In March 2017 a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Abia State, Chime Asonye asked on Twitter if anyone was counting the amount of leave President Buhari has taken, as the “…Constitution gives 60 days…”.
In June 2017, as President Buhari approached day 60 of his medical vacation abroad, this sentiment was echoed by other Twitter handles, including @Tomyboiz – who claimed that “The Nigerian Constitution allows a President to be out of the country for 60 days after which the Senate MUST intervene.”, and @stalyf who also claimed that “The constitution allows the president to be out of office for 60 days after which the @NGRSenate must intervene”.
These claims reference the Constitution and a 60-day annual leave limit it sets for the President. Our search for this provision was fruitless, only throwing up lots of oblique references from even reputable sources, like Bloomberg, to this 60-day annual leave limit hidden within the Constitution.
Section 145 of the Constitution states that:
- 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 or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.
Section 145 crucially sets no limit on the length of a president’s vacation, or on how long he can remain “unable to discharge the functions of his office”.
So where does the 60-day limit come from?
Our best guess is that commentators are borrowing this position from sections of Nigeria’s Public Service Rules (2008). Chapter 7: Section 3, Clause 070318 states:
Sick leave for a period up to three months in the first instance may be allowed on the certificate of an approved HealthCare Provider to an officer who is hospitalized. If at the end of that period the officer is still hospitalized, his Permanent Secretary/Head of Extra- Ministerial Office must make an arrangement for him to be examined by a Medical Board with a view to ascertaining whether he should be invalidated from the service or allowed further paid sick leave.
Why is a detour into the Public Service Rules irrelevant?
Well, Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION, Clause 010101 states that:
“ …These Public Service Rules apply to all officers EXCEPT (emphasis, ours) where they conflict with specific terms approved by the Federal Government …In so far as the holders of the offices of The President; Vice President; …and any other similar organs that derive their appointments from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are concerned, these Rules apply ONLY to the extent that they are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution…”
Clause 070318 of the Public Service Rules is clearly in conflict with Section 144 of the Constitution which spells out the process for dealing with an unwell President, so it does not apply and can be disregarded.
Back to the claim that the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria sets a 60-day limit for annual leave or sick leave for the President, no evidence of this was found anywhere within the Constitution.
Therefore, the claims by @chimeasonye, @stalyf, and @Tomboiz that the Constitution states that the President cannot be away from office for more than 60 days is false.