The trademark slow response of the president to issues of national importance and governance may have been fueling speculations that the president might, indeed, not be in the best form of health.
On Thursday, last week, President Muhammadu Buhari hurriedly travelled out of the country to London for yet another medical vacation in the United Kingdom. The latest trip is the third time the Nigerian president has sought medical attention in a UK hospital since he assumed office as president on May 29, 2015 – 20 months ago. While he is away, the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo will act as acting president for the third time.
The president’s frequent trips abroad for medical attention have been a source of worry for many. In the run-up to the 2015 election through which he emerged as president, the greatest campaign against his candidacy was that he was too old and not medically fit to withstand the rigours of governance. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), had a hectic time convincing sceptics that its candidate was as fit as a fiddle and, therefore, qualified to be voted into office as president.
Many months down the line, there are indications that the president might not be as fit as his aides, loyalists and supporters may want Nigerians to believe. That is probably why rumour mongers have always been at work spreading fallacious stories about the president’s health because of his seeming slow approach to governance. Shortly after he left the shores of the country on the latest medical sojourn, the rumour mill was again agog with unverifiable stories that the president may have passed on in London. The news, which was all over the social media at the weekend, caused a lot of consternation in several quarters. The presidency was quick to douse the tension created by this unfathomable rumour by saying that there was no iota of truth to it.
Sworn in as president in May 2015, in the country’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power, Buhari had promised a clampdown on the so-called “health tourism”, where government officials travel abroad for treatment rather than patronise Nigerian doctors. In a speech in April 2016, to the Nigerian Medical Association, he said the country loses around $1 billion to health tourism each year. The president added that he would discourage government officials from going elsewhere for treatment “especially when there is evidence of expertise in Nigeria.” Many Nigerians are, therefore, wondering why Buhari, with all the billions allocated to the Medical Centre at the presidential villa, still needs to go abroad constantly for medical attention.
As mentioned earlier, Buhari’s health came under severe scrutiny during the 2015 election campaign when his opponents claimed he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. Even as the president and his handlers continue to dismiss the insinuation of ill-health as balderdash, the ugly story has refused to go away. The trademark slow response of the president to issues of national importance and governance may have been fueling speculations that the president might, indeed, not be in the best form of health. This is underscored by the fact that the president has had to shy away from many important engagements that would have required his physical presence.
The fear now pervading everywhere is that the country might, once more, be travelling down an old, beaten path, as it happened during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s last days.
A few days before Buhari left for the UK, Osinbajo had gone on a peace mission to the Niger Delta where he met with some leaders of the region in Gbaramatu, which appears to be the hotbed of the ongoing militancy in the Niger Delta region. On his return, he was again airborne, this time, to Davos, Switzerland, to attend the yearly global leaders’ conference, otherwise known as World Economic Forum. It is a forum where leaders across the globe gather every year to discuss issues of mutual economic importance. The forum is so important that attendee global leaders usually attend the conference with the full compliment of officials who are experts on various issues. Unfortunately, this year, Buhari was missing in action.
Similarly, though the recent accidental bombing of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Rann, Borno State, by pilots of the Nigerian Air Force attracted huge public outcry, the president did not deem it fit to visit the camp, as well as the wounded in the hospital. Instead, he merely sent what the presidency termed “a high powered delegation” led by Abba Kyari, his chief of staff, and other top government officials, including top military chiefs, to commiserate with the victims. In saner countries, such a visit could have been undertaken by the president in person, to empathise with the victims.
What the two illustrations above connote is that the president might be getting increasingly weighed down by the rigours and burden of his office due to his unfavourable health condition, either caused by old age or by ill-health. The fear now pervading everywhere is that the country might, once more, be travelling down an old, beaten path, as it happened during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s last days.
On December 17, 2006, Yar’Adua was chosen as the presidential candidate of the ruling PDP for the April 2007 election. Shortly after winning the nomination, he chose Goodluck Jonathan, who was then governor of Bayelsa State, as his vice-presidential candidate. Just like APC sold the candidacy of Buhari to Nigerians as an upright man, then President Olusegun Obasanjo settled for Yar’Adua as a successor on the strength that he (Yar’Adua) was one of the few serving governors at that time, with a spotless record, devoid of any suspicion or charges of corruption. But as soon as he became president, things started happening differently. He was soon bogged down by ill-health which was believed to have plagued him right from his days as governor of Katsina State, between 1999 and 2007.
…the late president’s health dominated discussions everywhere in the country as many Nigerians were kept in the dark on the true state of their president’s health. During this period, the country was virtually on auto pilot as Yar’Adua’s close aides at the Villa scrambled to hold the reins of governance together…
On March 6, 2007, shortly before the presidential elections, he was flown to Germany for medical reasons, thereby fomenting rumours about his health. In the election held on April 21, 2007, he won. After his assumption of office as president on May 29, 2007, Yar’Adua, who suffered from a kidney condition, challenged his critics to a game of squash in an endeavour to end speculations about his health. From then on, the late president’s health dominated discussions everywhere in the country as many Nigerians were kept in the dark on the true state of their president’s health. During this period, the country was virtually on auto pilot as Yar’Adua’s close aides at the Villa scrambled to hold the reins of governance together in the absence of their principal who had almost become human vegetable in the Villa.
Yar’Adua finally left the country on November 23, 2009, and was reported to be receiving treatment for pericarditis at a clinic in Saudi Arabia. According to the American Heart Association, a common symptom of acute pericarditis is a sharp, stabbing chest pain, usually coming on quickly. The chest pain may feel like a heart attack. Severe cases of chronic pericarditis can lead to swelling in the stomach and legs and hypotension (low blood pressure). He was never seen in public alive again, and his absence created a dangerous power vacuum in the country.
On February 9, 2010, the Senate invoked the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer presidential powers to Jonathan, the vice president and declared him acting president, with all the accompanying powers, pending the time Yar’Adua would return to full health. On February 24, 2010, Yar’Adua sneaked into Abuja under the cover of darkness on a life support machine. Various political and religious figures in the country were quickly arranged by his aides to visit the Villa under the guise of seeing the ailing president to “wish him a quick recovery”. It was all a decoy to cover the truth as they all emerged from the Villa to tell Nigerians some blatant lies that the president would make a recovery. He never did. He passed away on May 5, 2010, at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. The question is: Will history repeat itself? God forbid!
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