Nigerian lawmakers took action July 26 and July 27 in response to national anxieties about the health and competence of absent President Muhammadu Buhari, who for the last 80 days has been in the United Kingdom receiving medical attention for an undisclosed ailment. The Nigerian upper and lower houses voted in favor of a battery of constitutional amendments. Now a final version must be agreed upon between the two houses and passed by two thirds of the 36 regional state parliaments before it is signed into power by the executive. If it passes, it will have a significant impact on Nigeria's power structures.
The most notable of the 30 amendments passed by the two houses would restrict the tenure of future caretaker leaders who accede to their position following a death or resignation. The measure, which would apply to governors as well as presidents, would allow inheritors of power to stand for election on their own right for no more than one full term. The move is evidently a response to the nation's experience with sick presidents, a recurrent problem since President Yaradua died in office in 2010. Then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan ascended to the presidency and completed the rest of Yaradua's term before running successfully in 2011 and then, controversially, running again in 2015 — that time unsuccessfully.
Though the adoption of the bill relates to the broader issue of presidential succession, the timing of the passage is notable: Buhari is still on sick leave in the United Kingdom after several months of little to no communication. Though it is unclear how the rest of Buhari's time in office will play out, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is clearly in a prime position to take over should Buhari be unable to rule until his term expires in 2019. The various power players in Nigerian politics are almost certainly weighing the scenarios.
Another amendment passed would effectively cut out the president in cases in which the National Assembly passes a bill but the president — for one reason or another — does not take the next step to either pass or reject it. This has been a frequent problem in the past. The Senate's amendment stipulates that in such an event, the bill in question would become law after 30 days. A related amendment would place a limit on the time that a president can wait before appointing ministers — something else that has dragged on recently.
These bills still face hurdles in the 36 state parliaments and must either be signed into law by the executive or — if the president chooses to veto them — passed via an override backed by two-thirds of senators. The amendments have received the notable backing of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who while a member of Buhari's All Progressives Congress (APC) won support from the APC's main rival, the People's Democratic Party, angering Buhari and other APC leaders in the process.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that by seeking to rebalance power while Buhari is incommunicado and while his health and future political status are in doubt, Nigerian lawmakers are making a stand.