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Buhari’s Ill-health: Between Statesmanship And Parochial Interest

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In this report, MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes on the roles played by some stalwarts of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill-health.

Last February, they received accolades for visiting the then convalescing     President Muhammadu Buhari in London, thereby reassuring the populace there was nothing to fear over his health.

But today, the two stalwarts of the All Progressives Congress (APC), its former National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande and National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu are in the eye of the storm for their recent comments on the health status of the president.

Buhari, until he embarked on another medical vacation on the night of Sunday May 7, had been rumored to be incapacitated, with calls from unexpected quarters for his resignation. The two politicians have also made comments many feel are both unpatriotic and unstatesmanly on the health of the president.

It took the ingenuity of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who according to an impeccable source in the presidency urged Buhari to summon the NEWS of National Assembly, Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, Abdul’aziz Yari; prominent politicians and top government functionaries to a brief meeting and take group photographs with them before he would embark on his follow up overseas medical trip.

The idea, according to the source was to make the whole world know and believe that the president was neither incapacitated nor was he smuggled out of the country. This singular adroitness of the senate president doused the raging tension and stabilized the almost overheated polity.

It was gathered that it was after the meeting that the president walked out of his room at the Presidential Villa and headed to the airport after transmiting a letter to the National Assembly.

“Many people did not know the president was going on medical follow up until Sunday night when a statement was released to that effect. A call had earlier been made to Saraki that the president would be traveling on Sunday and that the letter would be sent to him to that effect. It was then that he suggested that it would be better to invite the NEWS of the National Assembly, Chairman of NGF and some top government functionaries to see the president and even take photographs with him so that Nigerians would be rest assured that Mr. President is not incapacitated, and in order to avert any constitutional crisis”, the source quoted.

Saraki’s role in this complexity is however, contrary to the insinuation making the rounds in certain quarters that he is part of the cabal working against the president, the presidency, the North and national interest.

The letter which was later sent to the senate read thus: “In compliance with section 145 {1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended,  I wish to inform the Distinguished Senate that I will be away for a scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London. The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor’s advice.

“While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept, the Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration.’’

The letter, however almost degenerated into constitutional crisis on the floor of the Senate as Senator Mao Ohaunbuwa (PDP Abia North) through a point of order faulted the President for not categorically designating the Vice President as Acting President in his absence as stated in section 145 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. He said the status of coordinator of economic activities does not exist in the section of the constitution and therefore should not have come up in the President’s letter and therefore called for rejection of the letter.

After the issue had been dragged forth and back, Saraki again saved the day by averting what could have led to a constitutional crisis when he declared that: “I think it is a very clear issue and what we should be guided by, is the constitution and I think that it is clear, the letter has referred to the constitution and there’s no ambiguity in the constitution. So, I don’t think there’s any issue there. I hereby rule Senator Ohuabunwa out of order.”

Recall that prior to the trip, Buhari had been absent a number of times at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings and had also made little public appearances, thus fueling the speculation that he might really be sick.

It was also gathered that the emergency Minna, Niger State, meeting among three former presidents and heads of state, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) and Gen Abdusalami Abubakar (rtd), on Monday May 1st, a few days to Buhari’s overseas trip was in connection with the rising security tension over his health.

It was gathered that one of the resolutions reached at the meeting was that it was safe for the president to travel. Prior to the meeting, there was a speculation that certain political elements were poised to use some military officers to cause chaos in the nation in the event anything untoward happened to the president. There was also a report of a certain police office that threatened to kill at least 200 persons in the event that the president died.

This, perhaps was why the president tarried in the country a little longer than expected, having disclosed on his return to the country on Friday March 10 that he would soon return to the United Kingdom for his treatment. But rather than return overseas, it was gathered that medical personnel were brought into the country to treat him, until his eventual overseas trip.

A day after the Minna meeting, Buhari’s wife, Aisha also took to her Twitter handle  @aishambuhari, and her Facebook page, Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, to inform the nation that her husband’s health is not as bad as certain individuals have made some people to believe.

Pundits are of the view that Mrs. Buhari’s tantrum may not have been unconnected with a statement issued about that time by Chief Bisi Akande, a former National Chairman of the APC, where he described the president’s health as worrisome.

Akande, had in the statement noted that: “The health of the leader is intricately intertwined with the health of the nation. It is more so in a delicately fragile union of nations called Nigeria. I did not see President Buhari at the wedding of his adopted son in Kaduna, last Saturday. I was sad and I wept.

