Anxiety over Muhammadu Buhari’s health heats up polity
•Intrigues in high places threaten nation’s survival
Last Monday’s meeting between Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalaam Abubakar, three former Heads of State, ostensibly to discuss the state of health of President Muhammadu Buhari, has shown the level of anxiety the issue has generated in the polity.
The three generals who, at one point or the other since 1976, have been charting Nigeria’s course for ill or for good, are known to be the architects of the current democracy in which one of them, Obasanjo, was given the mantle to nurture.
Although not known to share the same thoughts on many issues, a trait that has brought them against each other in the past, they are undoubtedly united in their quest to offer directions for the nation to follow.
To underscore the importance of the May Day meeting at Babangida’s Hilltop mansion in Minna, Niger State capital, to the current political situation in Nigeria, is the fact the last time the trio met to take a stand on the nation was to midwife the current democratic rule in 1999.
While no communiqué was issued at the end of the two-hour parley held behind closed door, inside sources said the three generals expressed concerns about the failing health of Buhari, a fellow general and former Head of State, and discussed how to avert any political crisis that could be its fallout.
They are said to be wary of the intrigues within the Aso Villa seat of presidential power and the plan by some powerful players in the political turf to undermine the constitution and unity of the country for selfish political gains.
Being former occupants of the Villa, who understand the powerful influences that always hover around the seat of political authority and the dangers inherent in not having them reined in to protect the wider interest of the nation, the generals are said to have agreed to be on the side of the constitution in checking the situation from degenerating further.
Sources also disclosed that the generals agreed to use their wide contacts and influences to prevent the nation from getting to the near precipice that a similar scenario presented during the regime of late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua when, despite a clear constitutional provision, a “principle of necessity” had to be adopted to allow the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan emerge as the Acting President when Yar’Adua became clearly incapacitated.
JUST like the Yar’Adua era, handlers of the presidential public relations initially acted the ostrich by saying Buhari was hale and hearty even when he had surpassed his announced ten-day medical trip to London earlier this year until the President himself, at the end of a 49-day trip, declared that he had never been that ill in his life.
Although he appeared in public for a few days, he had since holed up within the confines of his official residence and after absenting from the weekly Executive Council meetings three times consecutively, the Minister of Information, last Wednesday, declared that the President would henceforth work from home.
With no definite official pronouncement on his health condition, the rumour mill has been agog with a lot of fabrications and insinuations that are already heating up the polity particularly on the role expected of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the situation and how some forces are standing between him and the constitution.
The existence of these forces was first mentioned by no less a personality than the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who said those who didn’t know how her husband got to power had hijacked him.
Although Buhari, reacting to the statement during a visit to Germany last year, jokingly described it as mere women talk as his wife belonged to “the other room”, the impression of him as a president in captivity has been cast in solid iron.
Incidentally, as the generals’ meeting was being held, pioneer interim chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, in a rare gesture that exposed the underbelly of the crisis of confidence among the leadership of the party, between the party and the presidency and within the presidency itself, released a statement warning of how the President’s sickness, if not properly managed, could ultimately lead to ill-health of the nation.
While urging Nigerians to pray for the President and by extension, the nation, Akande whose statement many believe was the inner thoughts and fears of the Southwest power bloc that paved the way for the emergence of Buhari as president in 2015, confirmed the rumour in the public domain that the presidency has been hijacked by a “cabal” of powerful elements for selfish personal and regional interests.
In the statement, Akande said, “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 realizing if, in the end, it could drag the entire country into avoidable doom.
“As delicately fragile the Union of nations making up Nigeria, so delicately fragile the democracy and the rule of laws governing the polity of the Union called Nigerian Federation. Certain Nigerian leaders, having been blindfolded by corruption, assume the possibility of using money in manipulating the national security agencies to intimidate, suppress and hold down certain ethnic nationalities or playing one ethnic nationality against the other with a view to undermining the constitution and perversely upturning the rule of law.
“To avoid the ugly consequences of letting President Buhari’s ailments throw Nigeria into confusion, I am urging all Nigerians to begin to pray for his divine healing and perfect recovery.”Apparently alluding to the 1993 political crisis that arose after the June 12 presidential election won by late Chief M.K.O Abiola threatened to tear the country along ethnic and regional lines, Akande said, “This is not Nigeria of 1993. We are in a new national and global era of constitutionalism and order. We hope Nigerians have enough patience to learn from history. My greatest fear, however, is that the country should not be allowed to slide into anarchy and disorder of a monumental proportion.”
PREEMPTIVE of a situation of anarchy that in the words of Akande, may be looming over the country, the Nigerian constitution in Section 144 (1) (a) and (b), (3), (4) (a) and (b), stated categorically what should be done to insulate the smooth running of the government from the President’s or Vice-President’s ill-health.
