PMB’s Vacation: Deconstructing A Presidential Novelty In Nigeria

The decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to embark on a five-day vacation in London as announced by the presidency last week has raised pertinent questions on the sustainability of such an unprecedented move in Nigeria. JONATHAN NDA -ISAIAH analyses the hidden internal assumptions and contradictions that tend to subvert its significance. There is a general viewpoint that a Nigerian President or any other President in the world is supposed to be a superman who should engage in multitask 24 hours round the clock and work seven days a week. In this part of the globe, the idea that a president needs rest and has to embark on a vacation is very rare. It is an aberration to some people who see the president as a deity. It is for reasons such as this that the news last week that President Muhammadu Buhari was embarking on a five-day vacation generated mixed reactions across the country.

According to a statement by the presidency, while President Buhari is on vacation, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo will perform the functions of the President. It further noted that in compliance with section 145 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, President Buhari had dispatched a formal notice of his vacation to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Prior to his vacation, It would be recalled that Buhari had last week made official visits to France and Britain. In Strasbourg, France, the President addressed a special session of the European Union Parliament attended by members of the executive and legislative arms of the Union. The President s address focused on terrorism, violent extremism, corruption, Nigeria and Africa s current security, economic and developmental challenges, as well as the need for greater support from the European Union and advanced nations for their rapid resolution.

From Strasbourg, the President departed for London where he joined other world leaders at the Supporting Syria and The Region Conference. The President used the opportunity of his participation in the conference which was co-hosted by Britain, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations to continue his push for more global understanding, collaboration and support for Nigeria and other countries in the frontline of the war against terrorism who are striving to overcome its very adverse effects on affected populations. Before the France and London trips, President Buhari had late January visited Kenya and Ethiopia. Just like what happened last year, many Nigerians have began questioning what they describe as the President s incessant foreign trips. But the Presidency once gain has come out to defend the trips. It declared that Buhari s foreign trips were neither a jamboree nor embarked upon for enjoyment but for the good of the country.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu said the need to block all safe havens for looted funds from Nigeria was at the heart of the President on his trips outside the country. Buhari s trips abroad, he said, have succeeded in making his administration secure agreements and understanding with various countries on recovery and repatriation of stolen funds. Shehu disclosed that top security officials in the country would, in the next one week, travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to further actualize an agreement on recovery and repatriation of stolen funds. He said You also see gradually the strategic efforts to go after the stolen funds abroad. The UAE is very important to the country.

Don t be surprised that in the coming week or two, you will have high level security officials leaving Nigeria for the UAE to begin to give expression to our wish to enjoy this new cooperation between the two countries with a view to recovering stolen assets.

There are numerous agreements we have also signed with them: drugs, human trafficking and stolen assets that have been stolen abroad. So, the President want to make it difficult for people. Even when they steal from Nigeria, there would probably be no hiding place for stolen assets . But immediately, the news of the President s vacation filtered in, people started whispering in hush tones, seeking answers to questions as to whether the President is sick and is probably going for medical checkup. Some pundits posit that taking a vacation just eight months after inugaration into office is too early. They question Buhari s ability to govern the country in this perilous times.

It would be recalled that in the heat of the 2015 general elections, Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose declared that Buhari was sick and, as such, lacked the ability to govern. Fayose who was nicknamed Buhari s personal physician had made it a point of duty to trail Buhari as if he was his shadow. He told those who care to listen that Buhari was sick. The governor even challenged Nigerians to go to London then and confirm that Buhari was admitted in a hospital. But it turned out to be a ruse, as Buhari was seen delivering a lecture at the Chatham House in London. Like the popular saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, it is instructive to note that the idea of a President taking vacation is a norm in developed countries.

In America, it is a tradition that the president takes a vacation at least once a year, mostly during summer and winter. President Barack Obama and his family s annual Christmas vacation to Hawaii is well documented. Obama every year at Christmas usually spend 16 days in the Aloha state. Also the British Prime Minister, David Cameron vacations at Cornwall s Polzeath Beach with his wife every year. In Russia, Vladimir Putin also regularly takes a vacation. Recall that in 2014, in the heat of collapsing economy and a bloody border conflict with Ukraine, the Russian leader took a short vacation in Siberia to celebrate his birthday.

In Nigeria, however, the idea of a President taking a vacation seems to be a novelty. It is an exception rather than the norm as it entails in other countries. Before the President s official statement announcing the vacation, rumours had been flying around that President Buhari is sick and was planning to embark on a six months vacation. Those peddling the rumour claimed that the President was planning to hand over power to the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Buratai. Beer parlour gossip at its best, as it turned out to be when the presidency announced last Friday that Buhari has handed over to his deputy, the Vice President. Some pundits had also questioned the motive behind the President embarking on vacation at a period when the country s economy is in comatose and security challenges still abound.

They argued that the President should be on ground tackling the challenges. However, some other Nigerians have and are still wishing the President a nice vacation. The thinking is that he should come back invigorated and ready to tackle the country s myriad of problems in a journey towards positive change. Again, that a President would take a leave and hand over to his deputy in Nigeria is an anomaly. The handing over of the country s affairs to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo before embarking on a five-day vacation in London makes it the first time since 1987 that a president would officially hand over to his deputy. The only time the country experienced this was in 1987. As military president back then, Ibrahim Babangida handed over power to his deputy when he went for operation in France.

The case of late President Umaru Musa Yar adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan is a case in point of the phobia Nigerian leaders have for officially handing the reins of power before traveling for whatever reason. Recall that in 2009 the country was said to be on auto pilot when President Yar Adua left Abuja for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on November 23, leaving the office of the President vacant for over ninety days. This raised a lot of tension and constitutional crisis in the country. To save the country then from the looming disaster, On February 9, 2010, the National Assembly in a resolution popularly called the Doctrine of Necessity made the then Vice-President Jonathan the Acting President of Nigeria. It is worthy of note that in Nigeria, there is always this mutual suspicion between the President and his deputy.

In most cases, there are always fears by the President that handing over power to the Vice President during his absence may be counter productive. The apprehension is that the vice president may plot the President s fall and take over the power structures of the country. Because of this reasoning, political observers have pointed out that for President Buhari to hand over power to Osinbajo shows the confidence and trust the President has for his deputy. The Vice President in recent months has proven himself to be a dependable ally and partner in the President s fight against corruption which is the mantra of this administration. Last week, he stated categorically that undue pressures from some Nigerian elites to slow down the ongoing fight against corruption would not deter the Buhari presidency from ridding the country out of the problem of corruption.

We get regular messages from some Nigerian elites saying cool down , the Vice President disclosed, in respect to pressures mounted on the presidency to relent in the anti-corruption fight.

Osinbajo, a Professor of Law is seen by many as the economic brain and engine room behind the present administration.

Described as a workaholic, Osinbajo, no doubt, has what it takes to act for President Buhari in his absence.

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