“When last we met at the wedding of his daughter in Abuja, last December, I complained to him that I was not happy about his stressful looks. His reply connoted some allusions to circumstances where an honest man fighting corruption is surrounded mostly by unpatriotic greedy ruling class. He felt painfully frustrated.

“He assured me he would soon be going on vacation. I then knew that corruption has effectively been fighting back. And I prayed for Nigeria. That was why Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and I rushed to meet him in London in February this year when he was sick and could not return as scheduled from his vacation”.

While Akande’s statement was not only a surprise but of great concern to the NEWS of the APC, a number of Nigerians were also worried about a certain revelation of Tinubu on how he was allegedly stopped by Bukola Saraki, the Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai and some other politicians from being the Vice Presidential candidate to Buhari in the 2015 general elections.

This position was contained in a book titled ‘Against the Run of Play,’ written by the Chairman, Editorial Board of ThisDay, Olusegun Adeniyi. According to Tinubu, his opponents persuaded Buhari to look for another running mate on the grounds that Christians in the North would not embrace a Muslim-Muslim ticket, and as such, could jeopardise the party’s victory.

Tinubu added, “What they (Saraki and others from the PDP) did behind my back was wrong. We always do things as a group. By the time they joined, we were already too far ahead in our processes but we accommodated them.

“We agreed to take their state structures and subsume them into the part and they all had their opportunity to nominate the candidates of their choices for different political offices. But they went behind to instigate Buhari and some other people in the party against me on the pretext of religion. That was not right. They were canvassing arguments that the Christians in the North would not vote for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

“Nasir el-Rufai was also selling the same argument within the CPC (the defunct Congress for Progressive Change) because at that point, he still wanted to have Pastor Bakare brought in as Buhari’s running mate.”

With this revelation, pundits are wont to ask if Tinubu is regretting not being the Vice President at a time Buhari is seen not be enjoying good health; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was also said to have been nominated by Tinubu not having the political sagacity and charisma to of the former Lagos State governor.

Recall also that Nigerian civil society leaders at that period also asked  the president to immediately take medical leave to attend to his health. Several activists, including notable lawyer, Femi Falana, and Jibrin Ibrahim, said the president should heed the advice of his personal physicians without further delay.

“As we join the Nigerian people of goodwill to pray for a speedy recovery of President Buhari, we are compelled to advise him to heed the advice of his personal physicians by taking a rest to attend to his health without any further delay,” they said in a statement.

Others who signed the statement are Debo Adeniran, Chris Kwaja, Y. Z. Ya’u, Chom Bagu, Olanrewaju Suraju, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Anwal Musa Rafsanjani, David Ugolor, ‘Sina Odugbemi, Muhammed Attah and Adetokunbo Mumuni.

While pundits have alleged Tinubu to be the brain behind Akande’s letter and protest of the leaders of the civil society organisations due to his relationship with them, a northern group, Northern Patriotic Assembly  (NPA) has warned against exploitation of Buhari’s health situation for political gains, saying such action is immoral and despicable.

The group in a statement issued in Kaduna and signed by its President, Hon Idakwo Jibrin and Secretary General, Alhaji Adamu Wakil decried what is said to be the exploitation of President Buhari’s health by some Yoruba leaders to create crisis in the country.

The group cited remarks relating to the President’s health credited to Chief Bisi Akande and Femi Falana, describing such as part of a larger plot to plunge the  country into crisis.

The group regretted that what is a personal challenge to the President has been politicised beyond comprehension by politicians who hide behind the pretext of agitating for what is in the country’s best interest.

In the same vein, another group, National Coalition of Democrats  which is a coalition of over 22 democratic elements has also expressed dismay over the activities of Tinubu.

Addressing a press conference in Jos, the Plateau state capital, recently, the group described Tinubu as a leader of a cabal seeking to use issues around Buhari’s health as an opportunity to achieve a clandestine motive.

The conference was addresed by Ambassador Melvin Ejeh, the Executive Director of Global Peace and Life Rescue Initiative (GOPRI) and Dr Charles Okoroji of the Action Against Oppression Initiative (AAOI).

They stated that Nigerians have followed the recent turn of event around the President’s health and how some self acclaimed political gladiators are making a storm out of a tea cup in pursuit of reinventing their fledgling political stature.

It is worthy of note that issues relating to health should not be toyed with, especially as they relate to the status of a sitting president.

While the gesture of the three former heads of state who met in Minna at the heat of the demand for Buhari’s health status remain commendable, other notable Nigerians will do well to work on the progress of the country while wishing the president soonest recovery.

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