Reflections On Muhammadu Buhari’s Protracted Absence By Nkannebe Raymond
Nigeria is that such country that never shudders to exceed the sum of your imaginations in terms of how much oddity that it throws up. Indeed it appears that with the passing of each day, it gets even more emboldened and reassured to serve the citizenry with more doses of its perplexities and while at that, repeats the mistake of history as though incapable to learn from her past experiences or to take a cue from the standard practice in the Civilized World.
By the time you read this, it must have been exactly one month and three days since president Muhammadu Buhari jetted out of the country ostensibly on a short leave which according to a statement credited to one his handlers, would also form part of his “annual vacation”. But that was not all that was said. In between that, the nation was also told that Mr. President will also undergo routine medical check-ups by way of taking two birds with a single stone.
With that, a citizenry grappling with the worst economic crisis in arguably in the entire history of the country with the prices of basic commodities hitting the roof tops were told that their president will be back in just about ten days while the reins of government was constitutionally handed over to the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo who had to abruptly vacate an international function in far way Davos, Switzerland to stand in for his boss while the latter hopped into the plane for a journey that has become the stuff of fiction writers.
Meanwhile, while all this was playing out, cynics and the career skeptics smelt a rat and questioned the rationale for the sudden trip voicing their fears that the chief occupant of Aso Villa may not be in the pink of health as the presidency wants many to believe. Before then, some national dailies had reported that the president had since been performing the functions of his office mostly at his official residence located within the precinct of the presidential Villa, Abuja and rarely spending dutiful hours in the office. The reception of the Cross River state governor, Ben Ayade who had visited the president on Tuesday, 17th of January, 2017 in his official residence within the villa during working hours, no doubt served as the smoking gun for the skepticism of critics who believed that there could be more to the story told by the official mouthpiece of the presidency.
But all of those were rebuffed by Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina, Bashir Yusuf and a host of other media aides of the president inclusive of social media hawks who have an apology or two for the current establishment. They shouted to the roof tops and told critics to wait until the 6th of February before they could run to town with their undue sensationalism. They referred to them as mischief makers and peddlers of falsehood whose stock in trade is the creation of disaffection in the polity. At the extremes, they referred to them as angry Wailers who are yet to come to terms with the presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari and still suffering from the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of the electoral loss of their hero, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan at the last general election.
While they traded words, time took on its wheel and sped faster than tropical birds such that before one could say Jack, 6th of February— the time earlier scheduled for the return of our ‘missing’ president happened upon us; and instead of his expected return, the nation was treated to a cock and bull story of sort. The image makers cum crisis managers of Aso Rock suddenly contrived a letter supposedly written under the hands of the sick president and sent same to the twin houses of a National Assembly which was at the time gearing up to proceed on recess and asking for an extension of his ‘leave’ but this time with no definite date of return. Same letter, as we write this piece is yet to be read on the floor of the National Assembly as with protocol and insinuations are rife in some quarters that no such letter was written and/or sent to the 8 National Assembly; a situation that led a senior Lawyer to posit that the nation was legally speaking without a president, nor a vice president at the time, since Osinbajo’s acting capacity was determined on the 6th of February.
While hysteria and anxiety enveloped a beleaguered nation with too many questions begging for answers, the media aides of the president in their characteristic manner of peddling falsehood and turning truth on its head, tells the nation that president Buhari was actually due for return butt was advised against that by his doctors who according them still await the results of some medical tests. Meanwhile nobody was told what these tests were for nor what manner of test takes so long a time before their results are out, in a supposedly ultra modern medical facility. With such an alibi however, they had bought enough time to keep the president away by leaving his return date open ended. But at least, they owned up this time, although unconsciously, that the trip ab initio on the 19th of January, was on health grounds and not the mendacious tale of “annual vacation” as Femi Adesina had made it seem.
As it stands, there are reports that the country might be without President Muhammadu Buhari for some three to four months. Saharareporters the online investigative media giants, reported on the 2nd of February 2017 that the president might need to remain in London for as long as four months to resolve a myriad of medical issues confronting the aging Nigerian leader according to information availed them by their presidency sources. And judging from the reportorial antecedents of the platform, one would be disregarding this at their own peril.
The crisis of hysteria is unaided and even made worse by a presidency that has not been faithful enough to Nigerians by coming up front to tell the citizens who unanimously gave him their mandate what really is wrong with the man. Starved of any such information, the rumor mills have gone to town to fill the vacuum/ yawning information gap created by the monitored silence of Abuja since nature would not condone a vacuum. Consequent upon that, there has been what veteran Columnist Sam Omatseye referred to as a ‘war between imagination and reality’ in his Monday Column for the Nation Newspapers. A ‘war’ which has been won by imagination for even truth has become untruths.
In lieu of a conclusive proof, all that the nation has been fed and regaled with is a potpourri of pictures purportedly taken by the president in his Abuja House in her Majesty’s waters but all of which has not helped in any way to douse the anxiety that has beclouded the stratosphere. In one of such, President Muhammadu Buhari is seen relaxing on a sofa watching an interview session with his spokesman on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina in Channels News.
But seeing that that has not helped in any way, a new avenue has since been devised and which entails the visit of senior citizens of APC extraction to the president in his condo in London. Last weekend, the entire Federal Republic of Nigeria was literally moved to London when pictures of President Muhammadu Buhari in concert with the senate president, Bukola Saraki, speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and the senate leader, Ahmed Lawan flooded both the new and conservative media. In the picture, the quartet was seen laughing and chatting away as though someone had gone anecdotal. Before that, the National leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande were also seen flanking president Muhammadu Buahri in a pose supposedly in front of the Abuja House in London. Amidst a host of other pictures that have travelled through social media to wit: PMB on wheelchair. PMB jugging. PMB wired like a patient at the point of death and what not. These profusion of pictures have served to compound the problems as one finds it so difficult to decipher the authenticity of some of them. And in such a dilemma, just as the spirit goes, the false reports have gone viral and the true ones dismissed as not virile.
In the maze of all of that, one is inclined to ask: what has all of this helped to salvage? The unending game of Hide and Seek. The conflicting reports from home and in the Diaspora and the crisis of Information. In a technologically savvy world where just about anything is possible, it is natural for people to treat with serious skepticism and take with a pinch of salt all of what the deluge of pictures that filter through the media is meant to achieve. For example, some people have asked that if PMB were as hale and hearty like an Olympic sprinter as the pictures make it seem, why has it been so difficult for him to address the people of Nigeria from where ever he is at a time where technology has provided many ways to do such?
At a time when there is a national dissonance as to the state of health of the president, one would have thought that such would have been considered in order to lay to rest once and for all the doubts, the fears and the bedlam it has generated. But in a country where the simplest of things are often the most difficult, one could appreciate why they have favoured the pictorial route that ends up exacerbating the imbroglio.
All things considered, suffice it to say that PMB who rode to power on the heels of his much vaunted integrity and transparency has with this singular episode ,further proved that his much referenced uprightness is incapable of standing the test of compromise. It is indeed lugubrious that at a time when the nation expected him to exude such sterling credentials of transparency, by voicing his health challenges, if any, he has chosen rather to play into the hands of the cabal for whom his continued stay in power is but a Franchise.
One is obfuscated as to why too many an African leader consider falling sick a taboo that must not be communicated to the nation they superintend over; What ought to have been approached with unqualified openness since biological factors are many times beyond the control of man. What is more, at 74, it is expected that the immune system of the president must have dwindled and his overall health condition subject to constant checks when considered against the backdrop of the pressure that comes with the office of the headship of a difficult country like ours and hence why it is needless to make too much drama should the obviously tired man come to the point of caving in, as is presently the case even though it is officially denied. The current attitude therefore that panders towards misinformation and unbridled mendacity over the state of health of the president can only but open the floodgate of presumptions that point to the open secret that president Muhammadu Buhari is medically incapacitated to continue to discharge the groundswell functions of his office.
Let it be said that whatever the interest of those who want the president’s stay in power, the overall interest of the nation dwarfs all of them, and they cannot with their vested, prebendal and parochial interest hold the entire nation to ransom. It is needless to say that this nation cannot afford to be buffeted once again with what played out here in 2010 during the days of the Yar’Adua cabal. Accordingly it is either the president is physically, mentally, medically and psychologically fit to steer the ship of state or otherwise as the current downward spiral of the state cannot accommodate the services of man who attends more to his health than the troubles of the nation. Let sentiments be set to the woods and let national interest be the prism and focal point of thought.
At a time when the Naira falls like an object on a gravitational descent losing virtually every sense of value; at a time of unprecedented economic hardship where hunger ravages the populace; in this time when hope has become an expensive commodity leaving the citizenry crestfallen, dejected and forlorn; at a time when insecurity in the Northeast depletes the rank of our armed forces and sends to the world beyond too many a helpless citizen; at a time when the murderous Fulani militia maims and slaughters defenseless members of our population in Southern Kaduna with reckless abandon, it is indeed very unfortunate to say the least, that the president nay the father of the nation is nowhere to be found and the woes of the citizenry compounded by the conspiracy of silence within the seat of power by overzealous media aides who would not come out clean on the state of health of the president who should be a public citizen.
I have belatedly observed the sudden indifference on the part of the citizens with regards to the drama over the president’s health and vacation so-called. Overwhelmed, beleaguered and besieged with all sort of fallacies, many persons have suddenly found the wisdom in not dissipating too much energy on the issue and have since resigned to fate. One man told me last week in a commercial bus that he does not care one hoot whether the man is alive or dead. In his words, “ I have more than enough to worry about than the state of health of a man in his seventies. And rather than pray for him, I rather pray for the victims of Boko Haram in the Northeast and those in Southern Kaduna who are exposed to the potentialities of attacks by armed gunmen”, he concluded. I also noticed that his sentiment was almost a summation of all of those in that bus. And why not? Of course you won’t hold the sudden near inhumane indifference of the people over the health of the president, against them. Especially for a people who go through hell in order to put food on their table; since governance here is in recession.
And so why it is not worth any debate that the presidency seem to be winning in this game of hide and seek having bamboozled the people with all sort of stories that unfortunately open the lid of more questions begging for answers, it is also the truth that the people will certainly have the last laugh whenever all these near Shakesperian drama comes to a denouement. And it is immaterial how much it would last. For no matter how much darkness thrives, it cannot foreclose the slightest shadow of light.
And pray, if this is the sort of Change that was promised, then we all have to be wary of this change. These people must stop taking us for a ride.
Nkannebe Raymond, a legal practitioner and public commentator wrote in from Enugu. He can be reached via email@example.com