How Long Can Buhari Remain An Absentee President?

With the Presidency failing to give Nigerians a clear statement on when President Muhammadu Buhari would return to the country, from his now indefinite vacation, the issue has become the source of much controversy and anger, with many Nigerians urging the Senate to begin the process of invoking Section 144 of the constitution to declare his seat vacant, so that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will officially step into the office of President of the Federal Republic.

This is because Nigerians cannot afford another Yar’Adua scenario, whereby officials not elected into office by the Nigerian people are ruling the country by proxy. Legally, the President is entitled to 60 days annual leave, which is calculated from the day he took office in 2015. If he exhausts his leave, he is then entitled to his annual vacation. But as things stand, Buhari has converted his annual leave to medical leave, which has now become indefinite. Should the president fail to return home in the next 14 days; the country will be embroiled in a constitutional quagmire.

The Presidency has said there is no cause to worry. The refrain has been that there is no vacuum in governance as the President constitutionally transferred his powers to the vice president before going on his vacation. Yet, Nigerians have been divided in their calls for full disclosure of the health challenges facing Mr. President. Amid the confusion caused by the awkward position of the President, which verges on the mix between his annual vacation and medical leave, callisthenic presidential communications have only fueled the mass hysteria and frenzy about the president’s condition after he failed to return home as expected on February 6. His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had in a statement confirmed ‎that the President would be extending his initial 10-day stay to “complete the test circle before returning.”

Even as the President awaits full clinical clearance from his doctors before returning to his desk at Aso Rock, the intrigues about his health and ability to continue with the demands of his office have become a tragic-comedy of errors, with eminent Nigerians, including elected officials now going on “pilgrimage” to see the president in London. Nigerians have been quick to recall the events in 2010, when then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua proceeded on a similar trip, only for what began as medical tourism to dovetail into a national and constitutional tragedy leading to the now infamous “doctrine of necessity.”

At the height of the confusion, Buhari was said to have spoken with US President Donald Trump. The absurdity was taken to a higher level by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, who posted the transcript of his purported telephone conversation with Buhari on his Facebook page. Adesina claimed the president called to thank him for “holding out against mischief-makers.” Buhari’s senior special assistant on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, also claimed he missed the president’s phone call, but stated on his Facebook page that he received a text message from the president.

While the grapevine swells with fanciful conjectures, Nigerians have been treated to a staccato of pictorial communications, with still pictures showing the number one citizen looking frail and skeletal. It began with the Presidency twitter handle posting a picture of two APC top-notchers; Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande, who visited the president in London. Next was the turn of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara to visit the President. Interestingly, while other visitors merely called for prayers, Dr. Saraki who studied medicine in Britain and practiced there for a while, forced himself back to medical practice, examined the President and pronounced him “hale and hearty.”

Being the first medical expert to be categorical on the state of health of Mr. President, Dr. Saraki must now precisely tell Nigerians when a sick man who has been certified “hale and hearty” is allowed to resume normal duties. If the president is hale and hearty as Saraki wants Nigerians to believe, then Buhari’s failure to resume his office amounts to a dereliction of duty, that should attract a declaration that the office is vacant. It is indeed unfortunate that Buhari is ill. Nigerians cannot begrudge his right to treatment. But if the illness is of such a nature as to make it impossible for him to perform the functions of his office, then Nigerians have no choice than replace him with the vice president.

Meanwhile, opinions on Buhari’s health keep coming from different quarters. Pastors are praying; witch doctors too are talking, even as prophets across faiths and denominations churn out prophesies. Amid this staccato, the President’s men have been playing hide-and-seek with the word “soon” using it so elastically as to cover every dimension of time. Despite the shifting communications from the presidency regaling Nigerians of how their president was homesick and tired of staying abroad, if you ask Lai Mohammed, when Buhari will return; he will say “soon.” Put the same question to Adesina and he will add an intensifier “very soon.” Ask Shehu Garba and he will bamboozle you with details of the phone conversation between Buhari and Trump, and then say: “when the President is coming will be made known.” With all these theatricals, it is not surprising that many confused Nigerians have begun to situate the narrative alongside the 2010 experience. What remains to be heard is for the President’s men to say as happened in 2010, that the President could govern from any part of the world.

Generally, the President cannot afford an indefinite leave, given the sensitive nature of his office. Once it is impossible to determine definitively, the period of days to be spent, whether on annual vacation or medical vacation, what that translates is that the President has given indication of his inability to perform the functions of his office. The president cannot be allowed to abscond his post and create a vacuum in governance under the guise of an indefinite medical vacation. It is a national disgrace and international embarrassment for the President to turn himself into a tourist attraction, whereby, he has turned the Abuja House in London into an alternative government house, where the country’s political elite now take turns to pay homage. It is inconceivable that Nigeria would get to this stage. It is unacceptable that the country be forced to put up with this situation.

This begs the question: at what point will section 144 be invoked? Since the president already took part of his annual leave in 2016 when he travelled to London for the same ear infection; to which could be added the number of days he has already spent this year, it stands to reason that if in the next 14 days, the President is unable, for reason of ill health, to resume his normal duties, then the Senate must proceed to invoke the provisions of section 144 of the Constitution to declare his seat vacant, so that the vice president will officially be sworn-in as President because there is a limit to the powers of the acting president. Buhari cannot take the nation hostage and Nigeria certainly does not need this kind of distraction, at a time the country is facing serious economic challenges and sundry national issues begging for urgent presidential attention and leadership. The nation must not be held hostage, while the president attends to his health with no definite return date. There cannot be a vacuum in that office. Editorial With HuhuOnline.com.