I will start by recognizing the power of prayers to alter destiny in countless human situations. I believe that the life or death of President Muhammadu Buhari is absolutely in the hands of his Creator, no matter the pathology of his health condition. Regardless of what his supporters and opponents wish to see happen to him, what will be will be. So much bizarre ailments have been ascribed to the President. The prognosis in the court of public opinion ranges from prostate cancer, ear infection, Crohn’s disease, poisoning to other medical conditions that could not be mentioned here. Although Mr. President is a public figure, issues pertaining to his health are entirely private to him. He may or may not wish to share his health status with anybody. That’s his prerogative. Of course it is the sole choice of Mr. President to remain silent on his health condition insofar as he does not completely become incapacitated.
Thus, as far as constitutional provisions on this matter are concerned, Mr. President has obviously done the needful when he transferred power to the Vice President before he left for treatment in London. To his credit, he has observed the time limits upon which any President of Nigeria can be absent from office. His return to Nigeria to continue with his recuperation is purposely to beat constitutional limits imposed on him. Failure to do that of course would have compelled the National Assembly to invoke other provisions of the constitution regarding the absence or abnegation of responsibility by the President. Nobody can fault him on his desire to live by the dictates of the Nigerian constitution.
The return of Mr. President to Nigeria is not without a strong caveat. Left to his doctors, his stay in London should have been extended until he gets fully recovered from whatever ailment afflicting him. Ideally, according to media reports, Mr. President should have spent at least 6 more months at a stretch under the careful observation of his medical team. But the enormous responsibilities, conditions and terms of his office wouldn’t allow him to enjoy such a privilege. The right to stay for too long outside Nigeria for whatever reason by a sitting President is not guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. On his return to office, he had to seek means of striking a very delicate balance between managing his health and running the complex behemoth of the Nigerian state.
Mr. President has intermittently delegated authority to his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Thus, as he skips the weekly Federal Executive Council Meetings, again and again on his doctors’ advice, things did not seem to deviate much from his obfuscating style of leadership. Decision was promptly taken to lighten the burden of his office until such a point when his health condition improves remarkably. Information and Culture Minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed reassured Nigerians that there is no reason whatsoever to doubt the fact that the health of President Buhari is not improving. But as Mr. President’s health appears to be deteriorating, he retreated to his inner residential office in the Presidential Villa to work on the quantum of memos, files and submissions from federal ministries and autonomous agencies that are either concentrated in the federal capital Abuja or scattered across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. This move is in clear contravention of his doctors’ advice. The President is expected to engage only in less strenuous public functions.
With the intensification of strain and stress of the health of Mr. President, his aides have willy-nilly left Nigerians to swim aimlessly in the ocean of uncertainty and speculation. Mr. President’s handlers are clearly not doing adequately enough in effectively communicating the morbid conditions of Mr. President. From the onset, the spokespersons have betrayed their confusion over what to tell Nigerians about Mr. President’s abrupt trip to United Kingdom. They were not sure whether Mr. President was travelling to London on medical visit or on a routine holiday trip. This level of shoddiness became much clearer with the quarantining of Mr. President at the Nigeria House in London. The spokespersons were actually giving conflicting signals in their reports.
Down the line, the distinguished personalities allowed to pay visit to the President in London have on their own developed a curious habit of reassuring Nigerians that the health of Mr. President was remarkably improving. According to them, Mr. President was not in any immediate danger. The snapshots released to media agencies were meant to lend credence to the reassurances given by the august visitors. But this has only fueled public suspicion the more. Different spokespersons were also saying different things about the return of Mr. President from his medical trip to Nigeria. They kept changing the arrival date of Mr. President without giving Nigerians cogent reasons for shifting the dates. It got to a point where majority of Nigerians were forced to resign themselves to whatever fate has in store for them and their President. The matter gradually died down a little particularly in the noisy spaces of the social media before its current momentum.
Mr. President is now back home. As it is, he is said to be recuperating in the cozy atmosphere of the Presidential Villa. But I doubt if the President is enjoying the coziness of the Villa with so many issues of national interest competing for his prompt attention. Convalescence under such conditions would be pretty difficult. In the midst of all this, there are fresh waves of rumors spiraling up in the air and hitting the body politic hard. As usual, media snippets started hinting that Mr. President is relapsing as reporters observed his countenance from a respectable distance in the Villa.
