- Amidst heightened suspicion
President Muhammadu Buhari has temporarily relocated the Presidency to the United Kingdom where he signed the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (PSC) Amendment Bill into law yesterday.
Starnews had reported that Buhari left Saudi Arabia on Saturday where he spent five days on an official trip, and later moved to the UK for a private visit which the presidency said will last till November 17 without handing over to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Daily Trust reports that while in London, Buhari yesterday announced through a post on his official Twitter handle, @MBuhari the signing of the amendment to the Deep Offshore Act.
Buhari had in the past allowed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to act as president even when he intended to spent fewer days, a development that gave leverage to his deputy to take serious decisions relating to governance.
For instance, Buhari had while on foreign trips including during his long medical vacation in London, allowed Osinbajo to act as president following the transmission of letters to the National Assembly in line with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
The section 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.”
Also, when the president was proceeding on a 10-day vacation in London in 2018, he handed over to Osinbajo to act from August 3 to 13. However, some politicians and activists spoken to yesterday said something was wrong in the villa, insisting that the fact that the president signed a bill while abroad was to send a strong signal that the vice president will not be allowed to take serious decisions anymore.
”The action doesn’t give a picture of good working relationship between the president and the vice president because the president is supposed to be on leave,” said Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
”Inasmuch as signing the bill is good, the timing will create space for suspicion. It is important to avoid things that will create unnecessary misunderstanding and suspicion because it will affect governance,” he said.
A lecturer at the University of Lagos, Dr. Kayode Esuola, said what happened was an indication that the president is now not comfortable with the vice president. ”There is the question of trust,” he said. “I think that the president is uncomfortable over the rumour and counter rumour, insinuation and counter insinuation that Osinbajo wants to vie for the presidency in 2023,” he said.
The Executive Secretary of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform, Dr. Wunmi Bewaji said it is not every time the president must transmit a letter to the National Assembly while travelling out. “The fact that he is president of Nigeria does not mean that he cannot attend to personal issues. The president that we elect is a human being. No business of the state is said to be suffering as a result of him travelling. And in this modern age of communication, the president can be in Ghana, Gabon or anywhere and perform his functions,” he said.
When contacted to speak on why Buhari did not hand over to Osinbajo, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said the constitution provided that the president or governor should hand over to their deputies should they be absent for a period exceeding 21 days. Shehu said President Buhari is currently on vacation and at work, adding that he had not violated any law.
”I don’t know if there is any reason… If you are discussing the constitution, what the law says is that there should be a hand over by president or governor to their deputies in cases of their absence for a period exceeding 21 days. In this particular instance, the president is on vacation and at work, as you may have seen him carrying out state duties at his present location. In any case, the period of his absence is 17 days, which suggests to you that there is no legal or constitutional incident or a breach,” he said.
A source at the presidency also told Daily Trust that the vice president was not acting. The source, which pleaded not to be named, said Nigerians would have known if Osinbajo was acting. “Can the vice president be acting in secret? The president has gone away and Malam Garba Shehu has said on Channels yesterday (Sunday) that he (President Buhari) is going to be working where he is as president,” he said.
The London action
The presidency, also yesterday through a statement signed by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, announced the signing of the (PSC) Amendment Bill into law, saying the country will now receive fair and equitable share of its natural resources for the first time.
The statement said a combination of complicity by politicians and delay tactics by oil companies had kept taxes to the barest minimum above $20 per barrel over the years. But now, Buhari said increased income will provide for new hospitals, schools, infrastructure and jobs, describing yesterday as an important day for all Nigerians, particularly the young generation.
”Today, I signed into law the amended Deep Offshore Act. Nigeria will now receive its fair, rightful and equitable share of income from our own natural resources for the first time since 2003. In that year, oil prices began a steep increase to double – and at times – triple.”
”All this time Nigeria has failed to secure its equitable share of the proceeds of oil production for all attempts to amend the law on the distribution of income have failed. That is, until today. Rapid reductions in the cost of exploration, extraction and maintenance of oil fields had occurred over these 25 years, at the same time as sales prices have risen.”
Under the amended law, the president said 200 million Nigerians will start to receive a fair return on the surfeit of resources of the lands.
Things Osinbajo did as acting president
Daily Trust reports that it was while the vice president was acting president that he transmitted a letter to the National Assembly seeking the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on July 14, 2016. The Senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki, however, rejected Magu after many months of politicking. Also, Daily Trust recalls that it was while Osinbajo was acting president in February 2017 that a letter seeking the confirmation of then acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, was transmitted to the Senate.
Similarly, while acting as president, Osinbajo in August 2018 sacked the Director General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Lawal Daura, one of the most powerful kitchen cabinet members of the administration, following the invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the service.
Sources at the villa claimed that the sacking of Daura angered the people around the president, hence the decision never to hand over to him again to serve as acting president. Also, Osinbajo’s order that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police be disbanded and overhauled while he was acting as president improved his popularity with many Nigerians especially those who had had nasty experiences in the hands of the operatives.
Lawyers, others speak
Reacting to yesterday’s development, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said Section 145 of the Nigerian Constitution gives the president a window of 21 days within which he could be on vacation without sending any letter to the National Assembly mandating the vice president to act on his behalf.
For his part, Ahmed Raji (SAN) said the president has not breached any law so long as he is on a private working visit. “But if he is going for one month, two months, then that may call for handing over. Otherwise, you would be ridiculing the entire provisions of the constitution with calls for handover and for the vice to act. “If he goes to Daura will he need to hand over? What is the difference between going to Daura and London? He is on a working visit and you can reach him on his phone,” Raji added.
An elder statesman and former presidential candidate of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie also said Buhari has not violated any law regarding his current trip to the UK. Chief Okorie, who is the current National Chairman of UPP, said “President Buhari has been following due process. He is still acting within the provisions of the law.”
Professor Osinbajo had through a memo in September received a presidential directive asking him to seek presidential approvals before taking actions in some agencies he was asked to superintend. The vice president chairs the governing boards of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and the National Boundary Commission (NBC). He also chairs the Board of Directors of Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), a limited liability company owned by the three tiers of government, as well as Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP).
Before the memo, President Buhari had disbanded the Economic Management Team (EMT) headed by Osinbajo and replaced it with an Economic Advisory Council (EAC).