The relevant section recommends the setting up of a medical panel by two-third majority of members of the Federal Executive Council with inputs from the President of the Senate to ascertain whether “the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.”
How ready the country is to do the needful in the current situation seems to be the question on many lips as the undercurrent of the deadly politics within the confinement of Aso Rock is taking its toll on the management of the nations economy at this crucial period of recession.
The war on corruption, which is the pillar on which Buhari put the administration, is also believed to be suffering because those who allegedly took over the government are said to be beneficiaries of corrupt dealings and are only using the situation to shield their actions.
While Buhari is said to be favourably disposed to staying in the background to take care of his health and leave governance in the hands of his Deputy, as he publicly announced at his arrival from London when he thanked Osinbajo for holding the forth, the same forces are said to have prevented the President from walking the talk.
ALREADY it is being rumoured that Osinbajo, who ordinarily should take over from his boss according to the constitution has not been stable in Abuja in the last three weeks probably out of fear.
A source also disclosed that some elements in the North have vowed that in case the president passes on “his vice would not be allowed to take over principally based on ethnic sentiment.”According to him, “This is the reason some northerners, who are concerned about the development have been making overtures to the Southeast geo-political zone to join the ruling party.”
It was also disclosed that some founding members of the party have begun to re-strategise based on Buhari’s state of health.Reacting to the developments the Deputy National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) South West zone, Dr. Eddy Olafeso said the ruling party and particularly, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed are not sincere to Nigerians on the state of health of Buhari.
Olafeso said it is very embarrassing the way APC is concealing Buhari’s state of health, adding, “That has been the usual character of Alhaji Mohammed when he was the APC’s spokesman.”
While he challenged APC to convince Nigerians that Buhari is hale, sound and hearty, he said it has a far reaching implications because the president is the symbol and authority of the nation that must been seen in public functions and representing the country from time to time.He said the onus is on the ruling party to clear the doubt in the minds of Nigerians that Buhari is not critically ill “otherwise it would amount to a slap on our face and it shows that APC has turned Nigeria to a Banana Republic.”
The Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere also described the situation as unfortunate and embarrassing, as it urged the ruling party to shed more information on Mr. President’s state of health.
In a telephone conversation, Afenifere’s Spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said it was unfortunate the country is heading towards another crisis over the president’s state of health.
According to him, “APC must be told that Nigerians did not elect a leader that would be operating from home rather they voted a sound and healthy president, who is expected to represent them anywhere anytime.”A legal luminary, Ebu Olu Adegoruwa urged the Senate to declare the office of the President vacant since he is no longer in a good state of health to rule.
Adegoruwa said, “Since I personally got to know of the ill health of Buhari, I’ve changed a lot of my views concerning his government. We are all human after all, and no one can play God or rejoice over another man on account of his ill health.I then decided to pray for the President and also to lie low, in respect of my usual assessment of his policies, in order to give him enough time to fully recover. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t just convince Uncle Lai Mohammed or any other member of Buhari’s cabinet, to publicly admit to the people of Nigeria that the President is truly and seriously sick, as sick could be, even though I personally know the true position.”
He therefore said the option before Nigeria is for the Senate to declare the office of the President vacant and to constitute a medical panel of experts to examine his health status in order to determine if he can still continue to function in office, saying: “In the meantime, the Vice President should be sworn in as Acting President. We cannot continue in this fashion whereby a cabal has taken over the affairs of Nigeria, causing great panic in the land, purely for their own selfish ends. Enough is enough!”
In his reaction, former Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Dafe Akpedeye (SAN), called for caution in dealing with the matter of the President health since it is natural to fall ill.
He said: “anybody can be ill and you must know that age is not on the side of Mr. President. He is not getting younger again and it is not because the president is indispensable that make people to complain, rather it is the way things are presently”.
Akpedeye also called for efforts that will bring about improvement on the people rather than undue emphasis on the health of the president.Another senior advocate, Gani Adetola-Kassim said: “the president can operate from anywhere: even he can also operate from any part of the world. The point is that as far as he is still doing what he should do. As far as I am concerned, there is no place in the constitution that says the president of Nigeria must operates only from his official residence or office.
“There are also provisions as to when the president will not be able to perform his official functions and operating from home or wherever is not part of this provisions. So, the most important thing is, if the job is going on. I think the last time he traveled abroad, he fulfilled necessary conditions to some extent.”
But another lawyer, Chris Akiri, said, what the constitution says is that there is only one office for the president and that is Aso Rock Villa Abuja.“If he wants to go to anywhere for any reason, say on annual vacation or medical vacation, he must comply with section 145 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) i.e transmit a written declaration to the Senate President and Speaker that he is going on medical vacation.
“And immediately the vice president becomes the Acting President, the president cannot be sick at home and at the same time work in his office as president,” Akiri said.He also called on the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to summon up courage to act on the provisions of section 144 (1)-(5) of the constitution.