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For how long can Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s ailing President, stay in London for medical treatment? Is the answer indefinite, until the expiration of his first term in 2019?
After a 49-day medical vacation in London early this year, Buhari travelled to London again for an indefinite medical examination in May 7.
Buhari has so far spent 56 days in his second medical journey, with no definite return date.
This indefinite stay abroad has led to speculations that the president will be removed from office if he spends more than 60 days outside the country.
However, the duration his foreign stay is not specified in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
As long as he has duly transmitted power to the Vice-President, he can stay in London as much as he wants, unless he is impeached by the National Assembly.
PROCEDURE FOR REMOVING THE PRESIDENT
For the president to be removed from office on the ground of ill-health as specified in Section 144 of the Constitution, two-thirds majority of all members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) must pass a resolution declaring that he is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.
This declaration by FEC will be verified by a five-man medical panel appointed by the Senate President.
The five members of the panel must be medical practitioners, including the personal physician to the president. The four others must be medical practitioners who have attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine related to whatever illness the president is suffering from.
This medical panel will then examine the president in accordance with international standards.
Should the medical panel certify that the president is incapable of discharging the functions of his office due to the illness, a notice signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
Immediately this notice is published, Buhari will cease to be the President of Nigeria and Yemi Osinbajo, the Acting President, will now assume the role of substantive President while a new Vice-President will be appointed.
HOW THE CONSTITUTION PRECISELY STATES IT
Chapter VI, Section 144
(1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(4) The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.
ANY OTHER MEANS?
Members of the National Assembly may decide to rely on Section 143 of the Constitution to remove the president if two-thirds of the members present signed a written allegation of gross misconduct against the president.
According to the Constitution, “gross misconduct” means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.
Upon receiving the notice of this allegation, the Senate President shall within seven days serve a copy to the president and give each member of the National Assembly another.
The president is expected to reply to the allegation and a copy of his reply will be made available to every member of the National Assembly.
Within 14 days of the presentation of the allegation, members of the National Assembly will resolve by motion without any debate whether or not the allegation shall be investigated.
If up to two-thirds of members of National Assembly agree that the allegation will be investigated, the Senate President shall within seven days request the Chief Justice of Nigeria to appoint a seven member panel to investigate the allegation.
Members of the panel must be persons with unquestionable integrity and not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party.
The panel will submit its reports within three months to the National Assembly.
If the report by the panel concludes that the allegation has not been proved, then the president cannot be impeached and the National Assembly shall suspend all proceedings in respect to the impeachment.
But if the report proves the allegation, then the National Assembly shall consider the report within 14 days after receiving it from the panel.
And if up to two-thirds members of the National Assembly support the resolution, the report will be adopted and the President will cease to hold his office.
This process of removing shall not be challenged in a court of law.
Having handed over power to Osinbajo in acting capacity, President Muhammadu Buhari can stay in London or anywhere else for as long as he wants — so long two-thirds of the national executive council do not have a problem with it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was originally published on July 4. It has been republished in the light of the ongoing return-or-resign protests against President Muhammadu Buhari.