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Buhari, Yar’Adua and the sense of deja vu

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As groups and individuals continue to claim that President Muhammadu Buhari’s health is deteriorating while his supporters say he’s getting better and, with the President’s return to the United Kingdom on an indefinite sick leave, BAYO AKINLOYE writes that not a few people are experiencing a sense of déjà vu

With a gait less graceful, the gaunt figure dressed in a dark grey kaftan with a matching cap unhurriedly climbed down from the aircraft. A momentary, studied smile formed on his face as he made a cursory glance at those who had come to welcome him after spending 49 days in an undisclosed London hospital in the United Kingdom.

That was President Muhammadu Buhari returning from his medical leave since January 23 this year – he got back into the country on March 10.

“I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including in the military with its ups and downs. I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion. I couldn’t recall honestly; I can say in my 70 years (sic),” the President had said at a meeting he held with top government officials led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo shortly after he arrived the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Today, voices within the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, and the opposition, are wary that Buhari’s state of health and goings-on in the Presidency are more than meet the eye.

Few days ago, the National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party alleged that a cabal is now ruling Nigeria.

Prior to the PDP’s public outburst, members of the Arewa Consultative Forum and Arewa Youth Consultative Forum also expressed grave concerns about the possibility of some people in Aso Villa taking advantage of the President’s ill-health to the detriment of the country.

Prominent personalities like Prof. Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana have also called the number one citizen to take a break and hand over power to his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

Though there is nothing unusual in Buhari being sick, the former ruling party said what was wrong was his refusal to disclose his true state of health.

“It is now certain that the country is now being ruled by a cabal. Members of the cabal are not known. Who is in charge of the country now? We don’t know. Nigeria is now on autopilot. We don’t know who is rocking the country and who exactly is churning out orders or exercising the executive powers of the President anymore.

“This can’t happen in saner climes. We have a President who has not been seen in public for some days and the government is not worried,” spokesperson for the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led caretaker committee, Dayo Adeyeye, said.

Mounting pressure on Buhari also is an association of political pressure groups, under the aegis of Free Nigeria Coalition, who called on Buhari to “urgently seek medical attention of his doctors in the United Kingdom and take some deserved rest.”

Just like Buhari, former President Umaru Yar’Adua – who hailed from Katsina State like the incumbent – was “so sick” in the twilight of his administration. With a tragic end, the former president lost to death in a mortal battle over his protracted illness.

Prior to Yar’Adua’s death, not a few people had called for his resignation or impeachment, among who were the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Buhari himself.

Ten years ago, Tinubu, a leading opposition voice, had on January 18, 2010, called on Yar’Adua to step down as the country’s president.

“Now our dear country is living on the edge and hanging dangerously with FEC adrift, while the National Assembly has lost touch with reality; and the word ‘national exigency’ has since lost meaning to the remnants of the ruling party (Peoples Democratic Party). Therefore, the President (Yar’Adua) must be told, without further delay, to transmit his authority to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take charge of the country, in accordance with Section 145 of the Constitution.

“I recognise his love for his country but this is the time to show that love for his country by putting the nation’s interest above self, and not be misled by those selfish advisers. He has already made history be being elected as President of Nigeria. So, he must not destroy that democratic institution from which he has benefitted,” he had said.

About two months after Tinubu’s painstaking statement, specifically on Tuesday, March 9 – reclined in a couch, in his Kaduna home – playing host to chieftains of the National Unity Forum, who had paid him a visit, the former military head of state and then presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party in the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections, Buhari, made a call that made front-page headlines the following day.

He had reportedly called for the impeachment of Yar’Adua. According to Buhari back then, impeaching the former Katsina State governor could save the country from the political impasse Yar’Adua’s lingering ill-health had caused.

In sheer fervour, Buhari called on the Federal Executive Council to save the nation from the political logjam by declaring Yar’Adua incapacitated, arguing that such declaration would pave the way for his impeachment by the National Assembly.

Condemning the failure of the FEC and federal legislative body to impeach Yar’Adua, Buhari said, “Political expediency won’t remedy this kind of problem because if the FEC had acted in accordance with the constitution, by invoking the necessary sections to declare the President incapacitated, we would not have found ourselves in this present situation.

