President Muhammadu Buhari’s fragile health, growing concerns by citizens over the lack of information on his condition, and worries over his long absence from duty, all point to a nation that is crumbling but still managing to stand on its last legs. Although Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has been effectively running the government in his capacity as acting president, an eerie feeling continues to pervade the country, owing to Buhari’s long period of absence.
Many people are anxious but are not expressing it. We live a life of denial. We are bombarded with official lies from the Presidency. We are inundated with lies from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). We are constantly force-fed with lies from federal ministers. And we have to deal with high calibre lies issued by the president’s assistants.
The national uncertainty over the state of Buhari’s health and the embarrassment of not knowing when the president would return or resume work, as the captain of the sinking ship baptised as Nigeria indicate quite clearly that we are looking at a disaster of immense proportions that awaits the nation. I am not aware of any country in the world where a president would go on an indefinite medical leave and the citizens and the legislators still go about their daily routine, as if everything is normal. No, it is not normal for political leaders, including the National Assembly to pretend ignorance of the constitutional clause that stipulates that when a president becomes indisposed, the vice-president should take over.
The nation deserves to be saved the current state of uncertainty. I have heard some people say there is no cause for anxiety because Buhari handed over power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. That is not the point. Even in an acting capacity, there are certain decisions that Osinbajo cannot take now, including some decisions he would be wary to take on the apprehension that Buhari might be unhappy with the decision when he returns. Either way, Osinbajo as acting president is in a Catch-22 (or no-win) situation.
Buhari’s ministers, his team of advisers, the faceless “cabal”, and the APC leadership have consistently informed the nation that the president would return home to resume work when his doctors are convinced he is fit enough. Although no one knows when that would happen, it might well turn out to be like waiting for eternity. We are now being told to wait and to pray endlessly for Buhari’s recovery. The problem is that the rest of the world will not wait for us while we immerse ourselves in national prayers.
While debate continues over Buhari’s health, presidential assistants and the APC leadership continue to serve the nation a cocktail of lies garnished with exaggerated accounts of Buhari’s improving health and the government’s achievements. The latest lies revolve around these two issues, including why a presidential jet has been parked in London, awaiting Buhari’s recovery and eventual return to Nigeria.
Last week, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, tried to extinguish growing public criticisms over the idea that a presidential jet was lying idle in London, accumulating parking fees the nation ought not to accrue. However, in trying to clarify the situation, Shehu added to the public’s exasperation. This raises the questions: Are presidential media assistants hired to lie? Why do presidential media assistants treat civil society as a population of gullible nursery school kids, who could be easily fooled? Are they appointed to defend the indefensible in their servile attempt to impress their boss that they are active and productive?
In his defence of the presidential jet parked in London, Shehu said any criticisms of the presidential jet must be attributed to ignorance and lack of knowledge of diplomatic procedures, surrounding the rules that govern overseas trips by heads of state anywhere in the world. In a rather ludicrous and unconvincing statement, Shehu turned reason upside down, as he mixed issues and compared bananas with plantain. He said national security interests, diplomacy, national prestige and protocol require that world leaders do not travel overseas without arrangements for their prompt return. He conveniently forgot to mention that Buhari’s situation is different.
World leaders, who travel overseas do so because of international or intergovernmental commitments and not because they are travelling to receive medical treatment or to receive medical attention for existing conditions. Buhari has been in London for two months in his second trip for medical treatment. Few world leaders leave their elected positions to go overseas for medical treatment for so long while their presidential jets are parked beside their hospital beds.
Shehu failed to cite specific examples in which world leaders travel overseas for medical treatment and leave their jets on standby mode for many months. The idea that someone could justify the parking of a presidential jet in another country where the president is on an indefinite medical leave is outrageous and contemptible.
Shehu further said: “From operational point of view, this country’s Armed Forces as represented by the Nigeria Air Force are not to abandon their Commander-in-Chief in whichever circumstance he is. This is a standard operating procedure.” Let me quickly dismiss this sloppy assertion. The Nigerian Air Force need not show their commitment to the welfare of the president by keeping an aircraft idle and waiting in perpetuity till the president has recovered from his ailment.
To indicate the idiocy in that argument, one could as well suggest that the Chief of Air Staff should take a seat in Buhari’s private hospital room to underline the love the Air Force has for the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
The question really is not about the president, travelling overseas with his jet but the circumstances under which the trip occurred. What is different in Buhari’s case is that a presidential jet was used to ferry him to an overseas destination to receive medical attention and the jet was left there unnecessarily to accrue parking fees. What makes this case more serious and indeed inexcusable is that no one knows how long the jet would be stationed in London, as it is uncertain how long Buhari would stay for medical treatment.
As Garba Shehu defended the indefensible, the APC leaders acknowledged they did not know how long Buhari would stay in London for his medical treatment. It is, however, somewhat paradoxical that, although the party could not say when Buhari would return, the national chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun, said with a certain degree of conviction that Buhari had made remarkable recovery and rapidly too. If that was the case, why couldn’t Odigie-Oyegun estimate how soon Buhari would return?
What we are seeing is a choreographed performance by the Presidency and the APC leadership who are determined to create the impression that everything is working well, even when the president has been away for an interminable period of time. Between the Presidency and the APC leadership, the strategy seems to be going according to script. The citizens must be bombarded with endless lies and unverified statements that no one has bothered to authenticate.
We need to ask the following questions to expose the cocktail of lies. How many APC senior officials have visited Buhari in London to ascertain his condition? How many media assistants have been privileged to visit their boss in the London hospital to see how he is recovering? How many ministers, including members of the so-called “Kitchen Cabinet” have been to London to see Buhari since he left Nigeria two months ago?
If the answer to all these questions is in the negative, then the citizens must be justified to treat with disbelief any statement from the Presidency and the APC hierarchy about Buhari’s extraordinary recovery. The more the Presidency and the APC leaders serve unvarnished lies to citizens, the more they expose their simple-mindedness.