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Sunday, 28 April 2019

UK visit: SANs fault Buhari’s refusal to write National Assembly, transmit power

UK visit: SANs fault Buhari’s refusal to write National Assembly, transmit power

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has described as illegal President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘private visit’ to London and his refusal to inform the National Assembly.

Falana said this during an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday

The senior advocate said Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution stated expressly that whenever the President was travelling out of the country on vacation, he must transmit a letter to the National Assembly.

The activist said, “No doubt, the President is entitled to embark on local and foreign trips to attend the engagements of family members and friends like other citizens.

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“But the President is not permitted by the constitution to abandon the enormous responsibilities of his office for 10 days on account of a private visit to the United Kingdom or any other country whatsoever.

“Since President Buhari’s current private visit to the UK for an undisclosed mission has made it impossible for him to preside over the meeting of the Federal Executive Council and perform other functions of his office, he should transmit a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives in compliance with Section 145 (1) of the Constitution.”

He said as long as the President could not fully carry out the functions of his office, he ought to inform the legislative arm of government.

Falana stated, “Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the controversial private visit, President Buhari is deemed in law to be on vacation or leave of absence for 10 days.

“Whether the President is on vacation or not is not in dispute, but that he is unable to discharge the functions of his office for 10 days.

To that extent, the President has to comply with Section 145 (1) of the Constitution which states that, ‘Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or otherwise, unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as acting President’.”

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He wondered why the Presidency refused to inform the nation of the President’s mission to the UK as Buhari remained the chief public officer.

Falana said, “The official claim that the President is not on vacation has failed to address the constitutional implications of the privacy of the visit of the Head of the Federal Government which is administered on the basis of accountability and transparency.

“Under the current democratic dispensation, the movement and activities of the No 1 Public Officer in the country cannot be shrouded in secrecy.”

Also, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, another human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said the President’s decision to travel out on a private visit was not only unconstitutional but immoral.

The senior advocate said the President, as the number one public office holder, had no right to embark on a private visit without informing Nigerians of the purpose of the visit.

He wondered why the President, who had been informing the National Assembly of his previous travels and had been delegating power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as acting President, would suddenly change.

He said, “The entire journey is not only illegal, it is also unconstitutional and immoral. It is immoral in the sense that the President travelled with the tax-payers’ money.

“The day the President was sworn in, he ceased to be a private citizen and he became a public figure whose public outings must be known, especially when he is outside Nigeria.

“The visit is illegal and unconstitutional because he did not transmit a letter to the Senate that till he returns, the Vice-President will be the acting President and perform the duties of the President.”

Also, another SAN and Queen’s Counsel, Prof. Fidelis Oditah, said although the trip might not be illegal, it violated constitutional provision that required the President to transfer power to the Vice-President whenever he was on vacation.

Oditah, whose QC title is the England’s equivalent of the Nigerian SAN, said the President’s “private” trip abroad qualified as a vacation.

He added, “How is the trip illegal? I think it is better to say that the President violated the provision of the constitution which requires him to transmit a letter to the National Assembly transmitting power to the Vice-President.

“I don’t know if that, by itself, makes the trip illegal. But I suppose it’s a matter of semantics.

“I think the Constitution is clear that whenever the President wishes to go on vacation, he is required to inform the National Assembly and to transmit a letter that he is transferring the reins of power to the Vice-President.

“I am not sure of what the President says he is doing, but if the President were to be on an official duty outside the country for five or six days, he would not be required to transmit a letter. But here he says he is making a private visit to the United Kingdom for 10 days, and I think that will count as a vacation, whether he says it is a vacation or not.”

But another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Paul Ananaba, said the trip was not illegal, stating that every issue should not be politicised.

He said, “The trip is not illegal. Transmitting letter has to do with whether the Vice President should act or not. We should not politicise every issue in the country.

“Transmitting letter or not has to do with which role the Vice President will play when the President is on a foreign trip and not the illegality or otherwise of the trip.”

When contacted, the spokesperson for the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), said he was not competent to speak on the issue but the President’s spokespersons.

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