The Options Before President Buhari
By Simon Kolawole
If you’re like me, you would hesitate to comment on the health of a fellow mortal in a sarcastic and malicious way just for the sake of politics. It doesn’t matter if it is the person next door or the president of a country. My grandmother never failed to warn me, when I was much younger, to not laugh at anyone’s deformity. “Nobody chose to be deformed,” she would say, and then add ominously: “Some of the deformed people you see today were once like you, but accidents happen in life.” Since nobody goes to the market to buy cancer or diabetes — or any ailment for that matter — no human being should gloat over another person’s misfortune. This I believe.
As we all know, President Muhammadu Buhari is ill. God forbid that I ridicule him. God forbid that I stop praying for him. However, because he is more than the head of his family but leader of 180 million Nigerians, his medical status is not a personal affair. What he does, and what he does not do, affects the lives of more than himself and his family. It affects more than Daura and Katsina. It affects more than the Hausa/Fulani and the north. It affects more than Muslims. All of us are at the mercy of the president, no matter the state of origin, ethnic affiliation, religious inclination and political persuasion. Let’s be especially clear about that before we proceed.
There are things we know and there are things we don’t know. We know for sure that the president is ill. Although some people tried to lie to us by saying he was “hale and hearty”, Buhari himself has come out to say he had never been this ill in his life, to the extent of undergoing blood transfusion. We also know that the president has lost weight and there is hardly any hair left on his head again, judging from the last time we saw him in public. His wife, Aisha, has even told us that things are not as bad as they are being painted — perhaps referring to rumours that he was being fed through a tube. Things are bad all the same. We can see.
How bad? We don’t know. Is it a terminal ailment? We don’t know. Some Nigerians are so gifted they can look at a sick person from the comfort of their dining rooms and tell you the day the person is going to die. I don’t have such a gift. In fact, doctors can look at his pictures and make a guess, but only those who have access to his medical records can be certain. Buhari looks seriously ill — that is naked to the eye — but we are not in a position to conclude that it is all over for him, except, of course, we want to be mischievous. Realistically, though, not many people can say for sure the true state of the president except those who are in the inner circle.
Now, there are certain things we know very well. Definitely, the president is not in a position to perform his duty to the best of his ability. I can say that conveniently. I have evidence. My first witness is that he has not been able to preside over the weekly federal executive council meeting in a month. After lying, characteristically, to us that the “agenda was light” and “we are on Easter break”, the cabinet has now devised a more realistic story — that the president is being told to rest by his doctors and he will not return to work until he is fit. In other words, he is “not fit” yet. I am quoting the minister of information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is my second witness.
If the president cannot preside over FEC and cannot be seen frequently in public in his current state, I want to guess (I repeat, guess) that there are many state matters that he cannot attend to. There are meetings he cannot attend, there are important visitors he cannot receive, there are critical policy sessions that he cannot partake in and there are key decisions he cannot take. Yet, the president of Nigeria has to be on his feet all the time. Governing a vast country with vast challenges is no child’s play. With Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo now technically demobilised and disrobed as acting president, there is certainly a gaping hole in the flow of things.
The truth be told then: we are at a crossroads. In this age and time when we need all the speed we can buy, when we need to take 20 steps at a time in order to make anything near progress in economic and human development, it will be most unfair to insist that Buhari can combine his current state of health with the weight of leading Nigeria. It is neither good for him nor the country. He either concentrates 100% on his health or 100% on governing Nigeria. He cannot do 90:10 in favour of his health. We can be quite sure that it is Nigeria that will suffer in this instance. And Nigeria is bigger than anyone, I would like to maintain.
There is something that doesn’t make sense to me. President Buhari was in far away London attending to his health and making progress. Osinbajo was constitutionally empowered to be acting president and, may I add, Buhari was satisfied that things ran smoothly. There was neither uncertainty nor tension. Buhari did not have to worry about Nigerians and Nigerians did not have to worry about Buhari. So why did he return home while he was not done yet? On his return, he said he would go back to London for another round of treatment “in the next two weeks”. But why did he not stay back? Why prefer to fly up and down in two weeks? I can’t understand. I can’t.