“As you can see, adopting extra-constitutional measures have not addressed the problem. If it had, we would not have been subjected to the raging debates and controversy going on. So, we must go back to the constitution. FEC must do the right thing, because once we start moving away from the constitution, then we are inviting anarchy.”

A prominent member and ex-spokesman for the ACF, Anthony Sani, told SUNDAY PUNCH that what occurred in 2010 concerning Yar’Adua is different from what is playing out in the Villa at the moment.

“President Buhari cannot resign or be impeached as he advised President Yar’Adua to do. This is because when the same Buhari asked Yar’Adua to resign or be impeached, it was because Yar’Adua had breached the constitution by not writing to the National Assembly notifying them of his health challenges.

“As a result, there was no acting president while the president was not on seat. Most of all, Jonathan, the FEC and the NASS were kept in the dark of what happened in the seat of power. It was against this backdrop that Buhari asked President Yar’Adua to resign or be impeached,” Sani argued.

Last Tuesday, the media was awash with a chieftain of the ruling party, Chief Bisi Akande’s ominous statement warning of such anarchy in view of Buhari’s failing health.

In the statement, Akande had said, “These are two great red flag dangers that have the potential of plunging the country into unprecedented chaos and of destabilising the gains of democracy since 1999. The greatest danger, however, is for political interests at the corridor of power attempting to feast on the health of Mr. President in a dangerous manner that may aggravate the problems between the executive and the National Assembly without realising if, in the end, it could drag the entire country into avoidable doom.

“Let me warn today that those who wish to harvest political gains out of the health of the president are mistaken. This is not Nigeria of 1993. My greatest fear, however, is that the country should not be allowed to slide into anarchy and disorder of a ‘monumental proportion.’”

The ACF chieftain does not think there any cause for alarm. He feels that since Buhari had already put the National Assembly and the nation on notice concerning his deteriorating health, it is fair that everyone allow the President to rest.

Sani added, “While I appreciate the sympathy and the concern of Chief Akande which comes with past experiences when a group called ‘cabal’ in the Presidency kept the nation in the dark about health challenges of President Yar’Adua, and what happened in the seat of power which resulted in the introduction of doctrine of necessity to overcome the problems by making Jonathan acting president in the absence of a letter from Yar’Adua, it is very important to note that the situations are not the same. Also, Akande’s reference to 1993 is misplaced. I do not think there is cause for alarm.”

A president who wrote and handed power to Osinbajo, and who on return told the nation that he had never been “so sick” in his life, the northern elder argued, is not the kind of person who will allow some people to take advantage of his sickness and manage the presidency by proxy.

In January, the President had left Nigeria for the United Kingdom for what the Presidency described as “a short leave” during which he was to undergo “routine medical check-up.”

He was expected to resume work on February 6 – that medical check-up was the third by Buhari in one year; the President had earlier embarked on a six-day leave in London between February 5 and 10, 2016; following that, on June 6, 2016, he jetted out of the country for another 10 days allegedly to treat an ear infection.

The last public event attended by Buhari was the grand finale of the 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day held at the National Arcade, Abuja. Since his return in March also, the President has hardly appeared in public.

Buhari may not listen to those calling for his resignation, or take a pill he had offered Yar’Adua in 2010, but he promised that, “The best way for me to repay you all is to rededicate myself to serving you, protecting your interests and keeping your trust. I am feeling much better now; there may, however, be need to have further follow-ups within some weeks.”

That assurance was re-echoed by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, when he said, “He (the President) is following his doctor’s advice. Mr. President himself told the nation he has never been this sick and he is going to take it easy. He said it from day one when he came back from the UK.

“So, I don’t think there is anything that is out of place from what he said. He has been quite transparent and upfront in the matter concerning his health.”

As the controversy concerning Buhari’s health rages on, the President has left Nigeria again, for the UK for treatment— this time around he gave no date of his return.

“The length of the President’s stay in London will be determined by the doctors,” a statement issued by his Special Adivser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had said.

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