UK Private Visit: Buhari Didn’t Break Law Not Handing over To Osinbajo —Court
Lawyer Heads Appeal Court
A Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Hon. Justice A. O. Faji held on Friday, 31st January, 2020, that President Muhammadu Buhari did not violate the provisions of the Constitution when he proceeded on vacation to London from April 25, 2019 to the 5th May, 2019 without handing over to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
A Lagos-based lawyer and activist, Mr. Inibehe Effiong, had sued Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/763/2019 when President Buhari travelled out of Nigeria to the United Kingdom in April 2019 in what was controversially termed “a private visit” by presidential spokesperson, Mr. Femi Adesina.
Effiong asked the court to determine “whether in view of the extant provisions of Section 145 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic, 1999 (as amended), the President can validly proceed on vacation for any length of time without transmitting a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, which will empower the Vice President to perform the functions of the President in an acting capacity.”
In his defense to the suit, Buhari and Malami argued that the time within which the President has to transmit a written declaration to the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is 21 days.
President Buhari also stated that his “private foreign trip” lasted for only 9 days from the 25th April, 2019 to the 5th May, 2019 and did not exceed the 21 days and that his “private visit” was not a vacation.
Effiong on his part insisted that Section 145 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), makes it mandatory for the President to transmit a written declaration to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives whenever he is proceeding on vacation, which will empower the Vice President to perform the functions of the office of president in acting capacity; irrespective of the duration of the vacation.
According to Effiong, the Constitution was amended in 2010 following the death of the late president Musa Yar’Adua to prevent a reoccurrence of such national tragedy in which the late president refused to hand over power to the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.
The lawyer told the court that if President Buhuri’s argument was accepted, it will defeat the very essence of the 2010 constitutional amendment.
Delivering judgment in the suit on Friday, Justice Faji held that Buhari was not under a duty to handover to Osinbajo since his private visit was less than 21 days.
The judge however faulted the argument made by lawyers to Buhari and Malami that his Buhari’s 9 days “private visit” was not a vacation.
According to the judge, there was no evidence that Mr. Buhari was on official assignment or had performed official functions during the 9 days he spent in London in April 2019.
On the issue of locus standi, Justice Faji held that the Plaintiff, Inibehe Effiong, did not disclose any special interest in the matter and how the president’s alleged constitutional infraction had affected him personally over and above other citizens of the country.
Justice Faji therefore dismissed the suit without cost, because it was not necessary to go into the issue of cost.
Reacting to the judgment in a press statement, Effiong who was present in court on Friday when the judgment was read, expressed fears that the decision of the court may be exploited by President Buhari and future presidents to undermine the interest of the country.
He therefore asserted that he was going to test the judgment at the Court of Appeal on the merit and also appeal against the decision of the court that he lacked the requisite locus standi to file the suit.
“It is good that the learned judge has given a judicial interpretation to Section 145 of the Constitution as amended. Regrettably, the judgment has left many questions unanswered. For example, does this judgment imply that the president can validly abandon his office and the country, and proceed on vacation for 20 days or less?
“Will that not result in anarchy since nature itself abhors vacuum? When does the duty of the President to transmit a written declaration arise given that Section 145 of the Constitution expressly states that he should do so whenever he is proceeding on vacation?’’ Effiong asked.
“I am afraid about what this judgment portends for Nigeria. A President like the current one who is a constitutional delinquent, that does not hide his contempt for the rule of law, cannot be trusted to do what is right. I believe that was why the National Assembly amended Section 145 of the Constitution in the first place.”
“It is also my firm believe that the Constitution does not allow for a situation whereby Nigeria will exist for one day without having either a President or an Acting President. I am scared that with this judgment, Nigeria can stay for twenty days without a president” Effiong said.
Speaking further, Effiong said that he believes that “The role of the National Assembly to make the Vice President the Acting President after 21 days under Section 145 (2) of the Constitution does not excuse the President from his own duty to write to the National Assembly whenever he is going on vacation irrespective of whether the vacation is for a day or less than 21 days. The duty of the National Assembly only arises when the president has violated his own duty”
“These are some of the puzzling issues about this judgment that agitates my mind. I can assure you that I will test the judgment of the learned judge at the Court of Appeal. I am ready to go up to the Supreme Court if necessary for the sake of posterity and our fragile democracy.”