The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, at the plenary on Tuesday read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari informing the legislature of his medical vacation in the United Kingdom.
Buhari said the leave was indefinite.
While the President said in the letter that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would “coordinate” the governance of the country during his absence, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa criticised the letter as not naming Osinbajo as Acting President and should be disregarded.
The letter read, “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. Please accept, the distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
But Ohuabunwa, while raising a point of order, argued that the letter was not clear on the transfer of power from Buhari to Osinbajo.
He 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 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 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 (on transfer of power) 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 (receiving) letters like this in which he would tell us who is the acting president and we will 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, unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter, for me, is not right and maybe it should be sent back.”
But the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, countered Ohuabunwa, saying Buhari had fulfilled the provisions of Section 145 of the Constitution by transmitting the letter.
He said, “Let me say that the point of order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed should not 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 President of the Senate and I will read Section 145.”
After reading the section, Lawan added, “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 is not an issue. We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting.
Saraki, who presided over the plenary, however, ruled Ohuabunwa out of order.
“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 (Section 145) and there is no ambiguity in the Constitution. So, I don’t think there is any issue there. Let me first rule you out of order, Senator Mao.”