EXPLAINER: Buhari and Osinbajo will be abroad on Monday — who will be in charge of Nigeria?

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo are both currently out of the country.

While Buhari left Nigeria for the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, USA on Sunday, Osinbajo has arrived in the meantime in the UK before Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral ceremony.

The queen died on 8.9.

After the news about Buhari and Osinbajo, there were questions about who will be in charge of the country’s affairs.

In 2016President Osinbajo handed power to Osinbajo for five days when he went on a “short vacation”.

Pursuant to Section 145 of the Nigerian Constitution, Buhari wrote to the two chambers of the National Assembly informing him of his leave. The development made Osinbajo the acting president. This was the first time in nearly 30 years that a Nigerian government leader handed power to his deputy. The last time this happened was in 1987, when Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler, went to France for a medical procedure.

Buharis Travel to the United States for the UN General Assembly will see Nigeria and other countries hold bilateral or multilateral meetings on the sidelines. These types of agreements – from discussions on agriculture, climate change, oil and gas, to name a few – aim to mutually benefit the countries involved.

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The constitution does not specifically require a president or vice president to be in the country at all times to carry out their duties.

Section 145(1) of the 1999 Constitution states: “Whenever the President transmits a written statement to the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House that he is going on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to perform his duties of office until he provides them with a written statement to the contrary, such functions shall be performed by the Vice President as Acting President.”

The aforesaid provision suggests that a vacuum only exists when the President goes on vacation or is unable to perform the duties of the office due to illness or death.

Buhari and Osinbajo currently do not fit into the above categories, which means they can carry out the duties of their offices from any part of the world.

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Timi Olagunju, a lawyer and political analyst, said the constitution is not specific about the president transferring power every time he leaves the country.

“The Constitution does not specifically state that any trip means the President must delegate power. That is why it is being asked that Parliament review the law against global standards, because Section 144 speaks of incapacity to work, while Section 145 speaks of vacation or sick leave and submits it to Parliament. That means power will be transferred to the assistant vice president until he sends another letter to say he’s back,” he said.

“The Constitution doesn’t provide for a vacuum, other than the President saying there is a vacuum. The President must submit an official letter. There are two instances where this passage has been addressed – Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari’s excessive stay in London. In the case of Goodluck, there was no transmission from Yar’Adua to him, but Parliament had to apply the doctrine of necessity.

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“If the President is not officially broadcasting, there can be no talk of a vacuum. It implicitly means that the President is still acting even though he has travelled. On a lighter note, he can virtually chair.

“When you say ‘every time the President goes abroad,’ it becomes a geographic issue rather than a legal one — meaning if he goes to the Republic of Niger, he has to transfer power.

“That’s why we have the Federal Executive Committee (FEC) for presidential decisions.”

Under Article 146(2) of the Constitution, should Nigeria suddenly find itself without a President and Vice-President, the President of the Senate will automatically assume leadership of the country for three months, during which elections will be held to fill the vacuum.

As Buhari has not initiated a communication to the National Assembly under Article 145 – and is unable to carry out his duties – he has full responsibility for the country despite his absence and that of the vice president.

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