Exactly 100 days since he left Nigeria on Sunday, May 7 for London to attend to his ailing health, controversy has continued to trail President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued absence from the country.
Since Mr. Buhari’s travelled, the presidency has repeatedly tried to assure Nigerians he was getting better and would soon return to the country.
Photos of the president meeting with different categories of public officials and politicians in London, where he is receiving treatment, have been circulated to calm concerned citizens. Also, officials who have met the president including Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo have repeatedly said he was getting better and would soon return to the country.
His aides have also said he would only return when his doctors so advice and that only Mr. Buhari could tell Nigerians the true nature of his illness or indeed his health status.
However, while the latest trip is Mr. Buhari’s longest outside the country, it is not the first time the president would travel on health grounds.
HISTORY OF HEALTH TRAVELS
Since assuming office as Nigeria’s democratically elected President on May 29, 2015 Mr. Buhari has been away four times on similar vacations, while handing over power to his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo as acting President, in compliance with section 145 (1) of the 1999 constitution.
During his first trip, eight months after assuming office, Mr. Buhari departed the country onFebruary 5, 2016 to return five days later according to a letter signed by his special assistant on media, Femi Adesina.
Exactly four months later on June, 5 2016, the president embarked on a second journey to London, this time to attend to a problem with his ear, his aides said.
The subject of Mr. Buhari’s health started dominating the national discuss, when during his third trip, on January 19, Mr. Buhari extended his medical vacation, after an initial announcement that his trip would last ten work days.
In the letter regarding his travel, dated January 18 Mr. Buhari had indicated that he would be away for 10 days on a medical vacation to attend to his health.
The leave was supposed to last between January 23 and February 6, according to the letter transmitted to both chambers of the National Assembly.
However a day before the expiration of the vacation on February 5, the National Assembly received yet another letter from the president requesting the extension of his medical leave.
This time, a date of return was not included in the statement, signed by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina.
According to the statement, the extension was needed “to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by the President’s doctors.”
The situation was further heightened by inconsistent information regarding the president’s health status as disclosed by his aides.
On March 10, exactly 50 days after his departure, Mr. Buhari returned but was not able to adequately discharge his duties.
About 58 days later, on May 7, the president embarked on another journey for his medical check-up, without any specific date for his return.
Announcing the president’s departure on his twitter handle, his spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said the latest journey was for Mr. Buhari’s medical follow up’, adding that the date of his (president’s) return would be determined by his doctors.
Various individuals and groups have reacted to the president’s medical vacation, giving divergent opinions on the matter.
In his comment regarding the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clark said the section of the constitution that deals with the president’s handing over of power in the event of a vacation, is defective.
“That section 145 says that unless the president himself sends a contrary statement; you cannot do anything; that is the lacuna. Buhari can stay till the end of his tenure; nothing will happen,” Mr. Clark said.
Another lawyer, Liborous Oshoma, who was interviewed on the matter listed five questions that he believes Nigerians should address about Mr. Buhari’s medical vacation.
“What is the status of the President health?
“Who is paying for his medical and or hospital bills?
“If we (Nigerians) are the ones paying, how much have we paid thus far?
“We read almost every day in the news that Mr. President is recovering fast and would soon return to his seat. Is he in any condition to continue when he returns? Or he will return and go back after a couple of weeks or months?
“Why is resignation not an option?” the lawyer said.
In another opinion, Razak Atunwa, a member of the House of Representatives from Kwara State, said the government is running smoothly because of Mr. Buhari’s respect for the rule of law.
“With all sense of patriotism and equanimity, it is important to bear in mind that we have a president who is in a situation that is by no fault of his own.
“Having met the constitutional provisions, the president shows he is a man of rule of law,” Mr. Atunwa, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, said.
“Governance has not suffered and will not suffer for his being away,’ he added.
About 90 days after Mr. Buhari’s departure, a group of Nigerians led by popular entertainer, Charles Oputa, also called Charly boy, began a protest to demand Mr. Buhari’s compulsory return or resignation with a hash tag #ResumeOrResign.
Five days after the protesters began their call for Mr. Buhari’s compulsory return, a pro- Buhari group, led by Charles Obi, began a counter protest urging the president to rather focus on getting better before returning; a development which resulted in a clash between the two groups.
On Tuesday, the #ResumeOrResign group took their protest to the Wuse Market, the largest market in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where they were attacked by suspected supporters of the president.
The market was subsequently shut down due to the violence which took an ethnic dimension.
THE CONTROVERSIAL LAW
As the controversy surrounding the president’s absence continues, the relevant section of the Nigerian constitution relating to Mr. Buhari’s absence is Section 145 (1) which states that:“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.”
As stated by Mr. Clark, the senior advocate, that section puts no time limit for which he can be outside the country.
The Nigerian Senate also adopted a similar stance when it stated that Mr. Buhari did no wrong as he complied with that section before leaving the country.
While the president remains outside the country, the controversy surrounding his health and fitness to continue in office lingers. For protesters demanding he returns immediately or resigns, they have vowed to continue their protest despite the Tuesday violence.
“We reiterate commitment to remain resolute in demanding full disclosure regarding the state of health of the President. It is the right of the Nigerian people to know the true state of health of the man they voted into power and for whose healthcare they are paying,” one of the leaders of the protest, Deji Adeyanju, said in a statement on Tuesday.