President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday received some barbs from Nigerians for signing the Amended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Bill while he is on a private visit to the United Kingdom.
The President had jetted out of the country on October 28 in the first leg of the trip to Saudi Arabia, while the second leg as a private visit to London, started on November 2. He will be away from Nigeria till November 17.
Buhari signing the Deep Offshore (amendment) Bill in London, raised questions on whether Osinbajo could not have signed the new law back home in Nigeria.
Some organisations, including the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Transition Monitoring Group, in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Tuesday, said Buhari’s action was an indication of impunity in his administration.
But the Presidency, in a swift response, said the President could perform his duties from any part of the world. It added that it was the duty of the National Assembly to say if the President had transmitted power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
Nigeria under one man’s rule – Afenifere
Commenting on Buhari’s action, Afenifere said the fact that the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, travelled to London to present memos and bills to Buhari showed that Osinbajo was practically out of Buhari’s government.
The spokesman for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, told The PUNCH that the seeming demotion of Osinbajo was part of the next level strategy of Buhari.
Odumakin said, “This is evidence that Nigeria is now under one man’s rule. You can see that the National Assembly is a rubber stamp while the judiciary has been cowed. The Vice-President is practically out and that is all part of the next level.”
The Afenifere spokesman told Osinbajo not to be deceived by the words of the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Farouk Umar, who had last week commended the loyalty of the Vice-President to the President and described their relationship as unequalled in the history of the country.
“Those who think that the Emir of Daura passed a vote of confidence in Osinbajo should go find out the meaning of ‘Taqiya.’”.
It is dangerous – ADC
Also, the National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress, Chief Ralphs Nwosu, said it was lack of due process in the government of Buhari for the chief of staff to take a bill to the President in London.
Nwosu, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Tuesday, said the action was wrong and dangerous for Nigeria’s democracy.
It’s unethical – Ex-CDHR boss
Also, a former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, said it was unethical and unpatriotic for the President to sign a bill outside the country.
He stated, “A few questions are relevant here. Why did the President not transmit power this time to the Vice-President? Why was it the Chief of Staff and not the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Legislative Matters, that took the amended Deep Shore Bill to him for signature?”
Buhari’s presidency, now a travel agency – Group
The Chief Executive Officer of a United States-based group, Nigeria Law Group, Emmanuel Ogebe, on his part, said, “The post of the Chief of Staff is not a constitutional office, but it is now greater than the Vice-President post which is a constitutional office.
“This means if you are from the North and a toilet cleaner, that can elevate you over and above a southerner who occupies a constitutional office. We’re back to the era of Yar’Adua when documents were shipped abroad for signature notwithstanding the national security implications of such.”
It’s executive lawlessness – Ohanaeze
Also, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the action of Buhari as executive lawlessness.
The Ohanaeze’s National Publicity Secretary, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the bill signed into law in London could not be binding on Nigerians.
He added that if the President wanted the law to be binding on Nigerians then it should be signed in Nigeria.
Achi-Okpaga stated, “I won’t be surprised that this is happening, that is the height of abuse of executive powers. You see they have just watered the executive powers and made it to look like nonsense.”
“Apart from the legal implications, how do they think the outside world, the foreign countries would be looking at us? They are looking at us as a state of lawlessness. Why would the President deal with his official executive office in a foreign country? He goes to a foreign land to sign bills that are meant to bind Nigerians. It doesn’t obtain anywhere and it shouldn’t even be mentioned anywhere.”
“What is the mission of the President outside in United Kingdom? Is his mission private or official? What is it that he cannot come back to Nigeria to attend to files on his table? If you transmit a bill from the National Assembly, it goes to the table of the President for his assent. Was it the National Assembly that took it to the President overseas?”
Achi-Okaga said, “The Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide can never identify with that kind of situation. It is unheard of. What are we bequeathing to this country? It is a nation, where anything goes. It shouldn’t be mentioned.”
On whether the law can be binding on Nigerians, he said, “The National Assembly cannot transmit a law to a foreign country and if they should transmit a law to a foreign country, the law should be binding on the country where it is signed and not on Nigeria. If he wants the law to operate on Nigeria, the law should be signed in Nigeria.”
Buhari now prefers working overseas – NBA
Also, the Nigerian Bar Association faulted Buhari. The association of Nigerian lawyers condemned the failure of the President who claimed to be on a private visit to London to transmit power to his deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
The Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Mr. Kunle Edun, said on behalf of the association that while the President was entitled to work abroad, important business of state like assenting to bills should not be performed outside the shores of Nigeria.
The association stated, “Ordinarily, there should be nothing wrong with the Nigerian President working from abroad. Visitations to world leaders and attending international conferences are working visits.”
“However, what we have found lately which is a sad norm is that the Nigerian President seems to prefer working more from his overseas base than being in Nigeria.”
