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Presidential vacation, allied matters – New Telegraph Nigerian Newspaper

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Ordinarily, a country should not panic on grounds that the President is on vacation. According to en.m.wikipedia.org, “a vacation or holiday is a leave of absence from a regular occupation, or a specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism. People often take vacation during specific holiday observances, or for specific festivals or celebrations. Vacations are often spent with friends and families.”

Vacation is necessary to regenerate the body and the individual gets back to work or study more empowered, more focused and more energized. For the President of a country, vacation is a constitutional, physiological, psychological and neurological imperative.

Presidential vacation is important and every President worth his salt ought to go on vacation. A President is the embodiment of a country and in a presidential system of government, he drives the affairs of the country with the aid and support of ministers, special advisers, and heads of ministries, departments and agencies. Presidential vacation gives the President an opportunity to reflect on the burden of leadership.

It allows the President to reflect on the challenges facing a nation and allows a President think deeply on plans and designs for the nation. Presidential vacation rejuvenates a President and prevents breakdown on account of the demanding nature of presidential duties. Technically, a President may be on vacation but in the true sense of the word, a President is never on vacation. When a President is on vacation he still receives briefings on important issues and developments in the country.

Sometimes a President suspends vacation and rushes back to work during periods of national emergency. In the words of Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States of America “Presidents don’t get vacations – they just get a change of scenery”. The framers of the Nigerian Constitution are aware that a President should go on vacation. They are aware that a President can be sick and possibly not survive the sickness.

They are aware of the fact that a President may be incapacitated and become incapable of discharging Presidential functions. What did they do? They inserted into our constitutional order a provision that will take care of such an eventuality.

Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that “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.”

Section 146 of the Constitution also provides that “the Vice President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanents incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with section 143 or 144 of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, Presidential vacation has become a source of anxiety, panic and national embarrassment. The Nigerian people are confused on whether the President is simply on vacation or whether he is on medical vacation or whether the President is sick.

This confusion is founded on the basis of their lack of understanding and appreciation of the position of presidential handlers on the issue. Most Nigerians cannot reconcile offering prayers for the quick recovery of our President that is said to be hale, hearty and chatty. I think that the Nigerian people have no issue with their President going on  vacation.

The Nigerian people am sure will welcome their President going on vacation for a while and coming back to take care of the business of state. The Nigerian people will in the true sense of patriotism and compassion pray for the quick recovery of a President that is battling with ill health.

The challenge as pointed out is that presidential handlers are engaged in double speak. If a President is sick and transmits a letter to the National Assembly to that effect and an Acting President is sworn in and begins to act, the Nigerian people will understand that their President is sick. Nigerians are a prayerful and compassionate lot and will not gloat over the ill health of their President. Rather, the churches and the mosques will devote time to pray for the good health of their President.

That is the rational thing to do and that is the reasonable thing to do. Any individual that gloats over the ill heath of another has a peculiar psychiatric challenge.

Unfortunately, sometimes the political elite see and perceive things differently, where someone sees sympathy, some members of the political elite see opportunity. Where some people see crisis and conflict and want a quick resolution, some members of the political elite may see political opening that should be exploited to the fullest. So, the fact that someone is sick may mean different things to the members of the political elite.

The precedents are there for everyone to see, the most obnoxious, obscene is the glaring exploitation of the medical challenges of the former Governor of Taraba State, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai for political purposes. Some of his close associates knew that he was incapable of performing the functions of the office of the governor and yet moved him up and down and sustained him in power for political gains.

After the election, the man is now left with his wife and all those that used and dumped him have moved on. We also have the case of our former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua whose sickness divided the nation and was exploited by the members of the two main political divides for political purposes.

Of course, President Yar’Adua showed flashes of leadership and had clear programmes and policies for the nation but most Nigerians got angry and felt cheated that some people played politics with the health of their President.

Well, like all mortals, God gave him freely to us and the same God took him away and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became President and the rest is history. When a President is on medical vacation, or sick it poses a moral and political dilemma for the people around the President.

When a President is sick or on medical vacation, there is a certain level of panic and anxiety among political appointees. When a President is sick or on medical vacation, the major political actors in the politics of the moment are careful in their actions and utterances and the people they associate with.

During such periods, the Acting President may be the loneliest person around. When a President is sick or on medical vacation, those surrounding the President, who see themselves as the kitchen cabinet are the deadliest and the most vulnerable.

The gatekeepers have everything to lose if the President does not come back to work, this is because they are the ones that decide who sees the President and who gets appointed to sensitive positions.

So, if anything happens to the President they will lose out and new players will take over leadership. It is in the interest of the kitchen cabinet or the gatekeepers to make sure that the best medical facilities are provided for the President. An Acting President in a period of uncertainty is very vulnerable, the opportunists and sycophants will be at work.

Those that see the future and those that pay those who see the future will be at work. Every move, every utterance and every action of the Acting President is monitored and documented and analysed for “treason” and “treasonable felony”.

So, an Acting President is careful as every move he makes is monitored and documented. His loyalty is tested on a daily basis. If he carries out an assignment that the President left pending before his sickness, they read meanings into it. If he acts otherwise, meaning is read into it.

A good politician in an acting capacity knows and should know that there are professional politicians with multiple competences in backbiting and gossip. They pick snippets of information and twist the information for economic and political gain.

These “madmen and specialists” in concrete terms have no scruples and switch allegiances at will. The Nigerian people deserve and demand to be told the truth regarding the health of their duly elected President. Presidential monologues regarding the health of the President make Nigerians look like a people without soul who wish their President dead.

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