The recent uproar and fear concerning President Muhammadu Buhari’s state of health has not come to many discerning Nigerians as a surprise. What is rather curious and embarrassing has been the ostrich and evasive denial of presidential aides and others of their kind on the true state of the Buhari’s health. For one thing, no person should be rejoicing that the Buhari is critically ill; for illness of whatever nature is not a good wish for anyone. It is rather disturbing that it took a near fatal medical check-up in London for the President’s men to admit that the President is in critical state of health. His fragile health status has never been in question because Nigerians know that during the 2015 electioneering period, Buhari slumped on two occasions. Ominous and disturbing as the situation remains, one cannot but advise that Muhammadu Buhari should resign from office on health grounds and save the country from certain crisis of succession and constitutional dilemma.
There is no doubt that the present state of President Buhari’s health has imposed a fresh reign of speculation among Nigerians; with government officials demonstrating speaking from both sides of the mouth. Earlier, Nigerians have been told that Buhari was hale and hearty but just yesterday (February 5th, 2017), Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity) told us that the President will stay longer in London to enable him complete his other medical tests. The President will return to Nigeria, he said but gave no hint when the President will come back.
Presently, the issue of succession and alleged pressure on Vice President Yemi Osibanjo to resign has become subjects of intense discussion by Nigerians, at home and abroad, raising anxiety despite official assurances that the President is responding to treatment at the London Specialist Hospital in Britain. It is no longer secret that President Buhari was admitted in the hospital for treatment of undisclosed illness. Even in this critical situation, some individuals have narrowly dismissed the patriotic calls by Nigerians for the president to resign. The result in the last couple of days has been a Nigerian government run on uncertainty, gossip, blackmail and useless battles for supremacy. To further put the state ship into more troubled waters, Vice President Osibanjo, in particular, has ring-fenced himself with an air of precaution in his activities in the Presidency to avoid sending wrong signals regarding the present health challenges of the President.
It is assumed that the vice president is expected to perform the functions of the president in the absence of the latter, but the 1999 Constitution states expressly in Sections 145 and 146 how such a role can be performed in the absence of the number one citizen. Section 145 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President. According to Section 146 (1), the Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with section 143 of this Constitution.
Curiously, this express constitutional provision has been subjected to spurious political interpretations totally at variance with the spirit and letters of the constitution. In some quarters, especially from the North, the constitutional provision that a vice president would automatically discharge the functions of the President once the latter is on vacation or temporarily incapacitated has been rejected on the ground that such assumption is based on false premise.
This development has given rise to speculations and uncertainty, with some individuals already drawing a parallel between what is happening presently and the succession drama that characterized the ill-health and eventual death of former President Umaru Yar’Ádua. Nigerians will recall that the late President Yar’Adua left Nigeria on November 23, 2009 for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. After much speculations with some claiming that the president was battling with a chronic allergic disorder and had intermittent kidney failure, Nigerians were later informed that he was being treated in a Saudi Arabia clinic for a heart condition identified as pericaditis, which some medical authorities claim was a mere complication of what is known as Churg-Strauss syndrome.
His ill-health induced absence from the country and three months stay away from office created a lot of room for speculation, with anxiety and tension hitting the rafters over the resulting power vacuum since he did not officially hand over power to the then Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Even his return to the country in February of that year did not allay the tension but rather fuelled it, especially as he was kept away from the public by some power elements, who elected to rule on his behalf. It took the intervention of the National Assembly which invoked the now popular Doctrine of Necessity to declare Jonathan acting President. This unprecedented move by the National Assembly, the Senate to be specific, somehow reduced the prevailing tension in the country, bringing respite to many who were afraid that the country was on the verge of imploding.
Given this scenario, Nigerians have every reason to worry even though it is argued that there is a fundamental difference between what happened during the Yar’Adua era and what is happening now. The crux of this argument is that President Buhari officially handed the reins of office to his vice before embarking on his vacation unlike in Yar’Adua scenario.
However, it smacks of deceit and lack of transparency for a horde of presidential officials and even the Minister for Information, who has distinguished himself as a serial liar, to feed Nigerians with lies and half truths even when they are fully aware of the President’s poor health status. This is not surprising given the antecedents of the APC. We are witnesses to the many atrocities to which Nigeria has been subjected since May 29th 2015; the politically motivated decimation of innocent Nigerians by Islamic soldiers disguised as Fulani herdsmen, the blatant disregard for the rule of law; the bare-faced electoral robberies by the APC that would make that of PDP laughable; the high-wire corruption and the disgusting tendency for primitive accumulation by the leaders and the criminal imposition by the ruling APC of persons with little or no pedigree in positions of authority. Given the many failings of the present government under the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, we can say, of a truth, that the Nigerian project has indeed collapsed.
At a time when Nigerians should be debating the policies of the government and the likely implications such policies will have for their welfare and development, they are being served dishes about the ill-health of an imperiled president who many still believe was imposed by a ravenous and treacherous political cartel for selfish reason. Almost two years on, the Buhari administration has not been able to tackle any of the debilitating national problems in a way that would signify its seriousness to change Nigeria for good. There is also much to worry that it will go into its third year with hardly any tangible thing to show.
The claim by the government that Boko Haram has been decimated has proved to be a hoax essentially because Ibrahim Shekau, the leader of the dreaded insurgent sect is still alive and well. In his latest video shown on Al Jazeera, Shekau mocked the Nigerian military and boasted that Boko Haram cannot be crushed by the Nigerian army. The Niger-Delta crisis presents yet another classical example of what awaits Nigeria in the face of pretentious posturing at change. Typical of the predatory tendencies of the Nigerian ruling elite, the solution to the Niger-Delta conundrum has been conceived in terms of “Operation Crocodile” aimed at crushing the so-called militants of the region. Relatedly, the response to the peaceful Biafran agitation has been the militarization of Igbo political space by the government in what it has code-named “Operation Python Dance”. The government’s declared war against corruption has been a massive flop. Today, corruption has been repositioned as a principle of state policy and it is still business as usual.
Along this trajectory of corruption, Nigerians are groaning in hunger and abject poverty. Inflation rates have hit the roofs while unemployment has become a way of life for our teeming youths. Lack of social security and the fear of survival have combined to heighten social crimes. Virtually every institution in this country has collapsed and even the die-hard apologists of the Buhari presidency appear bemused and dumb.
Despite all the pontifications and parroting by officials of the government about change, our hospitals remain glorified mortuaries, our roads remain major death traps even as Nigerians cannot afford the most rudimentary of their needs. Nigeria is indeed walking tight rope. Since Buhari can still move his limbs, he should transmit his resignation to the National Assembly and stand a chance of being remembered as a true statesman.
By Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo