By Eric Elezuo
Ever since June 2016 when President, Muhammadu Buhari began travelling to the United Kingdom for medical treatments, the follow up has reportedly been frequent, and in most cases up to six times before a year runs out. Back then, the President has to cancel two planned trips to the volatile Niger Delta region and Lagos for the first announced 10-day medical trip to the United Kingdom.
In the short statement released by his media aide, Femi Adesina then, the president supposedly needed to go abroad on the recommendation of his personal physician and an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist in Abuja.
“The pilgrimage has remained a routine ever since. And on each occasion, Nigerians are never told the nature of their president’s illness, and that has lingered till date,” a doctor, who craves anonymity to The Boss.
At that time, the vice-president of the Commonwealth Medical Association, Dr Osahon Enabulele, sounded that the president’s medical trip was not healthy for the development of Nigeria’s health institutions. Dr Enabulele pointed out that there were more than 250 ENT specialists plus a National Ear Centre, so the president’s trip to treat an ear infection was “a national shame”. Neither the president nor his kitchen listened.
Fast forwarding to the present, the presidential media aide, Femi Adesina, who is saddled with the responsibility of releasing the president’s pronouncements told Nigerians with late Thursday evening statement, that President Muhammadu Buhari would be travelling to the United Kingdom in less than 24 hours. He also mentioned that the proposed trip was for medical follow-up. Many Nigerians reacted to the announcement albeit negatively. The Nigeria Medical Association as well as Resident Doctors threatened another strike and much more. Recall that the President on March 30, 2021, as announced by another media aide, Garba Shehu, visited the UK for medical check up and spent days not less than seven.
But as the development unfolded, a counter statement was released by Adesina, suggesting that Mr President has postponed his earlier scheduled trip at a time when most Nigerians thought he was already airborne or settled in the UK. This sudden decision, which analysts agreed is happening for the first time as regards the president’s health has therefore, raised concerns and speculations among the rank and file of the Nigerian population.
Adesina’s revelation was contained in a short statement issued on Friday, June 25, 2021, where he said that a new date will be announced for the trip.
“The medical follow-up visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United Kingdom earlier scheduled for today, Friday, June 25, 2021, has been postponed. A new date will be announced in due course,” the statement read
Many have wondered the rationale behind canceling a matter as important as medical date.
Some stakeholders who spoke to The Boss raised questions bordering on “Was the president’s health no longer very important as Nigerians have been told as the excuse for the frequent foreign medical tourisms or was there no medical appointment in the first place and has there ever been? Or again, is the president suddenly ready to keep to his campaign promise in 2015 to halt all medical tourism towards revamping the near comatose status of the Nigeria health sector. Or is the president coming to terms with the fact that he once warned that the country would not support any government official seeking medical care abroad, particularly when evidence shows that they can be treated in Nigeria?
However, stakeholders have been volunteering reasons behind Buhari’s sudden refusal to travel again as earlier advertised, with some saying that he was ‘afraid’ of the avalanche of protests Diaspora Nigerians have lined up for him. It would be recalled that in the last two foreign trips the president undertook, he was ’embarrassed’ by some Nigerians who crowded his his place of abode calling for his immediate return to the country. The protesters, who brandished placards with inscriptions such as ‘Buhari Go Back Home’, ‘Fix Nigeria’s Health Sector’ among others, made show of the situation back home. And much as the government downplayed the events, it appeared they were thoroughly embarrassed. These happened in London and Paris in just a space of as many weeks.
Speaking via his twitter handle, former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Reno Omokri, claimed responsibility for the president’s action, saying that Buhari postponed his trip due to threats of placing him under house arrest. He claimed that the fear of another protests aimed at harassing and embarrassing him in London was responsible for the postponement.
“General Buhari did not postpone his London trip for “unknown reasons”, as the papers are claiming. He postponed it because we promised him the Mother of All #HarassBuhariOutofLondon. He knows our capacity. He knows how we put him under house arrest. Come. We are waiting for you!”
Omokri, who had vowed to organise protest to embarrass Buhari in London if he set foot in the UK, was in the forefront of organising protests that had the president remain indoors while on foreign lands; a typical example is the London and Paris protests.
Again, speculations are still rife on whether President Buhari chose receiving a decampee politician over his health. It was reported that on Friday, the proposed date for the medical trip, Buhari received the Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District, Peter Nwaoboshi, who dumped his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after he was suspended, to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the brief ceremony, held at the First Lady’s Conference Room, Presidential Villa, Abuja, Senator Nwaoboshi was presented to the President by the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni in company of other members of the APC Caretaker Committee and relevant stakeholders.
The elated president was also quoted as saying after being briefed on how the caretaker committee have managed the affairs of the party in the past one year, that the party has come back to life. Sources say that Nwaoboshi, who hails from the same Senatorial District as the state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, may have decamped to gain ground as 2023 beckons just in case Okowa deems it fit to contest the senatorial district’s ticket from him.
But the bulk of respondents to The Boss wondered if the mere reception for a decampee, who may likely re-decamp to another party in the future, or listening to the briefing from caretaker members enough reason for the president to cancel his medical trip. It would be recalled that most presidential aides like Shehu Garba have been quick to say that Buhari can govern Nigeria from any part of the world. The question has remained what may have happened on Friday June 25, 2021 to cause the president to jettison his proposed medical trip; something he hardly takes for granted.
The incessant trips of President Buhari to foreign lands for medical tourism is as old as the administration itself. Much as the traveling started immediately the administration took oath of office, the medical tourisms became pronounced from June 2016.
A political analysts, who refused to be named also wondered why a leader, whose major concern during the campaigns was to end medical treatment oversees, could become the chief culprit.
The complains of Nigerians to this effect has hit the rocks so far, and the silence that followed these complaints and public displays of dissatisfaction was deafening.
Buhari was also known to renege on the expected date of return. The trip was expected to last 10 days, but additional days were added, and explained away.
The medical journeys continued in January 2017, when the presidency issued another statement, saying the president was leaving for the UK for another vacation and “routine medical check-ups”. And was the earlier case, the president did not inform Nigerians of the nature of his illness, nor the hospital of treatment, and again, stayed beyond the announced date. It has in fact become a routine.
While the speculations continue to grow, and Nigerians grumble, only Buhari and his kitchen can, as of today, tell the real reasons behind the cancellation.