11 February 2017

Nigeria: How Buhari's 'Sick Leave' is Affecting Politics

Photo: Premium Times
President Muhammadu Buhari.

A few hours after President Muhammadu Buhari left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, rumours floated on the social media that the number one citizen had died of an undisclosed ailment.

This was despite the fact that the president walked out of his room at the Presidential Villa by himself and headed to the airport after transmitting a letter to the National Assembly.

In 2015, Buhari rode to power on the pedestal of popular votes from across Nigeria in the midst of increasing great expectations for a new dawn in social, political and economic fortunes.

But recent events, occasioned by "dashed hopes", have begun to tell on the president's popularity.

While some Nigerians believe that a good foundation has been laid by Buhari, others are of the opinion that the "tea party" is over as indicated by the use of his trip to ventilate their anger, with many drawing his rule to an end with the death rumours.

In the letter, President Buhari told the legislators of his desire to embark on a 10-day vacation and within the period, undergo a routine medical check-up.

Ordinarily, the fact that the president had transmitted a letter to the National Assembly effectively ceding executive powers to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, just like what he did in the past, should have calmed frayed nerves.

However, curious analysts, opposition politicians and those who are not in tune with his style of governance picked hole in the "abrupt" manner the journey was announced and executed.

A suspicious gap

When the president was departing for the 10-day vacation, Vice President Osinbajo, who was in Davos, Switzerland, attending the 2017 World Economic Forum, returned to Nigeria the following day and resumed duty as acting president.

"This abrupt departure of the president and abrupt return of the VP was the first thing that aroused suspicions that Buhari's trip was not normal as Nigerians were made to believe," said opposition politician, Musa Ali Bagi.

"Protocol-wise, it was not normal for the president to start a vacation while his deputy was away because a vacuum was created," he said.

And the suspicion of the president's weak health state heightened when it was announced that he would not return on the appointed date.

Buhari was to return on Sunday, February 5, so that he would be in his office on Monday, but sadly, it was on that Sunday that his aides announced he would not come.

"It was wrong for the president to also send a letter to the National Assembly, extending his leave without telling Nigerians when he would resume," said PDP's spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye.

"The President should know he is not a private citizen. He should know that Nigerians are the ones paying his health bills and therefore, he should tell them the true state of his health. He should not treat Nigerians with levity and should also know what is obtainable in civilized countries. Nigeria is not a jungle," he added.

Considering the anxiety, several pictures of Buhari and his wife, among others, apparently "enjoying his vacation" at the Nigerian House in London, went viral, a public relations strategy that equally drew elaborate commentaries, with some saying the pictures were either old or fake.

But the APC National Publicity Secretary, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, said the party was overstretching its boundaries.

"Does the PDP know more than what we have been told? What we know is what we have been told. This is the president of the country. The elections are over, he is our president, he is the president of Nigeria, not of the APC or PDP. If the president told us that he needed to stay back to do some other medical things, it behoves on us, as responsible citizens, to pray for him and stop sensing an opportunity to retaliate," he said.

Engagements at the Villa

Since his departure and the return of Osinbajo, President Buhari's office has since almost been deserted. Politicians, in particular, are no longer visiting the president's office, and the acting president has been operating from the Vice President's Wing of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.

Since Osinbajo became acting president, only five state governors have at the time of filing this report on Friday, visited the Presidential Villa. They include Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara State), Mohammed Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Samuel Ortom (Benue) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo).

The National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was at the State House for a meeting with the acting president Monday. He was not accompanied by any of the party's national working committee.

The acting president had met with the leadership of the National Assembly over the economy and budget-related matters. Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara visited Osinbajo twice.

Osinbajo had led the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting three times between January 25 and February 8 where contracts were approved and certain policy decisions were made. Penultimate Wednesday, the council raised a task force to reduce prices of food items. A N21 billion contract for the construction of the Ilorin-Kabba Road was awarded.

Osinbajo also met with the service chiefs. On January 20, he was briefed on the situation in The Gambia, where Nigerian troops were deployed last month.

However, the routine meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), which is headed by the president, has not been convened since President Buhari departed.

Since the president left, there has not been any meeting of the Council of State, even though Buhari himself only held such a meeting twice since his assumption of office on May 29, 2015.

On February 1, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo inaugurated new five national commissioners of the National Population Commission. But after administering the oath of office on them, the acting president made no remarks.

On Tuesday last week, the acting president forwarded the name of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to the Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN.

Osinbajo has also been briefed by several heads of agencies including those of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Department of State Services.

Two traditional rulers have visited the acting president at the State House. They are the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi and the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu.

The Presidency has asserted that Osinbajo has done everything he ought to do as acting president.

His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said in a chat with our correspondent on Thursday: "There is absolutely nothing needed to be done that has not been done, the acting president has presided over Federal Executive Council meetings and has met with service chiefs. In fact, his first meeting with the service chiefs was when we came back from Davos when they briefed him on the situation in The Gambia. President Muhammadu Buhari has done well by transmitting powers to his deputy in line with the constitution," he said.

Akande said Osinbajo could not have moved to Buhari's office because the former is only acting as president.

'Buhari, a victim of diabolical machinations'

Ardent supporters of the president told our correspondent that Buhari had been a victim of "diabolical machinations", making it difficult for him to concentrate.

Nasiru Aminu, a resident of Katsina, said many people were deploying diabolical means to distract Buhari from concentrating on his duties.

"The president was not as frail as he is now when he assumed office in 2015, that time, he was extremely agile and focused but he is no more himself now and we actually see the devil at work," he said.

Aminu said Buhari's adversaries had deployed "prayer merchants to cause curses" that would make it difficult to concentrate.

"The opposition to the president is not just from southern Nigeria because hundreds of so-called Mallams are being sponsored to Saudi Arabia and other places to pray against the success of the president," he said.

Another supporter, Abba Yakubu, said the president was "tamed" right from the onset.

"We know that his several travels abroad at the inception of his administration were not normal, some unpatriotic elements tagged him through dubious means to be traveling and when he finally settled, they changed tactics, he is now constantly sick," he said.

Strange stories from the Presidential Villa are not new. Former- first lady, Patience Jonathan, had reportedly said her health status significantly improved after her husband vacated the seat of power. Former presidential spokesmen, Reuben Abati Femi Fani-Kayode had also at different times aired their views on "strange happenings" in the Presidential Villa.

However, in his analogy, the Senator representing Katsina South, Senator Abu Ibrahim, said contrary to insinuations, Buhari is not sick but merely exhausted as a result of the various challenges confronting his government.

A close ally of the president, a Katsina senator who visited Buhari in London recently, said issues that might have taken a toll on the president, including the destruction of oil pipelines that reduced production to almost half, the fall in oil price that affected the economy and led to the current recession and the falling exchange rate that has affected the purchasing power of most Nigerians.

Monday's demonstrations in Abuja and Lagos by two opposing groups-#I stand with Buhari and #I stand with Nigeria, brought to the fore, how Buhari's disposition to power is redefining politics in the country.

But the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said it was only in Nigeria that citizens would act the way they acted over straight issues.

"I want to assure you, Mr. President is well and is in absolutely no danger. Mr. President, like I said elsewhere, is probably a victim of his own transparency," he said.

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