The story out there is that some people out of personal interest, which they normally disguise as regional interest, stormed London to persuade Buhari to return home and take “charge” by making public appearances once in a while. If my guess is right, the drama playing out in Abuja is not about the progress of Nigeria. It is not about how we can attain uninterrupted power supply. It has nothing to do with infrastructural development. It is not about making Nigeria an investment destination of choice in Africa and in the world. It is far away from being about reducing infant mortality, maternity mortality and illiteracy. It is not intrigues about malaria, river blindness or polio. I shake my head.
I conclude. There are many options before Buhari as we speak. I will highlight just two. One, he can send a letter to the National Assembly announcing a medical leave and empowering his VP to act again. That way, the uncertainty in town can be lessened. Lest we forget, whether it is Buhari or Osinbajo, it is the same ticket and the same administration. Buhari did a decent thing by empowering Osinbajo to act when he went on medical leave in January and many of us admired him for that. For those of us who saw what happened in Nigeria in 2009/2010 with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s illness, we were glad Buhari took one step better this time around.
With the option of medical leave, the president will not have to worry about Nigeria and Nigeria will not have to worry about him. He will receive all the treatment he needs and get all the rest he can muster. God is a merciful God. He can accelerate Buhari’s recovery and he would eventually come back to his desk in good health. Head or tail, Buhari can win. He can get good health and hold on to power at the same time. And if he chooses to reveal his real health challenges, he may even win more admirers. I know that there are those who will seek to score silly political points with it, but he will also win the respect of many, most of whom will put him in their prayers.
There is a second option being currently canvassed: that Buhari should resign. In my opinion, he should consider this option only if his doctors have told him something with a tone of finality. Again, we are not in a position to speculate on that. I think many of those canvassing this option are already assuming the worst case scenario. If it that is the case, resignation would not be too much a price to pay for the overall health of Nigeria. It would be the most difficult yet the most honourable option. For now, though, I would make my recommendation based on what I can see with my eyes: the president needs time off to treat himself. Urgent.
“In this age and time when we need all the speed we can buy, when we need to take 20 steps at a time in order to make anything near progress in economic and human development, it will be most unfair to insist that Buhari can combine his current state of health with the weight of leading Nigeria”
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS
Did you read the gory story of the Lagos secondary school students who went on a raping spree on Thursday to “celebrate” writing their final exams? Honestly, I couldn’t read it in a co-ordinated manner. My heart was beating at twice normal as I scanned through the eyewitness account of Mrs Michale Matthew, the heroine who confronted the boys and offered protection to the girls at the risk of being attacked herself. It is said to be a “tradition” after exams — a “tradition” of violating teenage girls in the vilest manner, in broad day light. Daily, rape goes unchecked all over Nigeria but we may have finally found scapegoats in order to mainstream this issue. Evil.
NIGERIA AND ZIMBABWE
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa, on Thursday that his country is the second “most highly developed country” in Africa. “After South Africa, I want to see what country has the level of development that you see in Zimbabwe,” he said with every sense of pride. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Zimbabwe is not paying workers and the currency is a piece of rag. But after years of self-inflicted economic meltdown and state-organised violence, you would expect power cuts, bad roads, meningitis and cholera all over Zimbabwe. And that’s not the case. So, is Nigeria better than Zimbabwe? Really?
I have been reading tragic stories since I became literate but this one is chilling and mysterious. Tunde Adepegba, a computer systems analyst in the US, relocated his family from Nigeria last week. They had two young daughters and his wife is seven months pregnant. Less than 12 hours after arriving in the US, Tunde was on a metro boss to work when he died on his seat. Other passengers did not know. They probably thought he was sleeping. It was the driver that discovered his dead body after the last stop. The penniless widow now has to raise $10,000 for his burial — and cater for the fatherless children. Must life be this unkind? Mystifying.
Success has many fathers. Since Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko to become the world’s unified heavyweight champion, Nigerians have been celebrating the success of “our son”. After all, although he was born in England, his parents are Nigerians and he spent his early years in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the British are very proud to have produced another world heavyweight champion and the narrative in the British media has changed from “the son of Nigerian parents arrested for possession of cannabis” (2011) to “the British heavyweight boxing sensation”. When you succeed, you don’t need to search for relatives. They will come for you. Life.