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BUHARI : THE LINGERING CONTROVERSIES
"I hope the president is aware of this latest statement credited to him, because, as far as I am concerned, he may not have said it. The Federal Government should make sure that Nigerians know the truth. We cannot continue to be left in the dark" Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, 22nd February 2016.
Balarabe Musa's scepticism and open expression of doubt in the wake of a recent statement attributed by Presidential Spokesman Mr. Femi Adesina, to President Muhammadu Buhari, typifies a strand of critical distancing to the several sometimes conflicting claims of Buhari's aides. It is not only Nigerians who are bewildered or sceptical about the manipulation of public opinion regarding Buhari's health and continued medical vacation. The outside world is, too. For example, after the reported conversation between Buhari and President Donald Trump of the United States, the New York Times did a story entitled 'Trump Speaks with Nigeria's President who hasn't been seen in weeks'. Published on February 13, the report lamented the "the lack of clarity" and the fact that "Mr. Buhari's aides have failed to provide details about his health or his whereabouts, or even to say whether they have been in touch with him". A few days later, the New York Times published another article entitled "The Case of Nigeria's Missing President". It lamented that "Mr. Buhari seems to have abandoned his country and people after leaving for medical treatment in London". Similarly biting characterisations of the current situation have appeared in other International Media, including the Voice Of America which reported recently: Mystery Shrouds Nigerian President Medical Condition.
Every attempt to cover up or paper over the current impasse merely raises further questions and deepens a growing credibility crisis for those who are trying to explain or explain away the situation. There has been, in this country, a distinguished roll call of casualties among those who claim to speak for government. The names of late Senator Uche Chukwumereje and Prof. Walter Ofonagoro readily come to mind here. Very few spokespersons of successive governments have avoided the fate of public opprobrium, and the present crop of publicists should be careful not to have their reputations ruined by sophisticated but difficult to believe spins. The often quoted statement of Minister for Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed that: "I think I can say without any equivocation that Mr. President is well, he is hale and hearty, no question about that", is a case in point here. For it was shortly after this emphatic claim that Buhari not only postponed his arrival to the country but went on to say, perhaps through a proxy, that he would need to await the results of medical tests conducted on him before travelling back to Nigeria.
Interestingly, both the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House Of Representatives, Hon.Yakubu Dogara, who have both been to London and claim to be in close touch with Buhari insist that he is hale and hearty. For effect, Saraki even claimed that Buhari recently worked passed mid-night and is in excellent spirit. Apparently, it did not strike him that there is a contradiction between that projected bouyancy and the fact that Buhari has written to extend his so-called medical vacation indefinitely. It remains also a mystery why a leader who had the composure to speak with Trump on phone and was reportedly watching Channels Television in London, did not consider it proper to address the nation as a way of exploding national and international speculations about the severity of his ill health.
Several foreign newspapers have alluded to what is going on as another ugly African drama in which a kitchen cabinet downplays the seriousness of the ill health of a President in order to maintain their power. In the Nigerian case, and to evoke a somewhat cliched formulation, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is in office but not in power. True power resides still with a shadowy group around the ailing President who is apparently investing in keeping the public ill informed. To be sure, matters have not deteriorated to the events of the last days of Former President Umar Ya'r adua, when a cabal gave orders to ministers in the name of a President too sick to know what was happening . But unless and until Buhari returns to the country, or in the alternative, as some have suggested, step aside to mind his health, the nation may yet reach that alley.
Nigeria is once again becoming a butt for sardonic jokes around the globe because of the needless secrecy that has been wrapped around the issue of the President's health. It is even more grievous that this saga is unfolding far from our shores when a more change minded leadership would have considered the need, out of sheer patrotism to treat the President at the upscale and expensively rekitted Aso Rock Clinic.In this connection, The Guardian on Sunday (February 19th 2017.), estimated the cost of Buhari's medical treatment abroad to be between 200,000 and 250,000 pounds per hour. Even if the figure is exaggerated, there is more to be said for not draining out scarce foreign exchange when alternatives are available. Some commentators have drawn attention to the cases of former Leaders of Cuba and Israel, namely, Fidel Castro and Ariel Sharon respectively, who insisted on being treated in their own countries rather than being flown abroad for severe ailments. One of the reasons why Nigeria remains a market rather than a nation, is because the quantum of patriotism, in words and deeds, which should have brought about such a transition is in short supply. Nigeria is waiting for leaders who will change entrenched political habits in order to initiate a new culture of governance and service.
Predictably and as the Afenifere recently reminded us, a new season of jostling for power has set in with the current uncertainty. How long that will last and how matters will be resolved is a matter for the future. What is important however, is a restoration of decency in the government's information machinery which has not helped matters thus far. As Prof. Niyi Akinnaso counselled in a recent intervention (The Punch February 7, 2017). "This is one period in our history when the citizens need a government that respects them by taking them along on major issues including the President's health". In other words, it is profoundly disrespectful to the citizenry to dish out lies and half truths and also expensive, when the truth is eventually discovered. It is time for full disclosure on the part of those who know, including Buhari, and total silence on the part of those who do not know.
History will be kinder to Buhari and his change agenda if he or his spokespersons cut short the lenghtening national travail that has come about as a result of the stalemate over his health.On a broader note and in conclusion, the Nigerian electorate must come into its own by instituting measures that include accountability of candidates for high office to come clean on their health status.We have kept repeating our unhappy history because we do not draw the right lessons from it.