The prolonged absence of President Muhammadu Buhari following his vacation to London has engendered pro and anti-government protests. SOLOMON AYADO writes on the role of the National Assembly.
Is it true that the absence of President Muhamadu Buhari is having an effect on governance? Can the National Assembly question the absence of the President on the fact that a vacuum is being created? Why is it that the lawmakers have become more defensive, seemingly not evolving serious legislative action to end the agitations? Are the lawmakers simply playing politics hence the varied protests? Is there any inducement? When will the President return or resign? And if he (Buhari) does not return in the expected time, what would be the next line of legislative action?
These are among many unanswered questions spinning the narratives of concerned members of the public on the prolonged absence of President Muhammadu Buhari. The people are suspecting some maneuverings from an unnamed cabal in the Presidency, faulting the the role of the National Assembly, whether it will institute a legal framework to end the varied agitations or not.
As the President continue to stay away, there are issues and varied protests from groups and associations that he should return or resign. This is largely due to the fact that the people are unaware of the actual medical issue that is keeping the President away.
To add to the agitation of a confused people, the National Assembly and the Presidency have so far, defended the inexplicable absence, said no matter how long the president stays, he (Buhari) does not violate any law.
Agreed. But what is most shocking to pundits is the snail walk of the lawmakers which, they say, in no small measure, has caused a volcanic disorder to many Nigerians who are quite concerned about the situation. Many are wondering what must have being the health challenge that has kept the President away and while the handlers are quite passionate to cover the obvious, with NASS in muting silence.
Buhari no less, is sick and not strong enough to quickly return and continue with business of governance, according to reports. With the history of the ailment of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the ongoing incident of Buhari’s absence have left many more agitated in order to avoid the repeat of the previous. This is not in anyway to say that Nigerians wish bad for their ailing President.
In the build up of the agitations that the President was either dead or alive, seven state governors had visited the recuperating Muhammadu Buhari in London.The delegation was led by Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari, who doubles as chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum.
He was joined by governors Dave Umahi (Ebonyi State), Umar Ganduje (Kano State), Kashim Shettima (Borno State), Samuel Ortom (Benue State), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom State) and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo State).The visit had been announced by presidential spokespersons Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu and Laolu Akande.
But the visit did not proffer quick answers to the many questions begging explanations on the health status of the President, neither it did made plain or comprehensible the reason for his non-return. There are suggestions from some quarters that it is over 90 days since the President went on medical leave and that such a long stay is affecting governance.
So far, the National Assembly is in a better position to getting clarity on the matter but it seems the lawmakers are cut in the political web, not really free from the shenanigans to serve justice to the absence of the President and profer solution to the lacuna it has created, if any.
Pro And Anti Buhari Protests
Since the President went on medical leave, over 90 days ago, political pundits including market men and women, are not comfortable with the overstay and especially that the journey is lacking explanations.
Varied protests groups have joined in the calls for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation, over his health status. In Abuja and others cities in the country, the protests are same and the protesters who ground activities are vehement that the absence of Buhari is a sign that he can no longer continue to rule the country.
There was a #ResumeorResign campaign by a coalition of civil society activists, under the aegis of ‘Our-Mumu-Don-Do Movement’ who converged at the popular Unity Fountain, in Maitama, Abuja.
It was led by entertainment icon, Charles Oputa, popularly called Charley Boy, and was joined by members of the #BringBackOurGirls group and some notable Nollywood actors.The protest however, turned bloody as police dispatched the Oputa led group, using tear gas and injured many.
The coalition urged the president to resign, insisting that he (Buhari) had once asked the late President Musa Yar’Adua to resign or be impeached in 2010 when he was also sick. The groups are demanding that the president demonstrates his integrity and take the path of honour by resigning from office since he is incapacitated.
According to Deji Adeyanju, who convened the protest, Buhari ought to have resigned after spending over three months outside the country on medical leave. “A president that has been sick for 94 days would resign if he has integrity. Posterity would be unkind to all those who visited Buhari, but failed to advise him to do the right thing because of selfish reasons,” Deji added.
In another twist, a pro-Buhari group, Coalition for Good Governance Initiative and Change, had marched with banners in praise of the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari administration.
Another pro-Buhari group, Centre for Civil Society and Justice (CCSJ) was at the Unity Fountain. The group’s convener, Goodluck Obi told newsmen that Buhari acted in the ambit of the law. But the police did not violently dispatch the pro-Buhari group.
To blatantly say the protesters have embarked on a malicious journey to cause acrimony is not true. They have the right to air their views, so far as it is done peaceful and orderly. It is however, may be unlawful when such protests are built on thrust of violence and criminality.
A NASS With Double Face?
