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Politicising President Buhari’s health

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About four weeks after returning from a 49-day medical vacation in London, President Muhammadu Buhari’s health condition is causing serious public controversy, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE

President Muhammadu Buhari’s health status has continued to generate controversies amid calls that such information should be made public. While the President’s long-lost supporters, critics and even the opposition believe that his health status should be known to the public, events on the political landscape since the President’s inauguration on May 29, 2015 have, however, shown that this might likely not happen.

The first sign that all was not well with the President’s health was on February 5, 2016, barely a year into his administration, when he took a six-day vacation to London, United Kingdom, to see his doctors.

Then, on June 6, 2016, four months after he returned from his first trip, the President took another 10-day vacation to London to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist.

Two days after the trip, the Presidency itself confirmed that Buhari was suffering from a “persistent” ear infection, had been treated by his physician and an ENT specialist in Abuja, but needed to go to London for further health assessment.

The Presidency had had no option but to give the explanation after many rumours had flown round that Buhari was “really” sick and had travelled to London for treatment when he couldn’t appear at three major national and international events during that period.

First, he put off his scheduled two-day official visit to Lagos State — which ought to hold on May 23 and 24, 2016 — at the last minute and directed Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to represent him.

The Presidency had initially attributed the development to what it described as “scheduling difficulties.”

Second, he was on June 2, 2016 expected at the inauguration of Ogoniland clean-up in Rivers State, but he again sent Osinbajo to represent him at the event, with the Presidency saying there was no big deal in the Vice-President representing Buhari at functions since “the Presidency is one.”

The third sign that raised speculations in the country about the health of the President was when he shelved his scheduled trip to Dakar, Senegal for the 49th Ordinary Session of the Economic Community of West African States,  which was to hold on June 3 and 4, 2016. He had again asked Osinbajo to represent him.

In all of these, the Presidency had claimed that Buhari was “fit as a fiddle” — until June 8, 2016 when it [the Presidency] finally admitted Buhari’s ill-health.

On January 19, 2017, the President again jetted out of the country to London for medical treatment in what has been regarded as his longest trip ever.

He had been expected back in the country on February 6, but he didn’t return, then the rumour mill began to churn out news about him, to the extent that some said he had died in a London hospital.

All through this period, the Presidency, state officials and his friends, despite several requests by Nigerians to know the true condition of their leader, refused to disclose either Buhari’s health status or his day of return.

On February 7, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Police, Abu Ibrahim, reportedly one of the closest friends of the President from Katsina South, said those saying Buhari was sick missed the point, adding that the President was only stressed because of the country’s “mounting problems.”

“Mr. President is not sick, but exhausted by the weight of the problems the country is going through,” Ibrahim said.

Just like Ibrahim, on February 8, 2017, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari was “absolutely” healthy and that there was no cause for alarm by Nigerians.

Speaking on the President’s vacation on a Channels Television’s “Politics Today,” Adesina said, “Any man can fall sick, old or young, but the President is not sick; the President is well. The President has worked for more than eight months non-stop and he felt it was time to take a respite.

“He communicated it to the National Assembly, handed over power to his deputy and nothing is wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his state of health.”

Also, on February 28, 2017, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said Buhari was neither ill nor was he in a life-threatening situation as speculated by Nigerians.

“I can say here very boldly and confidently that there is absolutely no cause for alarm…If Mr. President is in the hospital or is critically ill, as Minister of Information, I will give daily bulletin on his health,” Mohammed had said in Umuahia, Abia State, where he went to launch the “Change begins with me” campaign of the Buhari administration.

Even when political analysts urged Mohammed to give an hourly bulletin about Buhari’s health in the same fashion that he [Mohammed], when he was the spokesperson for the erstwhile Action Congress of Nigeria, demanded an hourly bulletin of late President Musa Yar’Adua’s health, Mohammed said Nigerians should stop comparing “apples to oranges.”

The President’s health status generated many waves to the extent that on February 28, 2017, members of the House of Representatives engaged in a heated argument.

Lawmakers, particularly those of the ruling party, had squabbled over the use of the word “sickness” in referring to Buhari’s prolonged absence from the country.

While some members of the House said Buhari was “sick” and was away to treat himself, it was reported that others argued that the appropriate language was that the President was on “medical vacation.”

The argument was said to have been started by the House Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, when he tried to stop the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, from describing Buhari as sick.

The latter had observed that the country was under tension then with the absence of Buhari and that partisan activities could jeopardise the security of the country.

But Gbajabiamila requested that the President be not referred to as sick.

“The President is not sick. At best, we can say that he is on medical vacation. There is a difference between being sick and going on a medical vacation,” he said.

When Nigerians mounted pressure on the Presidency to disclose the state of Buhari’s health, then photos emerged of the President being visited in London by first, the governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun; then, some APC chieftains, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; and then by a delegation of federal lawmakers, including Senate President Bukola Saraki, a show that political analysts believed was done to drown all rumours that Buhari was sick.

