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Senate overrules Buhari, affirms Osinbanjo Ag President

Senate overrules Buhari, affirms Osinbanjo Ag President

Amid heated debate, the Senate has overruled President Mu­hammadu Buhari’s naming of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Coordinator of National Affairs instead of as the Acting President.
Buhari had, in a letter he wrote to the National Assembly on his cur­rent medical vacation in London, said that Osinbajo would act as “Coordi­nator of National Affairs” during his absence.
But the Senate, in its resolution on Tuesday, declared that the portfo­lio was alien to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Upper House asserted that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was constitutionally empowered to exer­cise his role as the Acting President and not Coordinating Vice President.
President Buhari had transmit­ted a letter to the Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki which was read on the floor of the Upper House on Tuesday.
Buhari informed the lawmak­ers that he was proceeding on an­other medical follow-up to the United Kingdom (UK) and asked Osinbajo to coordinate the activities of the gov­ernment.
The letter reads in part: “In com­pliance with Section 145 {1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), I wish to inform the distinguished Sen­ate that I will be away for a scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor’s advice.”
“While I am away, the Vice Pres­ident will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept the distinguished assurances of my high­est consideration”.
Buhari had, in his previous let­ter to the Senate, said: “In compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Con­stitution as amended, I wish to inform the distinguished Senate that I will be away on a short medical vacation from Monday, January 23 to February 6, 2017 and while I am away, the Vice President (Osinbajo) will perform the functions of my office. Please, accept, as always, assurances of my highest es­teemed consideration.”
That was the third time Buha­ri had transferred power to Osinba­jo since his inauguration on May 29, 2015.
The first time was on February 5, 2016 when the President embarked on a five-day vacation. The second was in June 2016 when Buhari trav­elled to the UK for treatment of what the Presidency described as an ear in­fection.
Reacting sharply to the latest let­ter, which presented Osinbajo as Co­ordinating Vice President, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia North) un­der Order 43, noted the discrepan­cies in the President’s earlier and pre­sent letters on transfer of powers to the Vice President in his absence.
Ohuabunwa noted the conflict in the President’s communications and Section 145 of the Constitution, which spelt out the functions of the Vice President in the absence of the President as Acting President and not Coordinating Vice President on gov­ernment activities as it negates Buha­ri’s message to the Senate.
He said: “Whenever the Presi­dent transmits to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Rep­resentatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or other­wise that he is unable to discharge the functions of his office until he trans­mits to them the written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”
“Mr. President, I don’t think in our constitution we have anything like Coordinating President or Co­ordinating Vice President. It is either you are Vice President or you are Act­ing President and any letter should be unambiguous and very clear”.
Senator Ohuabunwa therefore faulted the letter for its ambiguity in transmitting the President’s intention to the Senate and insisted that the let­ter be sent back to the Presidency for amendment to enable the Upper House act on it.
He said: “So, I am saying that this letter really does not convey anything because coordinating has no space or any place in our constitution. We have been having letters like this; you told us he is the acting president and we know who to deal with as a Senate.
“This is the highest legislative body of any country and if you are sending us a letter it should be direct, unambiguous. So, I am saying that this letter is not right and should be sent back”.
The Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, appealed to his col­leagues to ignore the language used in conveying the President’s message, noting that Section 145 of the Consti­tution that was cited in the letter em­powering the Vice President as Acting President overrides the issue of Coor­dinating Vice President.
He said: “Mr. President, let me say that the point of order raised by my colleague and the explanation that subsequently followed shouldn’t have been and my reasons are simple.
“I still rely on the first paragraph of that letter which Mr. President wrote to this Senate and read by the President of the Senate and I will read Section (145):
“It reads that ‘whenever the Pres­ident transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declara­tion but he is proceeding on vacation...
“Any other word in this letter or indeed anywhere else is irrelevant. I therefore feel that Mr. President has done what the constitution requires him to do and I urge this Senate not to go ahead to discuss this because it’s not an issue. We have the budget and so many other serious issues for us to discuss and Nigerians are waiting”.
In his remarks, Saraki appealed to his colleagues to disregard the am­biguity in the letter and focus on the intention of the President which was captured in Section 145 of the Con­stitution and then ruled Ohuabunwa out of order.
Saraki said: “I think it is a very clear issue and what we should be guided by is the constitution and I think that it is clear; the letter has re­ferred to the constitution and there’s no ambiguity in the constitution. So, I don’t think there’s any issue there.”-The Authority

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