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A President on leave: AWOL or ALLOWED ?

Buhari-11It’s no longer news that Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, left the shores of the country on January 19, 2017, to commence a 10 day vacation in the United Kingdom.   There is nothing wrong with this as the President is entitled to annual vacation. The 2008 Public Service Rules specify a 30 day annual vacation for the highest grade level. These rules apply to the President as far as there is no inconsistency with the constitution. As is expected, President Buhari wrote the National Assembly, following due diligence, to hand over power to the Vice President in his absence. During his 10 days off, he planned to ‘undergo routine medical check ups’… almost typical of the average upper middle class Nigerian… leveraging their vacation abroad to conduct health checks. No prizes for guessing why this happens. He was due to resume February 6, 2017.

On the eve of the tenth day of his leave, the President communicated again to the National Assembly, extending his vacation “in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors”. He did not specify how long this extension would last. Again, nothing particularly wrong here. Due process was followed and his vacation duration has not exceeded the annual allowance.

Let’s work this backward a little bit. To resume on Monday February 6, after 10 working days off-work, means the first day of vacation should be Monday January 23. His letter to the National Assembly also corroborates this. However, what was the effective start date of his 10 day vacation?

A quick look at section 145 of the constitution which was referenced in his communication to the National Assembly – Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation… until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”

When did he transmit to the National Assembly? January 19. Has he issued a written declaration to the contrary? No. So may we infer that according to law, the President’s functions were transferred to the Vice President on January 19, hence his vacation commenced same day and by same inference, his original vacation duration was 12 working days and not 10 days as widely publicized? Did our incorruptible President tell an inadvertent lie?

The interesting thing is that this is not the first time Nigeria is being thrown into a moment of uncertainty regarding the whereabouts and state of the President.

In the early hours of January 15, 1966, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, was abducted from his residence by coup plotters and led away to an unknown destination. For 5 days, no one knew the state or location of the Prime Minister. Within this period, the coup attempt had fallen through with Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi taking over leadership after some form of ‘agreement’ with the Council of Ministers, so there really was no lacuna at the top administratively… but the whereabouts of the Prime Minister remained uncertain. Unfortunately, he was discovered dead in some bush along the Lagos – Abeokuta road.

Similarly, in July of the same year, Nigeria witnessed the infamous 1966 counter coup. The plotters arrested the then Head of State, and led him away similar to the January occurrence. Several days after, the state and location of the Head of State was unknown, despite the fact that a semblance of leadership had assumed the seat of power. You may argue again that there was no real vacuum in leadership but there was uncertainty about the erstwhile leader.

Fast forward to November 2009 when the serving President was flown out of country urgently for medical treatment. This case is peculiar as it presented both public uncertainty and a lacuna in leadership. For over 2 months, his status was shrouded in some form of secrecy leaving Nigeria to drift in stormy waters like a rudderless ship. His omission to formally write the National Assembly and transfer the duties of leadership left Nigeria in the hands of a corrupt and treasury looting cabal. Unfortunately, it took his death for uncertainty to give way. With the eventual intervention of the Nigeria Bar Association, Supreme Court and the Senate’s ‘doctrine of necessity’, power was transferred to the Vice President in a bid to set the nation on the right path.

Today, there are still similarities. With the President transferring power legally to his Vice, he commendably averted a leadership void. However, there are quite a few uncertainties. What is the true status of our President, beyond being ‘hale and hearty’? Besides being located at Abuja house in London, where is his true location? Is he more in the hospital, taking pictures only at convenient moments or are those just rumors and imaginations? Did he request and announce a 10 day vacation when it was actually 12 working days? Is he entitled to 30 calendar days or 30 working days of leave or an unlimited duration? 30 calendar days was exhausted February 19. 30 working days will be exhausted March 1.  So.. is this really ‘annual leave’ or  ‘sick leave’? How long is a serving President allowed to be away from duties before we are forced to ask whether he remains capable of resuming work to discharge his duties?

The clock is ticking, the opposition is raging, the world is watching. Will the political class join hands to intervene (like the doctrine of necessity) or insist on strict observance to extant laws regulating how long a public servant can be away from work? Time will tell and history may just be the best guide to answering these questions.


Nigeria’s 2015 Elections – A Forecast

Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections are due to hold in a couple of days, barring any last minute changes to the rescheduled date, March 28. The poll was initially scheduled for February 14 but deferred due to ‘security concerns’, as stated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The postponement was not a welcome development to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the country’s strongest opposition political party, considering the massive momentum and traction gathered ahead of the planned February 14 date. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the other hand appeared to be in sync with the decision to reschedule. Popular public opinion holds that if the elections had been held as initially planned, the APC would have come out victorious, perhaps inching towards a landslide. This impression was further alluded to by the likes of Dr. Frederick Fasehun, leader of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), in a speech delivered at a post-national conference forum on March 20.

The six weeks of postponement have afforded the ruling party a little more time to ramp up its campaign efforts, with a reported unrestricted flow of cash incentives to party loyalists and the public at large in a bid to secure sufficient votes to return the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to power. Public impression was that APC momentum had burned out, its campaign funds exhausted, to the extent that even campaign jingles via traditional media were few and far between compared with the PDP’s which appeared to have been heightened. Town hall meetings also became a major channel employed by both parties, reaching out to multiple voting segments.

