The Senate on Tuesday foiled a ‘coup’ aimed at preventing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from assuming office as acting president

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The Senate on Tuesday foiled a ‘coup’ aimed at preventing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from assuming office as acting president following the departure of President Muhammadu Buhari to London on an indefinite medical vacation.
A mild drama played out at Tuesday’s plenary when Senate President Bukola Saraki read a letter sent in by President Muhammadu Buhari notifying the parliament of his decision to embark on follow-up medical trip to London and the decision to transmit leadership to Osinbajo who, he said, will coordinate activities of government in his capacity as vice president.
Saving Grace
The Senate president said he was relying on Section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which clearly stipulates that anytime the vice president is to take charge of government under the section arising from the absence of the president he shall be referred to as acting president.
Section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) reads: “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.”
Osinbajo As Coordinate, Activities Of The Govt
But unlike his previous letters in which President Buhari clearly stated that the vice president should occupy the office of acting president in accordance with the dictates of the quoted section of the constitution, he failed this time around to say so. He merely said Osinbajo will coordinate government in the capacity of vice president.
The president’s 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 follow-up 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.”
Argument
Hardly had the Senate president finished reading the letter when Mao Ohuabunwa raised a constitutional point of order to draw attention of the Senate to the inadequacy of the letter from the president.
Ohuabunwa drew the attention of his colleagues to a new nomenclature in the letter which he pointed out as “coordinating vice president” which, he said, was unknown to the letters and intent of the Nigerian constitution.
As he made his contribution, several of his colleagues were heard murmuring loudly as he pointed out the lacuna in the letter.
The Abia State born senator said that the position of “coordinating vice president” is not known to the Nigerian constitution and therefore suggested that the letter be returned to the presidency for correction.
Reading the portion of the constitution openly to the hearing of his colleagues, he insisted that the letter is incompetent.
“Mr. President I don’t think in our constitution we have anything like coordinating president or coordinating vice president. It is either you are vice president or you are 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, you tell us he’s the acting president and we know who to deal with as a Senate. This is the highest legislative body of any country and if you are sending us letter it should be direct, unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter for me is not right and maybe should be sent back”, he said.
However, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan raised a counter order and asked the Senate to ignore the lacuna in the letter but continue to relate with the vice president as acting president in line with the constitutional provision.
“Mr. President, let me say that the point of order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed shouldn’t have been and my reasons 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 and I will read section 145: 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…
“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. We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting”, the Senate leader said.
Ruling
Saraki, in his ruling, agreed that since the letter has made reference to the appropriate section of the constitution, the vice president shall be related with in his right position as acting president until President Muhammadu Buhari returns to the country.
“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. Let me first rule you out of order, Senator Mao”, he said.
To drive home the seriousness of the Senate on the issue, the Senate it was gathered will write an official letter to the vice president informing him of the fact that the parliament has activated section 145(1) of the constitution and he’s forthwith to be addressed as acting president pending the return of President Buhari whose return date is yet known.
Constitution Does Not Provide For Coordinating President – NBA Chief
Reacting, the second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, on Tuesday said the Nigerian constitution does not provide for a position of Coordinating President of Nigeria.
Ubani, who spoke with Independent, said President Muhammadu Buhari’s intention was not to deny Prof. Yemi Osinbajo the opportunity of acting on his behalf while he is on medical vacation.
According to him, by writing to the Senate as directed by the constitution, President Buhari has already given the vice president full powers to act on his behalf.
“I don’t think that may be the intention of the president, that he asked the vice president to coordinate the activities of government so as not to hand over power to him. The constitution is very clear as to when the president is handing over power to his vice when he is not around”.
“He hands over all the powers of the president to him, he acts in his capacity as acting president. There is nothing like coordinating president or coordinating minister. So, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is acting president.
“The letter is only to fulfill all righteousness, just to fulfill the conditions on which power will be transmitted to the vice president. It is not defined by the letter or its content; it is defined by the constitution”, he said.

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