The former Zambian president, Edgar Lungu, collapsed during a public event and it was later announced that he would need to seek treatment abroad. The procedures following a president’s death are often rather straightforward — as Zambians know all too well having had two presidents die in office since 2008. But what happens when a president falls ill and cannot perform the duties of his office?
In the United States, if a president’s illness makes him unable to discharge his duties, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides for the vice president to take over the duties of the president. There are two ways the 25th Amendment can be invoked. According to Section 3 of the amendment, the president can make a written declaration of his inability to discharge his duties. Alternatively, if the president doesn’t voluntarily transfer powers before his incapacitation, according to Section 4 of the amendment, the vice president can, with a majority of the cabinet (or some other such “body as Congress may by law provide”), submit their own written declaration that the president cannot discharge his duties, after which the vice president immediately assumes the powers and duties of the office.
Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, pages 1 and 2. Credit: U.S. National Archives
Despite its relative youth, the Zambian constitution also has provisions for presidential incapacity. In the constitutional provisions for presidential succession, we studied Article 36 of the Zambian constitution, subtitled “Removal of President on Grounds of Incapacity.” According to Article 36, the cabinet can instruct Zambia’s Chief Justice to request a board of doctors to investigate the president’s capacity to carry out his responsibilities. If the board deemed the president incapacitated, the constitution requires a two-thirds vote by the national assembly endorsing the vice president to assume the presidency and call a presidential election within 90 days.
Still, multiple Zambian presidents have fallen ill in office, with no action taken according to Article 36. The most notable case was President Levy Mwanawasa, who suffered a stroke in June 2008 that eventually led to his death two months later. There was no movement by his cabinet in the intervening period between his stroke and death to invoke Article 36. A lone cabinet minister, Ben Tetamashimba, suggested the ruling party look for a successor following Mwanawasa’s stroke and the party leaders and Mwanawasa’s family condemned Tetamashimba’s remarks and he faced disciplinary measures in the party.
What does the Nigerian constitution say about what is expected of a sick president?
Nigeria’s 1999 constitution talks about the health of the office of the president, his incapacity in office, and other relevant requirement on the subject matter.
This is explained in Chapter VI, Section 144. Which says:
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.
Let’s stop overheating the polity
We should all allow the constitution to take its place
Enough of unwarranted statement
Enough of unwarranted statement