Several conspiracy theories characterized the six week waiting period, chief of which was the alleged plan of the PDP to ensure that Prof Jega, the electoral body chairman, was removed from office via terminal leave on or before March 28. Three days to the elections, Prof Jega still remains the INEC chairman. Likewise, there was the war against the use of PVC’s and card readers, considering that INEC only decided to run a public sample test post February 14. The tenacity and commitment of INEC and its stakeholders met this opposition effectively, restoring public confidence in the use of PVC’s and Card readers as part of anti-electoral fraud initiatives. INEC continued to progress distribution of PVC’s to eligible voters and to date has recorded an approximate 82% PVC collection rate. This assumes that out of 68.8 million registered voters per 2015 Voters Register, 56.4 million have received their permanent voter cards.

The success of the military in its onslaught against insurgency in the North East has told its own story so far. Regardless, there are still major concerns surrounding the seeming ‘strategic’ timing of this recent wave – “why wait to do in 6 weeks what should have been done over 6 years?”

With the 6 week waiting period almost exhausted, it is natural to expect to see a shift in focus from conspiracy theories to election result forecasting on several bases and assumptions. Leveraging data from INEC’s Voter Register per geopolitical zone, assuming historic voting patterns adjusted to reflect current political sway, an average of 65% voter turnout in each State, admitting the influence of incumbent governors on their states, ongoing public response to party campaigns, and intuitive subjectivity, the table below presents an individual forecast of what may be expected. It is by no means the final result and cannot be so interpreted. Rather, it is a prediction anticipating several cross comparisons. This forecast predicts a majority victory for the APC in the presidential elections with 18.4 million over PDP 17.0 million votes.

For cross comparisons, share your forecast here

The Buhari Question

Don’t give up! This phrase has become the mantra of motivational speakers, spoken regularly to millions the world over. Many at their wits end have found life in it.

If there is anyone who has become a living example of this message, it is none other than the retired General, Muhammad Buhari.

Buhari won the ticket to run as presidential aspirant for the Buhari-11All Nigeria People’s Party. He lost to his ex-military colleague, General Olusegun Obasanjo, polling 32% of votes.

Buhari was presidential aspirant on the platform of ANPP. Polling 19% of votes, he lost to PDP’s Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

Buhari contested the same number one position as flag bearer for CPC. He lost to PDP’s Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the incumbent Nigerian president.

Again, Buhari is listed as one of the the key aspirants ‎contesting for the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential ticket.

Buhari started contesting for the presidency when he was 61 years old. At 72 years of age, 11 years and 3 tries later, he is still running – for the same position.

The question that lingers in the minds of many Nigerians is: ‘why?’ Why is Buhari running for the same position over and over again? Does this reveal a quest for ultimate power by any means? Did he forget something in the State House? Is he suffering withdrawal symptoms?

Recall however that this same man has ‎led the country as Military Head of State (Dec 1983 – Aug 1985). Prior to that had served as Military Governor for the North-East, Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Chairman NNPC and Chairman PTF. Buhari is not new to Federal power! Been there, done that, with a much talked about record of integrity.

From the foregoing, it seems unlikely that the retired General is power-craving.

So is he bored? ‎Or does he still feel shortchanged, having been sacked barely two years into his sojourn as Head of State in 1985?

Is there something the retired General knows that we do not? Does he hold the magic wand to the peculiar art of governance in Nigeria, ready to wave it on being voted in?

On assuming power via a military coup on the last day of December 1983, his speech commenced with what could be considered a mandate: “In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse…” He referenced Nigeria’s dwindling economy, national insecurity, legislative largesse, financial indiscipline, economic mismanagement, and a corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership. Is today’s Buhari driven by the same urgent call of duty to ‘intervene’ and save the nation from imminent collapse? An analysis of Nigeria today reveals a country unchanged from 1983. Politics is still a life or death game, legislative largesse goes without saying, financial indiscipline is still rife, corruption has escalated to sophisticated dimensions.

Is Buhari joining the race, again, because he thinks he has the capability and experience to fix Nigeria? What did he fix 1983 – 85?

The reality of that first stint in the presidency, thirty years ago, is worth exploring. It was tainted by public perception of his initiatives as being extreme and authoritarian. His ‘War Against Indiscipline’ (WAI) program, though noble in its intent, was brutish in experience. Nigerians were forced by whip-brandishing soldiers to queue up at bus stops; tardy civil servants were subjected to ‘frog jump’ punishment, and press freedom restricted.

In a bid to grow the economy, import bans were put in place, causing a rise in commodity prices, ultimately resulting in inflation.

Subsequently however, his stint as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) between March 1995 and May 1999 demonstrated a level of prudence, and strength in financial management.

The general perception is that Buhari managed the excess oil revenue fund with transparency and efficiency, successfully executing projects nationwide, regardless of the impression that they may have been skewed towards the Northern region.

It ultimately remains unclear what exactly underpins General Buhari’s determination to return to power, what fuels his passion for dusting himself off again and again.

Why is Buhari running… again? Perhaps the weeks ahead will make that clear beyond doubt…

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