Unmistakably, the circumstance of President Muhammadu Buhari traveling abroad for his annual leave and in all likelihood adding a visit to his doctors during the trip is stirring ripples across the country.
Since the Presidency announced that the Nigerian leader would travel to London within the first week of April (last week), and which is several days ahead of the forthcoming ( 16th -20th 2018), Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the British capital, mixed reactions have trailed the development. While some have expressed solidarity and even sympathy with Buhari over a likely return to hospital, others have treated the development with ridicule as if the gentleman is like a canary bird in a cage whose movement outside the cage should qualify as an anomaly. Even the opposition People Democratic Party (PDP) has through the attacks by its National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan, lived up to the role of excoriator-in-chief to all that is associated with Buhari, and has seemingly thrown its entire publicity machinery into the enterprise of vitiating the import of the President’s foreign trip at this time.
Meanwhile the Presidency has also not helped matters as it had cast a shield of secrecy over even the safe-to-reveal details of the trip for the Nigerian public, thereby deepening public concern over the entire exercise. As a result, wild speculations have trailed the exercise with every aspect - no matter how mundane, suffering from a twist out of context. For instance even the timing of the trip as being several days ahead of the CHOGM, has spawned wild speculations about the imminence of something untoward about the President’s welfare. The ambience of concern and attendant insinuations can therefore be excused given the rather poor show the Presidency made of previous trips by the President.
Ordinarily it should not be a big issue that the President is travelling to London eve if it is purely for medical reasons. Any person who has been following the circumstances of President Buhari’s tenure, will easily appreciate that his travel to London at any time for now, suggest that no matter whatever engagement he may have there, a visit to his doctors cannot be ruled out. Was it not in the same London he spent several weeks in hospital by this time last year for health challenges that predisposed him needy of specialized routine checkup afterwards? Hence, just in case secrecy remains an official element in the management of his case by the Presidency, such is as captured in the African proverb that “one cannot hide pregnancy forever”. Sooner than later the secret could even turn into an emergency that demands the attention of those the case was hidden from ab initio.
In any case, even if the Presidency may play shy in disclosing that the Nigerian President would spend time with his doctors, most Nigerians are aware of such possibility and are praying for his quick recovery just as they did during his last prolonged hospitalization, and from which he returned to the country to thank all for the gesture of concern for his health. That is a measure of the endowment of humanity in Nigerians, ordinarily. After all it is natural that just as the President is human, so is he expected to manifest any human weaknesses, including breakdowns in health status, even if to assure the country of his humanity.
Yet a foreign trip by Buhari for now can also justifiably attract concern due to what damage is inflicted from the Presidency on the country whenever his guard is lowered and especially when he is physically out of the country. Political scientists as well as scholars s and practitioners of administration recognize that the an organization is deemed to be stable when the mere temporary absence of just one actor - no matter his or her position therein, does not destabilize its structure and function. In this case he is travelling out of the country in the midst of debilitating crises in virtually all aspects of the nation’s life, all of which are traceable to past ineffectual, tepid responses by his administration leaving the citizenry in a state of palpable despair.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing contention not a few Nigerians are genuinely concerned over the new wave of malfeasances that will be visited on the country during his current trip to London by his lieutenants that care little about public weal. For instance it is on record that during his medical trip to London last year some of his lieutenants constituted themselves into a cabal in the Presidency and simply capitalized on his absence to wreak havoc on the country’s common patrimony. As is easily recalled it was during that period that he purportedly ‘approved’ from his London hospital bed and likely on transfusion, a whopping multi-billion dollar contract for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Many concerned Nigerians had even contemplated suing the London medical facility for such absurd level of clinical indiscretion, of allowing a patient undergoing medical procedures under their watch, to also attend to non-medical business deals including matters of statecraft.
Yet to make matters worse is the fact that the leading lights of the administration operate even in his presence as leviathan entities who hardly pay any premium to public opinion over their enterprise in governance, no matter how odious such may be in the esteem of the very public they claim to serve. Was it not that period that the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to whom the President formally transmitted powers to act in his absence, witnessed a blatant breach of Presidential protocol as stout resistance to his exercise of the transmitted powers. The truth is that concern over his trip is spawned by the liberties that will be claimed by some untouchable elements around him to wreak havoc on the country’s common patrimony. Although even during his direct watch the country did not fare better with respect to their outrages against the country, his absence provides the perfect ambience for them to run riot with their game.
Yet there could also be a silver lining from the trip, if it will clear the air over his health status once and for all especially as it borders on the widely held expectation that Buhari may contest the Presidential elections in 2019 for a second term. Since the main contention over the trip is actually of his health status, Buhari can still differ from his team by being more open to Nigerians - his own people, over the true state of affairs about his movements, in and out of the country.