The mystery of Nigeria’s holidaymaker-in-chief

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    Muhammadu Buhari is getting homesick, and who can
    blame him – it’s been more than a month since the Nigerian
    president had his feet on home soil. What started as a 10-day
    holiday to London has been indefinitely extended while Buhari
    receives treatment for some mysterious, unidentified illness.
    And the more that senior officials try to reassure the public
    that he is okay, the more Nigerians fear that he is
    not.

    Buhari has not publicly addressed his extended
    absence, although this is what he told the Senate, in a
    February 5 letter leaked to the

    Premium Times
    newspaper: “During my leave, I took the opportunity
    to have routine check-ups and consult my long-standing doctors
    in London. In the course of the routine examinations, certain
    test result indicated the need for a course of medications and
    further appointments have been scheduled for next week. I am
    therefore notifying the Distinguished Senate that I am
    extending my leave until the doctors are satisfied that certain
    factors are ruled out. In the circumstances, the vice president
    will continue to act on my behalf.”

    Buhari is reportedly staying at
    the

    residence of the Nigerian
    High Commissioner to
    London.

    Nigerians have watched this movie before – and it
    didn’t have a happy ending. In 2009, then-President Umaru Musa
    Yar Adua flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, leaving a
    dangerous power vacuum in his wake. He returned in 2010, but
    did not appear in public again, and eventually died in
    May.

    And Nigerians are right to be sceptical of repeated
    government assurances that Buhari’s illness is not
    life-threatening. In fact, there are plenty of examples of
    other African leaders seeking medical treatment abroad, usually
    for conditions much more serious than admitted to at the time.
    One example (of several) was the Ethiopian government’s
    repeated insistence, in 2012, that Prime Minister Meles
    Zenawi’s extended stay at a hospital in Brussels was due to a
    “minor illness” when in fact he was on his
    deathbed.

    Given this context, it is hard to believe that
    something is not seriously wrong. Buhari and his close advisers
    are not stupid, and would have expected the storm of rumours
    and speculation that would accompany the president’s long
    absence – rumours the under-fire president can ill-afford,
    given his current unpopularity and the scale of the challenges
    facing Nigeria.

    Also, unless Buhari’s condition is
    life-threatening, it seems unlikely that the private medical
    care available to the president within Nigeria would be unable
    to cope with whatever ails him.

    At least Buhari followed the necessary legal
    protocol before his departure. Unlike Yar Adua, Buhari made
    sure to confer his presidential powers on to his
    vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, who has been running the country
    in Buhari’s absence – and even taking controversial decisions,
    such as the nomination of Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as Chief
    Justice.

    Most of us did not think Osinbajo, as Acting
    President, had the guts to submit Onnoghen’s name against the
    wishes of his boss, under the watchful eyes of Buhari’s cabal.
    If Buhari gave his consent for Onnoghen’s name to be forwarded
    to the Senate from his sickbed in the UK, couldn’t he have
    handled it better if he had done so himself? As it is, Osinbajo
    will walk away as the person who, as Acting President, did the
    right thing (at the right time) which his principal failed to
    do. He demonstrated better leadership than Buhari,” wrote
    Vanguard columnist Ochereome Nnanna.

    Osinbajo has also been praised for his restrained
    approach to anti-government protests that erupted in Abuja and
    Lagos earlier in February. Osinbajo helped to defuse tensions
    by acknowledging the protesters’ concerns: “To those who are on
    the streets protesting the economic situation and those who are
    not, but feel the pain of economic hardship, we hear you. You
    deserve a decent life and we are working night and day to make
    life easier,” he said in a statement.

    As yet, there is no word on when
    Buhari will be coming home, although officials insist it will
    be “soon”. But perhaps this is no bad thing. Perhaps Nigerians
    are enjoying their holiday from Buhari as much as Buhari is
    enjoying his holiday from them?
    DM

    Photo: The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu
    Buhari, gives a press conference at the federal chancellery in
    Berlin, Germany, 14 October 2016. Buhari is on an official
    visit to Germany. EPA/RAINER JENSEN

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