the provisions of the Constitution by transmitting the letter to the National Assembly when he was leaving for his trip abroad.
“It doesn’t matter what language was used. The important thing is that this letter was written and the provision of the Constitution has been complied with,” Ahamba said. Speaking in the same vein, Seyi Sowemimo (SAN) said the controversy over the president’s language is unnecessary.