A Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Hon. Justice A. O. Faji has ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari was right not to have handed over power to Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2019.
Justice Faji held 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.
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 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.”
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.
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 nine 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.
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.
“There was no evidence that Mr. Buhari was on official assignment or had performed official functions during the nine days he spent in London in April 2019,” the judge ruled.
Reacting to the judgment, Effiong 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 it lacked the requisite locus standi to file the suit.
He said, “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?’
“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 with is right.
“I believe this 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 20 days without a president.”