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Can both Presidents leave the country?

By Josef Omorotionmwan

AT the presidential level, what we have today is a big improvement on what we had during the President Musa Yar’ Adua years. During the Yar’ Adua era, we had a President who was terminally ill and vegetating in far-away Saudi Arabia, perhaps unknown to him if he was still alive. Then we had a Vice President who was presumably holding forth at the home front but was not empowered to take over the functions of the President. That was how we had, at the time, what we called “One Nation, Two Half Presidents”.

About seven years later, we now have a situation where the President is alive and available to he consulted occasionally on major issues; but he feels he is not strong enough to fully handle the rigours of the Presidency. Meanwhile he has handed the full mantle of power to his Vice as Acting President. In elementary geometry, we learn that things equal to the same thing are equal to one another. An Acting President is also a President. We therefore conclude that today, Nigeria is one Nation with two Presidents.

We cannot always escape moments of profound crises when miscellaneous issues must arise; and moments when we must provide answers to supplementary questions. One burning question in Nigeria today is on the desirability, or otherwise, of the two Presidents leaving Nigeria at the same time.

Truly, anything that is not specifically prohibited by law is allowed by it. We have searched the books; and nowhere do we find that the President and Vice President or the President and Acting President are prohibited from travelling out of the country at the same time.

On moral high ground, though, we have seen enough of the murky waters of Nigerian politics to advise against both officials travelling out of the country at the same time.

But what did the framers of our Constitution have in mind? Certainly, if their thinking was that the two officials could abandon their duty-post at the same time, there would probably have been no need to create the office of the Vice President. The Benin description of a Vice or Deputy “Akhowa” meaning the one that watches over the house when the master is away, is apropos here.

The current administration does not need to be reminded that the hawks are still around. The nation has not fully recovered from their maneuvers of the last two years, which threw the All Progressives Congress, APC, off balance and rendered the party totally impotent, despite its overwhelming victory at the polls.

This could be a scare-crow of sorts. By implication – even if unannounced – when the Vice President becomes an Acting President, the Senate President is also Acting Vice President. In a situation where you do not know what twisted interpretation an over-zealot group can bring into this, you simply have to be careful. This country cannot afford being plunged into a major constitutional crisis at this time.

The African set-up requires that the father figure must be around all the time. The concept of “the good mother’ and the bad father” is real. No matter how stubborn that child may be, when the mother says, “Wait till daddy comes home…” that child immediately adjusts. Discipline cannot be fully achieved with the Leaders hopping from one country to another.

Essentially, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was not bound to personally attend the 29th Ordinary Session of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our Foreign Minister should have been delegated to such outing so that he could report back to the Acting President.

Similarly, Osinbajo did not need that midnight flight to London to see President Muhammadu Buhari. Teleconferencing between the duo, with each sitting comfortably in his inner-most room, for as long as they wanted, would have produced a better result. Osinbajo should face the good job he is doing here.

Such consultations must be few and far apart. Essentially, a consulting Acting President is nothing but a Vice President. Meanwhile, Osinbajo must cut off those distractions of burial, birthday and wedding ceremonies. There will be time enough to catch up on those when Oga returns.

By rule of thumb; and for economic and security reasons, the US President and Vice President seldom leave Washington, DC at the same time. This is borne out of the bitter experience of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

At 12:30 p.m. on that fateful day, Kennedy was shot in Dallas while riding with his wife, Jacqueline, in the presidential motorcade; while Vice President Lyndon Johnson was riding in a car behind the President. It was by Divine Providence that both men were not killed in that encounter.

Two hours later, the 27 people who were on their entourage squeezed themselves into the conference room of Air Force One where Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes swore-in Johnson as the 36th President of the United States of America. Precisely nine minutes after the inauguration, the President’s plane departed for Washington, DC.

Since then, it has been outlawed for the President and Vice President to travel anywhere in the same plane. This aspect has been extended to various aspects of American life. As we speak, a major controversy is brewing over the desirability, or otherwise, of the International Broadcasting Bureau, IBB, Director, Richard M. Lobo, travelling to Prague, Czech, with his Deputy, Jeffery Trimble, for a meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Apart from the security implication, Americans frown at the unnecessary waste of the tax-payers’ money.

Today, presidential succession does not become an issue only at the death of the President but more so when the President is, for one reason or the other, unable to perform the functions of his office. In all, to be safe is to assume unsafe. While the Number One Office in the land grows in size as it grows in excellence, that Office must be tightly protected by all means and at all cost. For all we know, a bird whose feathers are useful does not fly low.

 


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