Some notorious online news platforms have gone to the extent of insinuating that the Nigerian leader is incapacitated. One particular opinion that has captured my attention was that of Perry Brimah as reported by punchng.com. Mr. Brimah described Mr. President as “chronically ill”, as “no more than skin and bone”. That the “videos of Buhari walking for Friday prayers bring tears to eyes”; and, “For those of us in the medical profession, we recognize the President’s loss of hair on his head and facial hair as well as his reported blood transfusions as possible evidence of cancer”. In other reports, President Muhammadu Buhari is said to be “fed intravenously as he has had severe difficulty eating and drinking for several days”, etcetera, etcetera.
The spate of online media reports on the health status of President Muhammadu Buhari has inevitably forced his spokespersons to respond with barrage of defensive posturing. DAILY NIGERIAN of April 27, 2017 has lucidly presented Garba Shehu’s media briefing where he reassured Nigerians that “As eager as he is to be up and about, the President’s doctors have advised on his taking things slowly, as he fully recovers from the long period of treatment in the United Kingdom some weeks ago.” He further reassured Nigerians “Full recovery is sometimes a slow process, requiring periods of rest and relaxation”. Typically, this is always accomplished in the straightforward style of western tradition of State House reportage.
The more combative Femi Adesina has elsewhere in Lagos engaged voices calling on Mr. President to step aside and attend to his health to avoid political instability in the country should anything untoward happen to him before a formal handover to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. As social media comments indicate, Nigerians are familiarly divided along primordial fault-lines in their opinions on the health condition of Mr. President. While his supporters are overlooking his health challenges, by somehow pretending all is well with him and urging him to continue with the good work of bringing change to Nigeria through his anti-corruption crusade, his opponents are however harping on the need for his resignation. Minimally, they expect from him to make a peaceful handover of power to his Vice President.
As bickering over the health status of Mr. President continues unabated, all shades of politicians are also coming out of hibernation induced by their fear of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war. They can now be seen making inauthentic noises just for the sake of media visibility. Such sudden attention-seeking outings may not be unconnected with their anticipation of the possibility of power vacuum in Nigeria. At least, their frenzied politicking seems to suggest so. In as much as President Buhari’s handlers are strenuously attempting to avoid the inevitable question, I don’t think it is for nothing that the political temperature in the country is suddenly rising with different camps crisscrossing the country. In the process, they throw hints at whoever cares to listen to them about the plans they are making to replace President Muhammadu Buhari now or in 2019 general elections.
While a cluster of human rights activists led by Femi Falana and Professor Jibrin Ibrahim are calling on Mr. President to return to United Kingdom for further medical attention, a populist Wole Soyinka is demanding Mr. President to declare the nature of his morbidity, as if that is a constitutional right. Some elements of the opposition are even calling for the resignation of the President. Bisi Akande, the founding Chairman of APC, has expressed deep concern over the vested interests that are taking advantage of Mr. President’s health condition to cause political volatility in the polity.
Another APC leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has only now remembered to inform Nigerians how he was denied the Vice President ticket. Former President Obasanjo, the master schemer of Ota, was sighted in Minna meeting with two other former leaders, Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdusalami Abubakar, over a potentially explosive situation in Nigeria. As if the wall is listening, on 2nd of May 2017 Aisha Buhari tweeted that the health of her husband “is not as bad as it’s being perceived”. On the same day, President Buhari himself ended his health retreat by appearing in office to receive some officials.
My take on this unfolding drama is that Nigerians should try to avoid a repeat of the experiences that acrimoniously ushered President Goodluck Jonathan into office with the declining health of late President Umaru Yar’adua. We must understand that history is a tool for drawing useful lessons from previous experiences in society. The scenario that unfolded when President Yar’adua passed on should be avoided by anybody who loves Nigeria. You may recall how a group of “selfish cabal” nearly succeeded in plunging Nigeria into total quandary when they attempted to deny President Goodluck Jonathan from taking over power until it became impossible for them to do so.
If indeed it is true that the health condition of Mr. President is deteriorating, the time is now and not a minute later for him to return to London for proper medical attention. Like the honorable statesman he is, he can alternatively call it quits to avoid awkward situation that will plunge the country into any form of political crisis. Nigeria is indeed bigger than any individual or vested interest to toy with.
Mr Liman is a professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria