The Explainer: Now that Buhari has spent over 90 days in the UK, what next?

by Samuel Okike

Today marks exactly 91 days since President Muhammadu Buhari flew out Nigeria on his second medical vacation in London, UK.

Amidst his absence have been speculations – and outright – accusations that the ailing president might not be physically/medically fit to continue as president.

Prior to this present trip, Buhari had been in London for 49 days also on a medical vacation, before jetting out again for another “indefinite medical follow-up” less than two months after.

The frequency and length of his trips, and the heavy secrecy surrounding the state of his health fuelled concerns, speculations, and rumours regarding the president’s fitness to rule.

One of the rumours that quickly took primetime was that according to Nigeria’s constitution, the president had an ultimatum requiring him to return to the country within 90 days of travelling, else he would be impeached.

Well, the truth is, it is way more complicated than that.

The Nigerian constitution does not explicitly give a maximum duration for how long the president can be on vacation. As the president has duly transferred powers to the Vice President, he can stay in London for as long as he wants.

To put it plainly, the Constitution states in Section 145 that provided that the president presents the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives with a “written declaration” that he is going on vacation or that he will be unable to discharge his functions, then the Vice President will continue to discharge the functions of Acting President until the President sends another written declaration stating otherwise – however long it takes.

This area is air-tight as far we know because on May 7 when Buhari jetted out on his medical trip, his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, released a statement claiming that the president had followed due process.

“Govt to function normally under VP,” Adesina said. “President Buhari has transmitted letters about the trip to the Senate and the House of Representatives, in compliance with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.”

However, there is another provision in the constitution that can allow for the president to be deemed medically unfit to lead, but there’s a catch. It is fully dependent on the Federal Executive Council – the ministers – making it susceptible to politicization, and it is a pretty complex process.

Here’s a breakdown of the process, as stated by Section 144 of the Nigerian Constitution.

For the president to be removed from office on the ground of ill-health;

1. A resolution must be passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation declaring that the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office

2. The declaration must be verified in a report to the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives after “as many medical examinations as may be necessary” has been performed by a 5-man medical panel which, according to Subsection (4) of Section 144, will be appointed by the Senate President.

One member of the medical panel must be the president’s personal physician, while the other four will be chosen by the Senate president based on their medical expertise.

3. If after rigorous examinations the medical panel certifies in its report to the Senate president and Speaker of House of Representatives that the president is so ill that he’ll permanently be incapable of discharging the functions of his office, the Senate president and Speaker of House of Reps will then publish a signed notice in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.

4. At this point, the president will cease to hold office.

So, clearly, there’s no precise ultimatum for when Buhari should return to the country, and the topic of impeaching him on the basis of his health is a tricky one.

Therefore, the long and short of the matter is that, unless the Ministers unanimously decide to declare Buhari unfit to hold office, he can remain on his medical vacation since he presented a written letter to the Senate and the House of Representatives officially transferring power to Osinbajo as Acting President.

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