Photos from the visits had shown the 74-year-old in his signature attire — a wobbly fitting grey caftan with a black collar.

When Saraki returned from the trip, he said, “The President I saw today is healthy, witty and himself. There is no cause for alarm!”

Despite saying the President was healthy at that time, Saraki, the Presidency and other APC chieftains, however, called on Nigerians to keep praying for Buhari over his health.

This plea saw several Muslims in major state capitals and towns in the northern part of the country — including Nasarawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Kwara states — holding marathon prayers for the quick recovery of the President.

On March 10, 2017, the President finally returned to the country after spending 49 days in London, but contrary to the claims of Mohammed, Adesina, Gbajabiamila and others, he himself confessed that he had never been that sick in his life, adding that he would again embark on another medical trip in the future.

“I have rested as much as humanly possible, I have received, I think, the best of treatment I could receive. I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs,” Buhari said.

Now again, there have been speculations over the state of the President’s health as he has not been seen performing official functions publicly in recent times.

Buhari had been absent at the April 12, 2017 weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Also, he was reportedly not in his office but remained inside his official residence. Osinbajo was said to have presided over the meeting.

But, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, said there was no cause for alarm on Buhari’s health.

He said “I just want to make this clear that Mr. President is in town; Mr. President is attending to other issues. He looked at the agenda, he found out that it was a very light agenda and decided that the Vice-President should preside.

“It is not unusual for the kind of interest that is shown, especially given the fact that Mr. President was away for a while on medical treatment. We are not surprised that people will be wondering whether he is ill again.”

SUNDAY PUNCH of April 23, 2017 had also reported of fresh anxiety in Aso Rock over Buhari’s health as the septuagenarian was only seen in public once throughout last week, when he joined other Muslim faithful for a Juma’at service at a mosque located near his office inside the Presidential Villa.

A photo of the President praying at the mosque which went viral had shown him looking emaciated and frail.

Presidency sources had attributed Buhari’s continuous non-appearance at public events to his ailing health.

The report had led to the expulsion of PUNCH’s State House Correspondent, Olalekan Adetayo, from the Presidential Villa by the Chief Security Officer to President Buhari, Bashir Abubakar, who found the report as ‘insulting’ to the Buhari administration.

Meanwhile, the reporter was recalled to the Villa by the Presidency a day later after public expressions of annoyance by Nigerians who saw the CSO’s action as rather an “overstepping of boundary.”

An Abuja-based social commentator, Dr. Davidson Lawal, told Saturday PUNCH it was high time the President came out to declare his health status in order to avert the rise of “unnecessary” speculations.

He said, “The last time Mr. Lai Mohammed said the President was not sick, we got to know later from the President himself that he [Buhari] was sick. These people think they are protecting the President, whereas they are actually harming him.

“Buhari seems to be a plain person, but he is surrounded by some deceitful people. When they tell you it is day, you better check, for it is night. No one can run the government on deceit and win the hearts of the people.

“I understand that it is difficult to speak the truth at that level, especially as the party had never been at the centre before. All the same, knowing the President’s health status is our right and we will keep demanding it.”

In his recent article titled, “President Buhari’s health condition,” the founder, African Cancer Centre, Lagos, Prof. Femi Williams, also said it was high time the President’s health was made public, calling on the Presidency to disclose Buhari’s health status as it is done in mature climes.

He wrote, “It is our constitutional right to know the health (status) of our President. It is a moral prerogative to be concerned about our President’s health.

“The physical and mental well-being of most presidents in the world are usually not shrouded in secrecy because details of the health of current and past presidents in the developed world are in the public domain.

“Speculations about the health of some of our leaders should not be subject to benign or malignant analyses by medically qualified and non-medically qualified pundits.”

A Warri, Delta State-based political analyst, Mrs. Jumoke Olosunde-Okeoghene, said the earlier politicians, particularly the Presidency, stopped playing politics with Buhari’s health, the better it would be for the country’s democracy.

Saying there was nothing “big” if the President’s health status was disclosed, she said it would go a long way in endearing many Nigerians to him.

“I bet you, even people like [Ekiti State Governor Ayodele] Fayose would start to respect Buhari; Nigerians would love him for who he is, not for who they are making him to be,” she said, adding, “For a government which says it is transparent and fighting corruption, how it fails at little issues like this is what I can’t comprehend.”

Fayose had during the week said Buhari was fast becoming a “ceremonial, part-time” President while calling on the Federal Government to properly inform Nigerians on the well-being of the country’s leader.

“It is only when the President is seen and heard physically that Nigerians will believe that they are not being ruled by a part-time and ceremonial President, whose powers are being exercised on his behalf by some cabals,” he said.

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