Power for grabs as President Buhari remains absent

Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari left Nigeria in early May for medical treatment in the United Kingdom. Since his departure, Nigerians and majority of people at the helms of affairs have not heard from him. There has been a disturbing silence about his absence. As it is, no one can categorically say anything about the existential state of the President.

This state of affairs has created a power vacuum in the administration of the country with concomitant attempts at power grabs. It is true that there is an acting president in the person of the de jure Vice President. He is however hamstrung by the opacity surrounding the state of health of the President. He wouldn’t want to be seen as being too eager to exercise the executive authority of the office of the President as this may be interpreted as disloyalty should the President eventually return.

Since only very few persons (the Vice President seems not to be one of them) know the true condition of the President, there is ample room for manipulation and power grab. These few people only need to inform the acting president of Buhari’s “preferences” for those “preferences” to become directives to the acting president.

It was Babachir Lawal, the former secretary to the government of the federation that first bore the brunt of the vacuum. He was relieved of his appointment on the authority of the presidency while the President was incapacitated. He was thus forced to rhetorically ask “who is the presidency”? Today, he is still out of a job.

Although the acting president is backed by the constitution to exercise all the powers inherent in the office of the President, the political reality and prevailing power play indicate otherwise. He is presently the de-jure ruler of Nigeria. The de-facto rulers continue to operate the office of the President by proxy.

The National Assembly has since found a new “swagger” since the departure of Buhari. The legislators are now contesting every turf in budget negotiations with the executive. They are more willing now to assert their independence. The acting president had to sign the budget as passed by them, notwithstanding obvious distortions a Buhari might not have accepted.

The ministers have practically found a new independence. Performance no longer matters in the present equation. Nobody needs fear for losing his job. The appointing authority is in a state of suspension. Can an acting president who cannot even swear in a minister query or dismiss one? The situation we have now is that of a teacher who left the class in charge of a class captain. A class captain cannot exercise the power of a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, nobody is denying that the acting president has power to take some administrative measures, after all, he has been left in charge of coordinating government, a duty that is ordinarily that of the SGF. But he cannot, let’s face it, take any fundamental decision, that may for instance affect the armed forces, the police, ministers or even core civil servants.

The real power for now lies with those in the shadows with claims of having access to Buhari. Whatever they tell us and the acting president as coming from Buhari is for now the “grundnorm” of the administration. Nigeria definitely deserves better. But then, this is what you get in a nation where individuals are bigger than institutions.

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