Has Buhari’s absence created power vacuum?

On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to the UK on an official visit.

While in the UK, he is due to hold discussions on Nigeria-British relations with Prime Minister Theresa May before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) scheduled for April 16 to April 20.

According to his media team, the president is also billed to meet with other prominent figures, including Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Plc, in connection with Shell and other partners’ plan to invest $15b in Nigeria’s oil industry.

However, not long after the president’s trip, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) raised an alarm that there is “power vacuum”. The opposition party called on the national assembly to address this issue.

Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP spokesman, had said: “By embarking on this vacation and abdicating his official functions without transmitting a written declaration to the president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives, and holding on to power while on vacation, President Buhari acted in gross violation of section 145 of the 1999 constitution (as amended).”

Last year when Buhari went on medical vacation, he handed over power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and informed the national assembly about this in line with the constitution. He did the same on previous occasions when he was on vacation but the PDP believes that the president has violated the constitution for not handing over power this time around.

TheCable examined PDP’s claims. Section 145 of the 1999 constitution which the opposition party cited states: “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.”

Nothing shows so far that Buhari is “unable to discharge” his duties as the country’s president from where he is currently.

The PDP claimed the president is on vacation and is attending to “personal matters” instead of official duties. This claim is difficult to verify. It would have been much easier if the constitution had differentiated between official duties of the president and his “private matters”.

Sub-section 2 of section 145 states: “In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this Constitution within 21 days, the National Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each house of 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.”

None of the conditions happens to be the case with Buhari’s visit – unless there is something the PDP knows Nigerians are not aware of. Did the constitution mandate the president to hand over power whenever he goes abroad? No.

There is no established ground on which the PDP can argue there is “power vacuum”. There is also no evidence that a government function or action was not carried out because of a purported “power vacuum” created by the president’s absence.

Although the party has a strong case to make over the silence on the return date of the president, there is need for caution at the moment. If Buhari stays abroad longer than usual and there is evidence that he cannot carry out his function, the PDP may blow hot but for now, it can keep its smoking gun.