Sunday, February 26, 2017 5:38 pm
By Soyombo Opeyemi
I think the proverb belongs to the Igbo: “You cannot beat a child and expect him not to cry.” The scale of looted funds being recovered under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari continues to boggle the mind. Billions and billions of naira are daily been recovered or forfeited to the government, not in secret, but the recovery process is now beamed to the world. I often imagine how much must have been stolen during the last administration and how much more can be recovered. But I should equally not be so stunned.
In my article in mid 2015, before the revelations about the $2.1 billion arms scandal, I had made this observation in the papers: “It would seem an understatement for President Muhammadu Buhari to speak of inheriting an empty treasury. I think we should thank God that the President even met a treasury at all. With the monetary bonanza, bazaar and lottery that characterized the electioneering of the ruling party in the last general elections, we should be grateful to the almighty that both the purse and its contents had not disappeared altogether.”
Now, a septuagenarian president decided to go on a vacation. Even before his plane landed in London, the social media was awash with the news that he was dead. I ask, “Is this a sign of laziness; that people don’t have anything to do; or have simply turned gossip and rumour-mongering into a culture? If you are well this night, is it an offence to wake up tomorrow morning and feel indisposed? Is it an offence to be under the weather? Is it an offence to consult your doctor? Does that mean you are incapacitated, dead or going to die? Did the President violate any law by going on vacation and consulting his doctors in the process?
Sometimes I wonder if we are really ready for constitutional democracy in this country. A president has fulfilled all the obligations of the constitution, yet you won’t let him rest. Let him who has never gone on leave, vacation, seen a doctor or even been sick be the first to cast the stone! As it is often said, when you fight corruption, it fights back. With a few of their stolen billions, they can turn the world upside down because of Buhari. But there are those who join the bandwagon due to ignorance. Such compatriots deserve some enlightenment.
The 1999 Constitution, as stated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree No. 24 of 1999, is, essentially, a product of the 1979 Constitution. Of course, the 1979 Constitution went through the crucible of constitution-making process. Whereas Sections 5(1) and 148 of the 1999 Constitution were respectively lifted from Sections 5 of (1) and 136 of the 1979 Constitution, Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution is a novel arrangement as no such provision exists in the 1979 Constitution. The question then is: Why was Section 145 (with the title ‘Acting President during temporary absence of President’) included in the 1999 Constitution? Was it to add to the volume or embellish it?
The fact is, the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee, which was inaugurated on November 11, 1998 must have anticipated that, as humans, there can be a time which, for personal reasons – including health grounds – when the President may desire a vacation or wish to have a break from the headache of governance. Sometimes you just need a break. In fact, a break is necessary. He should be at liberty to do so while the business of governance is taken over by the Vice-President, elected on a joint ticket from the same political party, as the Acting President. You need to be away sometimes in order to unwind and reflect. Most often you return to your duty post refreshed, better and with enhanced knowledge and efficiency. I understand this is the reason why white men do no joke with their vacation. It’s damn necessary! It does not mean you are sick, dead or incapacitated.
The US presidents also go on vacation. As a matter of fact, the precursor to Section 145 of the Nigerian constitution was the 25th Amendment of the American Constitution. Clause 3 of that amendment, which was signed into law on February 10, 1967 reads: “Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
Section 145 of the Nigerian constitution, states that, “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.”
It is instructive that successive presidents of the United States have complied with the spirit and letter of this Clause by transmitting a letter to the Congress whenever a situation envisaged by the framers of that Clause arose. In Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari remains the first president to comply with the provision of Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Therefore, our constitutional democracy is working and we should all be excited about that. What we need is a strong institution, not strong men, though sometimes you need selfless strong men like President Buhari to build strong institutions. And as we can see, he has followed the spirit and letter of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) unlike President Yar’Adua that went AWOL, having not transmitted a letter to the National Assembly in line with Section 145, thereby throwing the country into an avoidable and needless constitutional crisis.
One was elated to read of the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, signing some Bills into law. It means our constitutional democracy is working, and President Buhari deserves all the credit for this. And unlike the former Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the current Vice President is in constant touch with the President. Therefore, let the “twitterers”, the “internet millipedes”, as Prof Soyinka once described them, and purveyors of falsehood, look for something productive to do with their time and leave the corrupt politicians to cry themselves hoarse. The tantrums of the corrupt politicians, I believe, are the least worries of President Buhari.
*Soyombo, media aide to Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, sent this piece via email@example.com