By Rafiq Raji, PhD
A gaunt-looking but lively Muhammadu Buhari, who will be taking a huge risk if he is not back in Nigeria from London on or before 4 August – 90 days from 7 May when he left for his most recent medical leave – was probably horrifying to merchants of falsehood hitherto touting exclusive knowledge of the ailing Nigerian president’s fragile health. The picture they painted was far worse than that which emerged on 23 July. It is not unlikely that President Buhari was probably in a more vulnerable position before then, as he underwent treatments that likely required anaesthesia and so on. But this would not be unusual. He is after all unwell. Some suggest Nigerians would be more sympathetic to Mr Buhari’s predicament if he were more transparent about what ails him. I doubt that very much. At least, not this late in the game. Truth is, no matter how loved you are and how many the multitude in your company, a man ultimately bears his burden alone. All the empathy in the world would not transfer the pain Mr Buhari feels to the many hypocrites who claim to love and care for him. It is actually pathetic listening to some of the commentary. Most of our political leaders are suffering from one ailment or the other. That compulsory vacation they all take to England or America (and lately to Singapore) is often motivated by the need to check their health status. It is the ultimate hypocrisy that while they keep their own conditions under wraps, they advocate otherwise for Mr Buhari. Some say he should resign. Another group has gone further to seek a court order to force his cabinet to declare him unfit to govern. Their efforts would end in futility.
Justice and dignity
Why does he have a presidential jet waiting on him at a London airport, some ask with feigned exasperation. Why shouldn’t he? Is it not too expensive, they wonder. Well, our republican-type presidency is very expensive. Could the money not be better used to alleviate the poverty that plagues millions of Nigerians, it is mused. Why start there though, I wonder. We could aver that the State House with the many mansions that sometimes never get occupied is too expensive to cater for just one man and his staff. Yes, let us put the head of state in a place where he could be a danger to his neighbours. Maybe we should also ask that his motorcade switch off their engines when he is not in the car. After all, his security should not matter. Wait a minute, Nigeria is not a sovereign country. Is it? It cannot be. Because if it is, we would not ask that our president be going cap in hand begging for a plane in case of an emergency. What is wrong with us? Advanced democracies that we are always quick to cite as examples of excellence would not dare suggest that their sick president should leave office. At least, not until all medical options are exhausted. They would instead do as Mr Buhari has done. Immediately swear in an acting president while the substantive man ails. There are numerous examples of presidents who having survived assasination attempts go on to seek additional terms in office even more popular. Were that the case, would anyone dare suggest Mr Buhari should resign from office? In any case, no good deed goes unpunished. Mr Buhari has been transparent as much as his temperament can allow. When analysing issues such as these, the fundamental question to ask is thus: Has Mr Buhari broken the law? No, he has not. Is the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, adequately empowered to do the job in his stead? Technically, yes. Politically, no. But he has certainly been able to do the part that matters.
There is a reason it is the politicians that occupy high office and not bureaucrats. A popular leader comes to office with the mandate of the people. That legitimacy comes handy when difficult decisions are to be made. Prof Osinbajo has had it easy thus far not so much because of his intellectual acumen or political prowess but more due to the goodwill his principal enjoys. Those who are scheming to have Mr Buhari declared unfit for office whether via the courts or the cabinet should be very careful. If there is even the slightest perception of an unceremonious exit plan for the man, even the acting president may find the seat too hot to handle. It is unfortunate, of course, that what is motivating some of those who wish Prof Osinbajo should rise faster to the throne have religious and ethnic underpinnings. And of course, the north would need to do some soul-searching around why for the second consecutive time, their choice to rule Nigeria has come up with ailments that have hampered his capacity to rule. I have in the past asserted that until whoever their choice is does away with the injustice that has become typical of the stewardship of their brethren, even the next person may not succed. So yes, Mr Buhari is sick. He would probably remain so for the remainder of his first term. And yes, he should not even contemplate contesting for a second term. And I doubt very much that he does. But the country does owe him some dignity. Never mind that how we treat our leaders does ultimately reflect on us. And yes, how they treat us does reflect on them as well, hence their suffering.
Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column (2 Aug 2017). See link viz. http://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/08/02/let-buhari-be-by-rafiq-raji/