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In the spirit of the Nigerian Constitution

By Emeka Asinugo
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It shocked me to read that Charles Oputa, our foremost Nigerian entertainer, was rough handled by the Nigeria Police while he was in a protest match with other Nigerians demanding for the return to office or the resignation of Gen. Buhari.

Good Lord! The demonstration was absolutely unnecessary in the first place.

Gen. Buhari was on the right track when, as a result of his ill health, he recommended the swearing in of his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo as the Acting President. That was in consonance with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution of 1999, as amended. So, what else did Nigerians want from their sickly leader?

It is not like General Buhari was born to rule Nigeria so that his absence must be necessarily seen as a vacuum in the political dispensation. Even kings do not occupy such exalted positions in their kingdoms. A king goes and a king comes. It is as simple as that.

Our Gen. Buhari did not create a vacuum in his office due to his illness. The Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo remains Mr President in an acting capacity. He also remains the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces until such a time that either the President returns to office or the Acting President is substantiated by the National Assembly.

But come to think of it. How could Nigerians forget so easily that by conceding the national leadership to Buhari even before the 2015 Presidential election

results were fully announced and being the first to congratulate the new President, former President Jonathan laid another good foundation for democracy in the country? He demonstrated through his action that politics in Nigeria was no longer a matter of do or die and that not a drop of the blood of any Nigerian was tantamount to his desire to remain in office as President. How could Nigerians forget so soon?

And who would want to think that Gen. Buhari and the APC would act differently? If General Buhari had thought he was recovering any time soon, he certainly would not have easily conceded to his deputy acting in the capacity of President. He conceded the position because he probably felt he would not be coming back to office so soon because of his health condition. And we all know how stressful the office of Mr President can be, meeting and discussing with all kinds of delegations from across the globe almost daily, in addition to his domestic commitments.

What we need to understand here is that Professor Osinbajo is not acting for President Buhari. He is acting as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I think this is the fact that is confusing most Nigerians and which may have induced them to stage a demonstration in which our dear Charles Oputa was said to have been rough handled by the Nigeria Police. The implication of the word “acting”, they seem to think in this instance for example, is that Professor Osinbajo is “acting for” or holding brief for President Buhari. But that is far from the truth because Buhari’s absence has not created a vacuum in the administration. The Acting President remains the de facto President until he is confirmed by the National Assembly as the substantive President. So, what are Nigerians supposed to be actually agitating about?

Honestly, my immediate reaction after I read about the Charley Boy incident from Chief Femi Fani-Kayode was that of annoyance that someone as knowledgeable as Charles Oputa should be involved in a protest for the “return” or “resignation” of Mr Buhari to Nigeria and to Aso Rock. Then I calmed down because I know how easily anyone in the public eye could drift – in an attempt to please all his fans at the same time.

Gen. Buhari is no longer Nigeria’s President by virtue of the fact that Nigeria now has an Acting President who should be confirmed at the appropriate time as the new President by the National Assembly in accordance with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution. That was how Dr Goodluck Jonathan became President, officially completing the tenure of his principal, Alhaji Musa Yar ‘Adua when he became very seriously ill and later died. So, these things have happened before and they didn’t call for demonstrations or the roughening of Nigerian citizens by the Police Force.

General Buhari’s case is not different from what happened in Taraba State just a few years back, after Governor Danbaba Suntai crashed his private jet in Adamawa State on 25 October 2012 and became bed-ridden. Those who were getting money from him by associating with him fought hard to hoodwink Nigerians about the condition of his illness. But sanity prevailed or so it seemed at the time his deputy, Garba Umar became acting Governor. Umar acted as governor from 14 November 12012 until 21 November 2016 when he was sacked by the Supreme Court for “illegally and unconstitutionally occupying the office.” Garba Umar appeared to be a greedy man but also his political career remains a lesson to be learnt by Nigerian politicians. Today, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is investigating allegations levied against him that he massively looted Taraba State’s treasury. It was reported that during his illegal reign as acting Governor, he threw financial and administrative propriety with impunity to the winds. He was accused of lacking accountability and being fiscally reckless. According to EFCC, Umar was to answer questions on a three-count charge, including conspiracy, theft and abuse of office.

Umar’s letter of invitation from the EFCC was received by the Taraba State government on 17 July, requesting the Secretary to the State Government, Anthony Jellason, to ask Umar to report to the EFCC for “an interview.”

Ironically, Jellason was fired by Umar as the Commissioner for Agriculture. Umar’s sack of Jellason and some of ex-Governor Danbaba Suntai’s top loyalists was generally believed to be politically motivated. And so, as far as they are concerned, most citizens of Taraba State demand that the probe of the former acting governor for allegedly stealing billions of the state’s funds and leaving Taraba in a debt of over N20billion, mostly incurred from bank overdrafts, be expedited with immediate effect.