“This unfortunate trend has now recently been extended to a situation where a Nigerian President would be assenting to a legislative bill in a foreign country.”
“Some may argue that the Nigerian House in London is part of the territory of Nigeria but the gaffe in such argument would be seen when we argue that the Supreme Court of Nigeria or the Senate of the National Assembly of Nigeria should also conduct their official businesses in the Nigerian House in London, or that the federal cabinet meeting should be held outside Nigeria.
He recalled that the President’s media aide told Nigerians that the President was in London for a ‘private visit’.
“I don’t know what can be private about a Nigerian President or top public official travelling outside Nigeria with the full complement of his official aides and paraphernalia of office, all at the expense of the Nigerian tax payers, and you call it a private visit
Cabal now in charge – TMG
The Chairperson of the TMG, Dr Abiola Akiyode Afolabi , said, “The development is condemnable. One would have expected that the Vice-President would play the role of the next in command, when the President is not available. It’s a confirmation of the fact that some cabals are in charge of government.”
While defending the President, his National Assembly Liaison Officer, Mr Umar El-Yakub, said that it was the duty of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to inform Nigerians whether Buhari wrote the legislature transmitting power to the Vice-President before he embarked on his latest Saudi Arabia trip and London “private visit.”
El-Yakub noted that if a letter was sent, it was the National Assembly presiding officers who were empowered by law to say so and not a matter for the Presidency or any of Buhari’s aides to divulge.
El-Yakub, who spoke exclusively with The PUNCH amid the controversy on whether Buhari should have transmitted power to Osinbajo to fully take charge as acting President, declined to answer a direct question on whether the President wrote any letter.
He stated, “Normally, my office will not tell you. If there was any communication by Mr President to the presiding officers, they will be the ones to tell the world by reading the communication.”
“It is read normally on the floor, if there is any communication. It is not my office that will tell you there is a communication.”
Asked whether Buhari wrote the National Assembly for Osinbajo to be acting President, El-Yakub replied, “I am not going to speak on anything that is not my schedule or take issue with people out there on things that are not official.
“So, I repeat, any communication by Mr President to the National Assembly, it is the presiding officers who will broadcast the content to Nigerians; not me or my colleague in the Senate.”
However, El-Yakub defended Buhari’s decision to sign the Deep Seaport (amendment) Bill in London, arguing that he (Buhari) could work from anywhere.
He stated, “The office of the President does not have to be located in Abuja before he can perform that function. He can choose to perform the function of the office from Yenagoa, or Ado-Ekiti or even in his aircraft.”
“American Presidents have been shown performing their duties inside Air Force One, in the sky. In the same vein, President Buhari can sign bills anywhere in the world. He is doing his work as the President.”
On the public debate on whether Buhari should have transmitted power, El-Yakub said the matter could be taken for legal interpretation and “not for me or my colleague to say.”
When contacted on Tuesday, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, stated that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, would have read any letter from Buhari at the opening of the day’s plenary if there was any.
Kalu, however, said he was not sure if the Speaker was in possession of such letter.
He said, “I’m not aware of any. If there was such a letter, it would gone to the Speaker directly; it would not go through the House. There was no letter read to us (on Tuesday). Usually, it is the practice of the House that letters from Mr President will be read on the floor of the House. It is part of the orders of the day; it is given priority. But today, there was no letter that was read, unless it was an oversight from the Speaker.”
When contacted also, the Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media and Publicity, Mr Lanre Lasisi, stated that even though such letters are addressed to the presiding officer, they are meant for the entire chamber.
“It will come to the Speaker but at the end of the day, it is the House’ letter. So, please call the spokesman,” Lasisi said.
The All Progressives Congress National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said Buhari had the right to preside over Nigeria from any part of the world.
Oshiomhole, who spoke when he led the National Working Committee of the APC on a visit to the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, commended the National Assembly leadership led by Ahmad Lawan for the speedy passage of the deep offshore bill.
He said, “ I was very excited to see Mr President signing the(Amendment bill into law in London. The President recognises the fact that if the National Assembly could pass the bill as quickly as possible and come out with that fundamental amendment, that have enormous impact in our natural revenue, he as president also has to do the needful.”
“I think by signing the bill into law in Nigeria House in London, it shows that wherever the President is, he is presiding over Nigeria and with the benefit of modern technology.”
“We have passed the Mungo Park era. This shows that whenever national interest is involved, the president is on duty . wherever he is, he is presiding. I salute his asserting to the bill as quickly as he did.”
The 1999 Constitution provides in Section 145 (1), ‘’Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as acting President.’’
It adds in subsection (2), ‘’In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the National Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each House of the National Assembly, mandate the Vice-President to perform the functions of the office of the President as acting President until the President transmits a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions as President.’’
John Ameh, Eniola Akinkuotu, Sunday Aborisade, Friday Olokor, Success Nwogu, Leke Baiyewu, Ade Adesomoju and Rapael Ede for Punch News