By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, this has been a week of feverish action and frenetic activity between Nigeria and Great Britain. I assume that all Nigerians know that our dear beloved President is currently a resident of the beautiful city of London, not by choice but of necessity. Twice, in quick succession, Nigeria has been bogged down by the ill-health of its leaders and by some strange coincidence both are from Katsina State. The first, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, of blessed memory, sought medical refuge in Saudi Arabia but succumbed after a prolonged battle with what seemed to be cancer. Obviously, in our wonderful country, we never enjoy the privilege of being told anything by our leaders. We often make a fetish of what is a straight-forward matter elsewhere. We are a largely superstitious race. A common ailment is always attributed to some esoteric attacks from witches and wizards or some such other malevolent forces.
There could be no other reason why we hide the poor health of our leaders from those who foot the medical bills than the fact that we take them for granted and believe there is no basis for providing them with information that is their right to have. Besides, Nigeria is blessed with the largest assemblage of Pastors, Imams and marabouts. How would they know where to direct their intercession if no one gives a hint of what is wrong? The Yar’Adua saga in 2010 was one of its kind in Nigeria. The country was kept in the dark while some of the Presidential acolytes governed through the backdoor. After some massive protests, especially in Abuja, Yar’Adua’s deputy and Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was allowed to act as President, albeit grudgingly.
If we thought such a thing would never repeat itself, we were dead wrong. Not only did it recur, it did so with an alacrity that is seemingly unprecedented in history. Our current President, Muhammadu Buhari, has spent more time attending to himself than he has spent attending to matters of State. Nigerians have shown more tolerance to him and demonstrated greater patience than they did for President Yar’Adua. No one has taken to the streets protesting against his incessant absences from his job, which could easily have been the case. But there are different categories of people in support or opposition to his continued stay as President and Commander-in-Chief. The Governor of Ekiti State has never hidden his pathological disdain for Buhari. He attacks him with devastating blows and pugilistic upper cuts at every opportunity.
Several times, Fayose has declared Buhari dead or incapacitated only to get egged on his face as the President rises like the proverbial Lazarus. He never gets tired of quoting impeccable sources and swearing and threatening to release damaging proof of his false doomsday prophesies. So far, so good, he’s been dead wrong at every turn! Even if not entirely hale and hearty, Buhari continues to stand ramrod on his feet, albeit looking feeble and weak. There is no doubt that the President is presently enjoying better health than has been the case in the recent past. We must appreciate the fact that there have been several world leaders, who have not been that strong, that have governed their countries from their sick bed. President Buhari has demonstrated his ability to do so because of the able and competent Vice President that he has in Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The President has learnt to trust and rely on the Acting President and, in this regard, has been quite open and forthright in his support for the Acting President. What this has done is to improve the way in which people perceive the Presidency, as a joint team which makes it immaterial that one or the other is ill at any point in time.
There are those who feel Buhari is too weak to continue to run a country as complex and complicated as Nigeria. Again, Fayose has been in the forefront of those wanting him to resign like yesterday. They often use an old quote of Buhari against him, the advice he offered ailing President Yar’Adua when he told him to resign in 2010. In 2017, a similar scenario is playing out with such uncanny similarity and repetition. Would Buhari bow out due to pressure? I doubt it. We all say things when they’ve not concerned or affected us personally and directly. Truth is we do not have a culture of resignation in Nigeria. The position of the President of Nigeria is certainly one of the most powerful in the world. It would take some spiritual intervention to walk away casually from such a monumental privilege. No one can say what he would do with a degree of assertion until he’s been tried and tempted. That is a fact. So let’s accept for now that our President has no intention of abdicating anytime soon. Indeed, it would be premature to ask him to do so in any event. It is clear that he is showing quite remarkable improvement and almost magical recuperative powers of recovery. This means that one cannot say he should quit the stage when he clearly can continue to act once he has become fully rejuvenated after a long stint of rest and relaxation.
Next we have those we have come to know as “the cabal”. That word became popular in 2010 and has refused to evaporate or vaporise ever since. This is a group of inner caucus in any government that has grabbed power for itself in an opportunistic manner. It thrives on the disappearance or long term absence of its principal and they feed regularly on unbelievable blackmail and on dropping subliminal hints that would scare everyone around into submission and acquiescence. The Cabal is always intent on ensuring that they create the impression that their principal has cloaked them with so much of his powers as to make them the de facto leaders of the country. In effect they constitute themselves into a parallel government. If care is not taken, they try to undermine the constitutional and legitimate authority and line of succession, thereby rendering a person like the Acting President ineffective. The good thing is that this has not played out the way the cabal would have liked it to, because the President has been proactive in making sure that everybody knows that he has faith in his Vice.
