As Osinbajo acts as president

Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

In spite of the news making the rounds that President Muhammadu Buhari’s temporary absence is creating a feeling of pain and apprehension among certain characters in the polity, it is false and even mischievous to posit that such a feeling suggests that a vacuum has been created by Buhari’s absence. Equally unnecessary is the clamour by certain aggrieved quarters for President Buhari to resign on the basis of alleged incapacitation occasioned by weeks of absence. Either constitutionally or politically, no such vacuum exists. Therefore, the democratic polity should not be heated up by self-serving politicians trying to upturn the constitution.

It would be recalled that Buhari’s absence from public functions a few weeks before taking another leave to attend to his failing health as well as the letter he wrote to the Senate generated some controversy over succession amongst many politicians. What ignited the controversy was the dubious narrative interpreted from a clause in the said letter. In the letter the president had stated that the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would “coordinate the affairs of government as vice president.” To many, this letter, which seemed like an oracular missive laden with unsavoury interpretations, must not be taken as innocuous as it seemed; hence the debate it generated.

However, that earlier debate had more heat than fire, for as time has shown, the constitution has prevailed: Osinbajo is the acting president with the substantive powers of the president. Section 145 of the Constitution, which grants that power states as follows: “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.”

There are some lessons to be learnt from all this. Firstly, Nigeria has passed through this road before. And despite the controversy it caused, the country did not burn. Nigerians weathered the storm of rancour and war. Secondly, this is not the first country to have experienced this same situation. Many democracies have found themselves managed at a time their presidents were temporarily absent from office due to ill health. In the United States alone, the exploits of Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan come to mind. As a young democracy, Nigeria should learn from triumphs and failures of old players of the game in situations of national emergencies. This is where the required sense of political history and the maturity to take prudent decisions are most invaluable to Nigerian politicians and political office holders.

Those who think there is a vacuum in the presidency have already wished the president ill. Even in advance, they have already schemed him out of the precinct of power by their unnecessary posturing and devious machination. But then, assuming such roles under the pretext of tinkering with the constitutional provision is like playing God. This is the greatest folly of those who allow the dictates of just reason to be beclouded by the illusive grandeur of self-serving inclinations. Again, as unpredictable as nature is, when the president experiences a total recovery, what then would these schemers say?

Moreover, notwithstanding the dubious narrative contrived by certain belief-systems, religious doctrines or personal thinking about ill-health, that one can fall ill or be incapacitated is a fact of human life. As the biological sciences teach, it is truth of human limitation that every passing day of a man’s mortal life is a gradual degeneration of his bodily function, and by that fact the limitation of certain faculties. To live is to be truly human.

As Osinbajo discharges his duties as Acting President in compliance with the provisions of the constitution, Nigerians should rally round him for hitch-free governance of the country. It would be a mark of disrespect and disservice to this country if any individual or group of people views the president’s absence as an avenue to pursue self-seeking agenda. Even the president expressed “absolute confidence” that government would continue to run smoothly whilst he is away. If Nigerians had any respect for the office and person of the president, they would be enthused by the level of confidence he has reposed in the Vice President, and be willing to co-operate with him.

It would be recalled that when President Buhari returned from his earlier medical trip, he acknowledged and commended Osinbajo’s deployment of youth and intellect in an exemplary management of the affairs of the country. Nigerians, especially public officers and politicians, should not misinterpret the present situation as an opportune moment to take laws into their hands. In times like this, when mischief-makers are likely to be contriving narratives of division and needless encumbrances, public spirited Nigerians would do well to ensure that no tension exists in the course of duty between the Acting President and other loyalists of the president whilst the former takes full control of governance. They should ensure the smooth running of government by according total loyalty to the Acting president while carrying out their responsibilities to the state and its citizens.

Irrespective of the letter authorising the vice president to act, Nigerians should not heat up the polity by conjuring up dubious misrepresentation of actions and engaging in wicked speculations.



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