The political space was sure that the Senate and the House of Representaives would evolve stringent legislative actions, on a matter that the absence of the president was prolonged. Expectedly, the Senate had somehow tasted the waters to allege the ailing President overstayed but by political arrangement, it quickly twisted it .
While the antics of politics is majorly an issue that is nearly dismissing the trust of the constituents on their representatives, the sort of political maneuverings by lawmakers always depict that of a people that are not satisfactorily reliable.
While proponents for the need for the ailing President to return or resign, considering the long stay as unlawful, the leadership of the Senate does not agree with this notion, stating categorically that Buhari has violated no law.
Retrospectively, it was Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) who during plenary while the Senate had converged to discuss restructuring of the country, raised a motion declaring the absence of the President and Vice President which, he said, created a vacuum that needed to be urgently filled.
Unfortunately, it was quite apt it came and happy were some Senators over the motion. But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki had quickly, and smartly too, ruled it out of order. This ruling, certainly did not go down well with some Senators, especially the anti-Buhari. Several Senators who have spoken on condition of anonymity have decried the long absence of Buhari, saying it is not right at all.
However, before the people will conclude that the Senate want to solve the matter, it delved into another twist. This time, in defense of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying there is no law that bars him from staying outside the country for medical checks beyond 90 days.
Specifically, the Red Chamber told sponsors and organizers of the protest by some Nigerians, who call themselves concerned citizens against the continued stay of the president in the United Kingdom on medical vacation, to leave Buhari alone because he has not violated any law of the land.
This was contained in a statement signed by the chairman, Senate committee on media and public affairs, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi. It said the protesters were only heating up the polity, describing their demands as unreasonable.
“The president has broken no law and therefore we do not see any justification for this diversion and noise making. The sponsors are merely seeking cheap publicity at the expense of the peace of Nigeria.
“We, in the National Assembly, are satisfied that there is no vacuum. The Federal Government is working. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is providing the required leadership. So, there is no reason for the protests.
“All Nigerians now should focus on praying for the safe return of the President. We in the Senate are happy about the report by the Governors and party leaders who recently visited President Buhari in London and we know he will soon return to continue to provide leadership to our people and the rest of Africa.
“We therefore call on the protesters to stop all these demonstrations and let their sense of patriotism overshadow the zeal for activism by joining other Nigerians to pray for the President, the acting President and Nigeria as a country at this critical period,” it stated.
Seriously, no one seems to understand where the Senate is standing, whether with Buhari or not. Just as it insisted that the absence of the president is lawful, it is saying in another hand condemning the action of the Nigeria Police that dispersed a group of protesters in Abuja campaigning against the medical vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Sabi Abdullahi, chairman senate committee on media and public affairs, the Senate stated that it condemned “the subject of the protest which is aimed at forcing President Buhari to either terminate his medical vacation or resign, the Upper Chamber of the Federal Legislature would not support any violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians”.
“While we are opposed to the subject of the protest, the Senate acknowledges the fact that the protesters have the constitutional right to gather and express their views in a manner that will not breach public peace, order and tranquility. Since the ‘Our-Mumu-Don-Do’ protesters did not conduct themselves in such a manner as to disturb public peace, it is not right for the police to brutalize the people as they reportedly did.The police should review their rules of engagement and ensure that they are in line with that of modern democratic societies.”
End Of Legislature-Executive Fracas?
The ongoing fracas between the executive and legislature is yet to see any truce. However, it is suspicious for the presidency to hail any action by the Senate, especially on the absence of the President. Does it mean some inducement may have exchanged? That is a question for another discourse.
The disagreement between Senate and the Presidency appear unresolvable and still not addressed. The Senate had placed a ban on confirmation of all appointments from the executive. Political pundits are of the view that if not for any political marriage of convenience or realignment to satisfy self-seeking demands, it is not possible for the lawmakers to suddelny collapse together, on the issue, when their crisis is not over.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, commended the Senate for its stance that the president has not violated the law by staying off duty for months.
According to Mr. Enang, “The stance of the senate is very patriotic; very commendable and very constitutional.The senate has always stood right and upright on matters of national interest and whenever there is objection or anything that the senate has objection to, we look at it maturely and we look at it amicably and in this particular situation as in most other situations I commend the senate. We thank the senate for the stabilizing statement and for the position they have taken because it is the position of the law of the constitution.’’
As it stands, constitutional lawyers and members of the inner bar have posited unequivocally that there is no constitutional provision mandating President Muhammad Buhari to return to the country from his current medical vacation before the end of 90 days, and or resign.
But at the moment, what is of most concern to many people is that the National Assembly be up with a definite stand since it is the highest law making arm of government. Keeping politics aside, pundits opined that NASS should respect the views of majority of Nigerians and declare whether the President should return or resign. This posit, they note will not just set records straight but impact the trust and confidence of the citizenry in the legislature, and let development thrive in governance.