By John Ameh
President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent trips abroad and his habit of working from overseas gives cause for concern.
On October 28, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari jetted out of the country on a two-legged journey to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the Future Investment Initiative Forum, and the United Kingdom.
Buhari is still in London and will be away from the country till November 17. By the time he returns to Nigeria on November 17, as scheduled, he would have spent a total of 21 days abroad.
The current trip is just one out of many that the President has undertaken since 2015. He has travelled out of the country for more than 51 times. On Monday, Nigerians watched from home as he appended his signature to the Deep Offshore (amendment) Bill in London.
The President’s action, which was meant to convey the message that he was performing his duties, albeit outside the country, immediately got Nigerians wondering why he did not transmit power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo by writing to the National Assembly.
It also awakened memories of his previous trips abroad, which had also left many Nigerians wondering if governance had not suffered neglect or not.
Questions have been asked if a better and easier option is not to transmit power to Osinbajo whenever the President is out of the country for many days or weeks at a stretch.
Since 2015, Buhari transmitted power to Osinbajo only two times. One of them, notably the longest, was when he spent 104 days out of the country from May 8, 2017 till August 19 of the same year. He was in the UK for medical treatment.
Earlier in January of 2017, the President had also stayed out of the country for many days in the UK from January 19 to March 10.
A catalogue of presidential trips
2015: Beginning from the moment he was inaugurated for his first term on May 29, 2015, the President visited Niger and Chad between June 3 and 4 for consultations on how to tackle terrorism in the country and the region.
On June 7, 2015, he was in Germany to attend the G-7 summit and returned on June 9.
The President proceeded to South Africa on June 13, 2015 for the African Union Summit, in continuation of talks on the fight against terrorism. He returned on June 16.
Similarly, on July 19, 2015, the President embarked on a four-day official visit to the United States and after he returned on July 23, he proceeded to Cameroon for a two-day visit on July 29. He returned on July 30.
The President travelled to New York for the 70th United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2015 and returned on September 29.
Between October 26 and 30, 2015, he travelled to New Delhi in India for the Indian-African Forum. On his way back from India, he made a technical stopover at Khartoum, Sudan.
November 22 to 24: the President travelled to Tehran, Iran for the Third Gas Exporting Countries’ Forum.
November 26 to 30: He was in Malta to participate in the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
From Malta, He travelled to France on November 30, 2015 for the United Nations Climate Change Summit and returned on December 1.
December 3: He departed for South Africa to attend the China/Africa Summit. He returned on December 5.
There were many trips in 2016. Some are captured below:
January 17 to 20: Buhari attended the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
January 27 to 29: He travelled to Kenya on an official visit. From Kenya, he headed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for an African Union meeting and returned to Nigeria on January 30.
February 5 to 10: He travelled to the UK for his first vacation, barely eight months into his tenure.
February 18: He departed for Egypt to attend the Sharm el-Sheikh ‘Africa 2016’ Business Forum and returned to Abuja the following day.
February 22 to 29: The President visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He met with government officials and also visited Medina and Grand Mosque in Mecca, where he performed prayers for the peace and unity of Nigeria.
March 14: Buhari visited Equatorial Guinea for two days and had discussions on an agreement on Joint Maritime Policing.
From March 29 to April 3, 2016, he was in Washington DC attending a Nuclear Security Summit. He returned to Abuja on April 4.
He was in China from April 10 to 14, 2016 on a state visit. On May 10, the President departed for the Anti-Corruption Summit in the UK. He returned to Abuja on May 14 but left for the UK on June 6 for his first medical vacation, following reports that he had an ear infection. He returned on June 19.
On August 8, 2016, Buhari travelled to Chad for the inauguration of President Idris Deby and from August 27 to 28, 2016, he visited Kenya to attend the Tokyo Conference on Africa.
On September 18, 2016, the President travelled to New York, US where he spent five days to attend the 71st UN General Assembly.
The President visited Germany on October 13, 2016 and departed on October 16.He spent five days from November 14 to 18, 2016 in Morocco where he attended the UN Climate Change Conference.