Many of us still remember how some Taraba citizens played politics with Suntai’s ill health at the time. On the one hand, they stage-managed noisy, over-excited political reactions in Taraba State. On the other hand, they instituted a conspiracy of silence over the status of Suntai’s health following his plane crash.

After 10 months of medical treatment overseas, Suntai returned to the country on August 23, 2013. His supporters were quick to claim that he was fit to return to Government House, Jalingo. But after weeks of political manipulations, it was revealed that he was not healthy enough to live in Nigeria without adequate treatment, or to govern a state. He was flown abroad again for treatment and that was when his deputy, Garba Umar, was empowered by the Taraba State House of Assembly to fully take over from the governor in acting capacity.

Suntai was flown home in the build-up to the 2015 elections and he remained confined in Jalingo until after the change of leaderships on May 29, 2015.

After Architect Darius Ishaku was sworn in as governor of Taraba State Suntai’s condition gravely deteriorated. He returned to the United States where he underwent periodic therapy. Here, he lived in a private residence in Orlando, Florida where a team of doctors attended to him regularly. He was said to live there with his family members, including his wife, Hauwa, who often shuttled between America, Dubai and Nigeria.

While he was on his medical trip in the United States, the Taraba State government and close associates of the former governor were said to have abandoned him to his fate even as his health deteriorated. The Taraba State government was said to have been overwhelmed by the cost of caring for Suntai’s family and paying his medical bills, especially in the face of the current recession.

We know that Gen. Buhari’s case is not so different from that of former Governor Suntai who departed this country a few months ago to join his ancestors in the great beyond. So, why would Charley Boy and others see an agitation for his return or resignation as a necessity in a straight forward issue like this?

In the first 40 days and 40 nights that Professor Yemi Osinbajo was Nigeria's Acting President he gained more popularity among Nigerians. Many Nigerians felt that with the state of the nation in such a bad shape at the time, Osinbajo had much work to do to assure Nigerians he could handle the job. Some Nigerians even said they preferred him as their President to Gen. Buhari who had been away to the United Kingdom on medical grounds since Thursday, 19 January 2017.

As Acting President, Osibanjo initially impacted reasonably on the state of affairs in the country. On Friday 27 January he held a meeting with the executive director of the World Food Programme, Ms Arthurian Cousin. (pictured above)

On 1 February 2017, he presided over the Federal Executive Council meeting during which the Presidential Task Force on Food Security was mandated to reduce prices of food items in the country.

On 7 February he sent the name of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to the Senate for confirmation.

On February 8, he chaired the Federal Executive Council that approved N21 billion for the construction of the Ilorin-Omu /Aran-Kabba Road, Section I.

On February 15, the Acting President approved the award of N126 billion road projects spread across Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kwara, Gombe, Enugu and Kaduna states.

Between February 10 and 13, Osinbajo visited Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Capital in continuation of his interactive engagements with oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta Region. He then went to Port Harcourt, Rivers State Capital to meet stakeholders of the oil producing communities. During the meeting, he rolled out the framework for the clean-up exercise of Ogoni land.

On February 16, he presided over the first National Economic Council meeting of the year and directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to review the foreign exchange policy. The meeting also resolved that fresh $250 million be injected into the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The Central Bank of Nigeria subsequently released about $500 million through the interbank market, where 23 banks bought $371million.

On February 17, Professor Osinbajo signed seven bills into law. Among the bills were the Oaths (Amendment) Act 2017; Defence Space Administration Act 2017; Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) Act 2017.

On February 22 Professor Osinbajo chaired the Federal Executive Council meeting on infrastructural development in the country and approved N32 billion for the resuscitation and completion of the 50km dual carriage Kaduna Eastern By-pass highway. The Council also approved $39.9 million for the construction of the Cameroon-Nigeria border link bridge at Ikot Efiem. In addition, the Council approved the Revised National Policy on Environment.

On Friday 24 February, the Acting President informed the country that the Federal Government was planning urgent relief to poultry farmers in the country to save the industry from collapse.

He then paid an unscheduled visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, as part of the 60-day action plan for business reforms in the country. The visit took many airport workers by surprise. Osinbajo inspected facilities and interacted with airport officials. Less than 24 hours after his unscheduled visit to Lagos airport, the federal government announced the sack of 10 directors of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Three new directors and a general manager were also appointed for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

Professor Osinbajo has continued in this way to do the work required of the office of President. What else would an Acting President do? Let Nigerians hold their peace and have confidence in the fact that their elected representatives know their onions. It is true that there are ambiguities in the Nigerian

constitutions that need to be clarified. But as of now, the important knowledge is that there is an Acting President. It simply means that Gen. Buhari is not the President of Nigeria any longer. What Nigerians should work towards is for the National Assembly to confirm Osibanjo at the fullness of time as the substantive President and Nigerians can take it from there. There will be no need for this protest and no need to blame Buhari or anyone else for now. They are all working in the spirit of the Nigerian constitution.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emeka Asinugo and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."