Fortunately, there are hard core supporters who feel Africans are too humane to humiliate a leader like Buhari who has suffered so much for his country. They lend support to the Presidential Team by their unwavering support for the President despite his illness. They are those who are ready to swim or sink with the big boss no matter the situation. Their attitude is rested on the African culture of reciprocity and loyalty. Leading this group of unrepentant and unequivocal supporters of the President is the Acting President who feels the rest of the team should not be seen to be overtly or inordinately ambitious. Indeed, his own humility and ability to deflect attention from himself transmits itself to all those around him. The understanding is that they are temporarily holding the fort for the President and that everything that is being done is to project the avowed aim of the Presidential team to improve the lot of Nigerians.
The Acting President’s strategy is to demonstrate to the Nigerian people and the rest of the world that the joint ticket is working and working well irrespective of the failing health of the number one citizen. Therefore, as far as the Acting President is concerned, whether the President is fully fit or not, his situation should not be made worse by rejection and dejection. This is why the Abuja House, located in the high-brow Camden Hill in Kensington, London has been turned into a Mecca of sorts for several reasons. There are those who believe the President should never be hurried or humiliated out power. They believe he deserves our support and sympathy now, more than ever.
There are other reasons for the sudden photo opportunities in London which seemed to have been embargoed for some time. Perhaps this was done because the President did not look too good at the time and it was felt there was no need to panic Nigerians when Doctors must have told him that his improvement health-wise was increasing. Whatever may have been the reason why there was no visibility for the President until recently, the pressure on government was becoming suffocating and unbearable after two many failed promises about Buhari’s potential return within a short time. As a matter of fact, Buhari’s return had been hyped into a frenzy, the climax of which was Femi Adesina’s ill-fated essay on the punishment Buhari’s enemies deserve. Femi’s parable was construed or misconstrued as a sign heralding Buhari’s imminent triumphant re-entry into Nigeria. In fact, many had predicted that Buhari was going to land last Monday in Abuja but that soon became Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Instead of our President’s return to Nigeria, Nigeria actually moved to London with The Ruling Party’s leader and some of its Governors embarking on a visit to the President which was shrouded in some secrecy until practically the last minute. Thereafter, another visit was arranged for opposition Governors as if to say that it was necessary for Nigerians to believe that the President was now much better only if both sides of the political divide said so. Of course their visit had been preceded by the visit of the Acting President who had brought the good tidings of a quickly recuperating President. One would have thought that given the integrity and nobility that one has come to associate with the Acting President, the veracity of his testimony would have been accepted, particularly, as he is also a much respected man of God.
I’m not sure what those public relations stunts, which is what the governors’ visits amounted to, achieved, except establishing that President Buhari was alive and now able to receive visitors. It is doubtful from the pictures released that the President has recovered substantially and that he would return home pretty soon. He still looks fragile and on my part, I would say that his return should not be rushed. If he still needs to rest in order to recover some more then he should be allowed to do so. I say this because once he returns, it would be an insult to Nigerians to rush him out of the country again after a short period of time. Medical facilities can be installed in the villa to help monitor his health and give him the necessary remedial treatment that he may require.
In my view, the energy and resources expended on those gubernatorial trips should have been channelled into getting our President to record a few minutes’ video address to Nigerians. Indeed, this should have been a fairly regular occurrence. It would be most comforting to the people of Nigeria simply to see and hear from their President even if for a few seconds. The President should have taken the opportunity to thank Nigerians for their patience and understanding and seek their continuing prayers while he continues to recuperate.
I monitored the conversations regarding the visit of the governors on social media and majority of the people said they would never trust whatever they are told by the visiting Governors. Even when the pictures came out to demonstrate clearly that Buhari is alive, many doubting Thomases still maintained that they didn’t believe the tales from London. My question then is, why do we keep wallowing in this shallow approach to serious issues? Why can’t we update Nigerians regularly about the medical condition and physical state of the President. It is not a crime to be sick. We should stop being unnecessarily protective. Buhari is public property. He is not the exclusive preserve of his family or the Presidency. We are making life more difficult for him by this excessive sensitivity. It is time to be open and frank with the Nigerian people.