On November 23, 2016, he travelled to Equatorial Guinea for the 4th Africa/Arab summit.
From December 5 to 7, 2016, Buhari was in Senegal where he attended the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa.
This was the year President Buhari spent 104 days out of the country in one single stretch.
January 19: The President visited the UK on medical leave and returned on March 10 after spending 51 days in the UK.
May 8: He travelled again to the UK for medical attention on May 8, 2017 and remained there till August 19, 2017, spending 104 days.
September 17: Buhari left for the US to attend the 72nd UN General Assembly and stayed till September 21.
He travelled from the US to the UK for medical purposes and returned to Abuja on September 25, 2017.
October 18: He travelled with members of his family to Turkey on a working visit and returned on October 22.
The President was in the UK for from April 9 to 21, 2018 for his annual leave.
Between April 28 and May 4, he journeyed to the US where he met with President Donald Trump at the White House where they discussed security and trade.
Buhari spent seven days away from home and went to the UK for a few hours for what his handlers termed a “technical stopover.”
He returned to the UK for medical reasons on May 8, 2018, and went back to Nigeria on May 11.
June 10 to 11: The President was in Morocco where three agreements between Nigeria and the Moroccan government were signed.
June 30 to July 3: Buhari visited Mauritania for the ordinary session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
July 15: He travelled to The Netherlands for the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Court. He returned on July 18.
President Buhari travelled to Togo on July 29, 2018 where he participated in the Joint ECOWAS-ECCAS Heads of State and Government Summit on Peace, Security, Stability and Fight against Terrorism and Violent Extremism.
He travelled to London on a working leave on August 3, 2018 and returned on the 18th.
August 31: The President travelled to China to attend a summit on China-Africa Cooperation and returned after eight days on September 7, 2018.
September 23 to 29: He was out of the country, this time to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly.
Buhari travelled to France for a peace forum on November 10 where he spent six days. From November 29 to December 1, 2018, Buhari attended a regional summit in Chad.
Like the previous years, 2019 has had its fair share of Buhari’s frequent foreign trips.
For instance, he has visited Saudi Arabia three times. He was there from May 16 to 21 for the lesser Hajj and made another trip soon after his inauguration on May 29 for a second term.
The President has visited Burkina Faso; Niger; Japan (for the seventh International Conference on African Development); and New York for the 74th UNGA.
In October, he visited South Africa over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. He was also in Sochi, Russia, for the Russia-Africa Summit before he returned to Saudi Arabia again on October 28.
It was from Saudi Arabia that he jetted to the UK, where he will remain till November 17.
What the constitution says
The 1999 Constitution says in Section 145 (1), ‘’Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice-President shall perform the functions of the President as acting President.’’
It adds in subsection (2), ‘’In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the National Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each House of the National Assembly, mandate the Vice-President to perform the functions of the office of the President as acting President until the President transmits a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions as President.’’
In commenting on the President’s frequent trips, particularly his current stay in London where he signed the offshore bill, the Presidency insists that Buhari has done no wrong.
It argues that in so far as he is not incapacitated, the case of transmitting power to Osinbajo does not hold water.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, puts it this way, “Contrary to the claims by some individuals and groups, The President has not in any way undermined or relegated the office of the Vice President. He has no reason to do so.“I don’t think there is any way or manner that the office of the Vice-President has been relegated.
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can work from anywhere in the world.”
However, it is not everyone that buys the presidential argument. For instance, the Nigerian Bar Association said Buhari should have transmitted power to Osinbajo.
Its Publicity Secretary, Mr Kunle Edun, stated that Buhari could perform some duties outside the country, but not the signing of the country’s laws.
“Ordinarily, there should be nothing wrong with the President working from abroad. Visitations to world leaders and attending international conferences are working visits.
“However, what we have found lately, which is a sad norm is that the President seems to prefer working more from his overseas base than being in Nigeria.
“This unfortunate trend has now recently been extended to a situation where a Nigerian President would be assenting to a legislative bill in a foreign country,” he stated.