The present ongoing visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the UK on a private visit and his act of signing into law, a bill titled,” Amended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Bill.” Doing this in a foreign country, the UK, has evoked mixed reactions from Nigerians.
As expected , some government apologists and sympathisers have already queued behind him and argued that he can govern Nigeria from any part of planet earth. Haba. No so.
This is a constitutional aberration,to say the least.The preamble to the 1999 Constitution (though a pure lie) commenced that “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria….do hereby make,enact and give to ourselves,the following Constitution”.Section 5(1) of the said Constitution vests the executive powers of the Federation in the president.
He shall exercise these powers “either directly or through the Vice President and Ministers of the government of the Federation or Officers in the Public Service of the Federation”.See also section 130 of the Constitution.
The corolary of this is that the Constitution does not envision a one-man riot squad,or an absolutist dictator whose absence will automatically cripple governance.Surely,the President is only president of the enclave called Nigeria.
Nigeria is a sovereign country. She has geographical boundaries that are recognised by the United Nations. She can not by herself arbitrarily extend or expand her boundaries, whether in governance or influence.The President may travel abroad, either on official, or private visits.But,he must inform the NASS (which, by the way, now appears to be a mere toothless rubber stamp).
He did not.The defecto (even if not demure VP,ABBA Kyari,Buhari’s Chief of Staff,flew the bill to him in London.The United Kingdom where Mr President is currently is however not part and parcel of the entity Nigeria.That is why section 145 of the 1999 Constitution makes provisions for transfer of powers to his Vice president as “Acting President” with the approval of the NASS, through a letter to the the Senate President and Speaker,House of Representatives,whenever “he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office”.
Travelling abroad outside the shores of Nigeria,except where it is on declared official duties,certainly amounts to “proceeding on vacation”,no matter what colouration of interpretation any one may want to give to it.The president’s spokesperson had publicly told Nigerians the president would travel abroad to spend 15 days on “a private visit” and return on 17th November,after attending an official Summit in Saudi Arabia.
A private visit is what it means.”private”, not “official”.How can a whole president of the biggest black nation on earth (even if President of one tiny banana Republic),begin to perform functions as important as signing an Act Parliament in a foreign land? Why did the Constitution provide for a joint ticket for a President and Vice President in section 142(1)? The section specifically provides that “a candidate for an election to the office of President shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party for his running for the office of President,who is to occupy the office of Vice President “.
This important section was to ensure that there shall never be a void,lacuna or gap in governance,which is a continuum.Can President Donald Trump of USA or Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom,or even President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa come to Nigeria on “a private visit” and begin to sing laws for their country right here in Nigeria? Don’t we have national pride or self-esteem as a sovereign nation? Why is the Vice President there in the first instance? To be an ineffective messenger,”tradermoni” dispenser,president’s representative at convocation and turbanning ceremonies? What was so urgent about this bill which has been pending for years that it couldn’t wait for Mr President’s return? Can the NASS or Supreme Court in Nigeria therefore take a cue to go and sit in London to conduct legislative and judicial duties respectively?
The world is laughing at us.I get embarrassed by the kind of condescending questions I am asked about governance in Nigeria whenever I travel abroad.We are fast reducing the serious act of governance in a constitutional democracy of a 200 million people to the ludicrous template of a Baba Sallah’s Alawada Keri Keri Dance Troupe’s histrionics and the theatrical melodramatic.
Mike Ozekhome is a lawyer and human rights activist, holding the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He is known for his work as a constitutional lawyer.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.