PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s deft decision to hand over to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo when he proceeded on a five-day vacation last weekend, has been described as institutional processes capable of strengthening and stabilizing the country’s polity.
Besides, the action is believed to have set a precedent particularly for the Governors at the state level that only those worthy to replace an office holder should be the deputy or vice president.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, the Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Dr. Remi Aiyede said the import of Buhari’s action should not be lost on the nation given what the country passed through during the period late President Umaru Yar’Adua was indisposed.
“We had a serious problem with regards to pronouncing an acting President especially under the regime of President Yar’Adua. Even when he was ill and he had to move out of the country, he did not hand over. So it became a major issue that was supposed to lead to constitutional crisis because the constitution did not provide for a situation where the President did not follow the procedure that he was supposed to observe before leaving the country,” he stated.
He noted that it was the Tenth or Eleventh Amendment to the constitution that eventually resolved the problem by making it automatic that once after 21 days the President is away without officially handing over, the Vice President becomes automatically the acting President.
“I think it is a good gesture and a mark of leadership that the president officially handed over even when he was going for just five days leave. So I think that it’s an example that is worthy of emulation and we hope that even when he is going on leave for a longer period, he would do the same,” he added.
In particular, Aiyede said that the state governors have to learn more from Buhari’s action because the aberration has become more or less the norm at the state level.
He recalled when former governor of Enugu state, Sullivan Chime was sick, as well as the ‘problematic case’ of Danbaba Suntai, former governor of Taraba, stressing that politically, it did not speak well of Nigeria as a truly democratic country where due process and rule of law prevails.
His words: “I think this good example is also an example not only for other presidents later, but also for sitting governors. Many of them don’t give their deputies significant portfolios and they operate as if they (deputies) don’t exist in the cabinet.
“I think its good for them to realize that the deputy should really be what it is, the deputy, who takes over when the governor is not around. And you can see the negative attitude to deputy governors being described as spare tyres in the case in Kogi state election. If deputy governors were officially recognized as those who will take over, once that man died it would have been easy for All Progressives Congress (APC) to just ask (James) Faleke to continue being the running mate.”
According to him, the constitutional understanding was that in case of illness or something, the deputy governor was to take over as acting governor and ultimately becomes the governor, saying that even in the Kogi case, before election was concluded, they did not feel it was automatic for the deputy governorship candidate to succeed the governorship candidate.
“So I think that these are some of the grey areas that the action of Mr. President is demonstrating that you don’t take somebody who is unworthy of replacing you as the vice president or the deputy governor. Deputy governors must automatically have a right to succession in a case where the governor is unable to continue in office. Its only when the tenure ends that party can decide whether he or she will succeed the governor or not. But if he or she succeeded the governor through the election as a running mate, automatically, the constitution recognizes that in the case of illness or death, the deputy governor or the vice president should take over,” he submitted.
Furthermore, he said: “I think that its proper that as events unfold whether they are going on leave, sick or normal leave, they should be confident enough to either ask the vice president to act or the deputy governor to act and it must be in that capacity. I think that these are the kind of institutional processes that we would like to see occurring at every level of government.”
Similarly, an Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) activist, Prof. Temi Akporhonor blamed the problem on the overbearing influence and power of the political party over the individual member.
Additionally, he said in an interview with The Guardian, that lack of trust between a president and the vice as well as between a governor and the deputy, was largely responsible for the abnormalities and the attendant challenges faced in the country before now.
Akporhonor who is with the Delta State University, Abraka argued that politics without recourse to due process and rule of law has made it practically impossible for people to challenge or fight for their rights when their rights were trampled upon.
“We operate a system where the politician is too loyal to the party and finds it difficult fighting for his or her rights. If not, there is nothing wrong in a deputy or a vice president challenging the governor or the president in a court if he or she decides not to handover to him or her. And in that case if the judgment comes out it strengthens the constitutional provisions and our democratic processes. But we don’t do that because of too much loyalty to the party,” he stated
“Such acts are not anti-party but an attempt to make sure that things are done the right and proper way in the country,” he added.
He argued that the issue of trust should not come to play if the provisions of the law stipulated that a president or governor should handover to the vice or deputy when leaving on vacation for whatever reason.
Said he: “If you don’t trust your deputy to hand over to him or her but the constitution says that you must hand over, you should. If you don’t trust him, how come you picked him or her as your deputy? If there is no trust in the first instance that means you are not supposed to pick him as your deputy. You are supposed to take somebody you can work with, and when the law says you must handover to him, you hand over to him. You have no choice.”
The university don held that the President or Governor might resort to specifying some no-go areas when travelling out, but noted that even this measure was wrong too.
He blamed the political parties for the problem claiming that most times the vice and the deputy were imposed on the president and the governor. “This is the problem with us in this country. It’s the party that picks and somebody you are not compatible with, becomes your running mate. This is wrong, we should change.”
Akporhonor commended Buhari for the handover, saying: “I think its thumbs up for Buhari for what he has done. We hope that other persons in governance will emulate him. If it can continue this way then we are heading somewhere, which means that we are trying to imbibe international best practices and standard, where you go by the rule of law and constitutional provisions. I think it’s a very good thing that is happening.