Lawyers in the country and a Non Governmental Organisation, Advocacy for Integrity and Economic Development, AIED have expressed divergent views on the appellation of the “Coordinator of Government Businesses” used by President Muhammadu Buhari to describe Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, in the letter he sent to the Senate when leaving the country for medical follow-up in the United Kingdom.
The lawyers yesterday bared their minds in separate interviews with New Telegraph.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, said naming the Vice President as ‘Coordinator, Nation Affairs’ in the letter transmitted by President Buhari to the National Assembly is unconstitutional.
Ozekhome said there is nothing like “Coordinator of National Affairs” in our Constitution.
“That is a strange importation of an unknown term into our Constitution. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution specifically refers to “Acting President”, who “shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President” whenever “the president is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.”
"PMB may have used the term jokingly, to represent one who is fully in charge in his absence. Certainly, it is not legally or constitutionally correct,” he stated.
Another lawyer, Dr. Abdul Mahmud, also said the description of VP as co-coordinator is superfluous, adding that the description suggests that there are other VPs, with Osinbajo acting as the coordinating VP, a sort of VP inter pares.
“Coordinator, by its ordinary meaning, suggests that the Coordinating VP is a coordinator, an organizer of government business. Put in another way, that the power of the VP relates only to coordination and not the discharge of the functions of the office of the President as stipulated by S.145 of the CFRN 1999.
“The President’s power to discharge the functions of his office ends temporarily when he transmits letters to both chambers of the National Assembly stating ‘that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.
“The President cannot prescribe new functions for the VP outside such functions cognized by S.145 of the CFRN 1999.
“The marginal note of S.145 of the CFRN unequivocally names the VP as “Acting President during temporary absence of President.
“Those paragraphs of the President’s letters to the two chambers of the National Assembly that describe the VP as a coordinator are superfluous, ultra vires and unconstitutional.
They should be expunged from the record by both chambers of the National Assembly,” Mahmud stated.
In his own submissions, lawyer and rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, faulted the president on his choice of word, saying he has not transmitted power to the Vice President.
“As it stands in Nigeria today, we have no leader. There is no president and there is no Acting President in line with the provisions of the Constitution.
There is a vacuum. “The president has committed a constitutional illegality in travelling abroad without transmitting appropriate letter to the National Assembly.
The letter written by the president does not meet the requirements of Section 145 of the Constitution.
"This is because no president can travel out of his country for an indefinite period. He is not the doctor. The first time he travelled, he said he would be spending 10 days, but he later extended it.
"You cannot travel indefinitely in a country of more than 180 million people and hold the rest of us to ransom.
“Secondly, the president has no power to impose a ‘National Coordinator’ on the people of Nigeria contrary to the Constitution.
A coordinator is somebody who is equal in rank to another person. Such an individual is powerless and a ceremonial person.
“The implication of what the president has done is that he has not handed over power to the Vice-President, but to an invisible cabal.
As it is, the Vice-President has no power to take decisions and exercise the powers of the incumbent president,” Adegboruwa said.
Barr. Adekunle Fasugba noted that the term ‘Co-ordinator of Nation Affairs’ is a clear departure from the provision of the Constitution.
“The term is strange to our jurisprudence; it is not accepted in law.
The Constitution is very clear as to what is obtainable.
“There is nowhere in the constitution that the Vice President is described as a co-ordinator in the absence of the President, rather he is Acting President.
“The term, not being known to the constitution suggests mischief,” he stated.
However, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) was of the view that there should be no concern about the language used by the president to describe the Vice President in the letter.
According to him, the most important thing is that the president has complied with the provisions of the Constitution by transmitting the letter to the National Assembly when he was leaving for his trip abroad.
“I don’t think I have the right to comment on language used. All I know is that the relevant Section of the Constitution has been complied with and the Vice-President has transformed into an Acting President.
"It doesn’t matter what language was used. The important thing is that this letter was written and the provision of the Constitution has been complied with,” the silk said.
Speaking in the same vein, Seyi Sowemimo (SAN) said the controversy over the president’s language is unnecessary.
He said: “I think if the president does not use the appropriate words and we all know the circumstances, the Senate should just treat it as to the fact that there is an Acting president.
“We are all living witness to the state of health of the president and there has been clamour that he should hand over to his vice to attend to his health. I don’t think this is the time for us to be involved in unnecessary controversy.
“The Senate should just simply take it that he has done the needful. It is the substance of the letter that is important and not the appellation. There is nothing like the ‘Coordinator of the Nation’s Affairs’ in the Constitution and it is inappropriate for the president to use such word.”
Meanwhile, Advocacy for Integrity and Economic Development (AIED) has described the designation of Vice- President Yemi Osinbajo as ‘coordinator of national affairs’ via the notice of medical vacation submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari as a desecration of the office of the President and a complete aberration.
In a statement issued by its Director of Research and Publicity, Comrade O’Seun John, the group accused the ‘cabal’ within the presidency of plotting to create confusion in the country by its continuous interference with the decision of the President.
According to AIED: ” We are extremely saddened with the content of President Buhari’s letter where he neglected tradition and voice of sanity to dance to the tune of political vampires by importing a lexicon alien to our constitution. While we are aware of the unambiguous provision of section 145, we are frightened by signals such as this on the peace and unity of our country.
“The new designation of Professor Osinbajo can only be interpreted to mean that President Buhari does not trust him enough to act as the President in his absence. With this reality, we are now forced to ask: who does President Buhari truly recognise as the Acting President?
This act has put paid to any form of doubt that the powers controlling the affairs of the country have greater influence and perhaps, control than the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo” the statement read.