Around the middle of January, Nigerians were told that President Muhammadu Buhari would be embarking on a 10-day vacation beginning from Monday, January 23. The announcement clearly stated that he would be back at his desk on Monday, February 6. At least that was the official notice from Aso Rock Villa, Nigeria’s seat of power, where Buhari currently calls the shots.
But shortly after the notice was put out to the public, the president hastily left the shores of Nigeria on Thursday, January 19, that is, few days before the vacation was to officially commence. Since then it has been one new story after another, as speculation has become rife that the president may have been ill and needed urgent medical attention in London.
Expectedly, the President’s handlers quickly sprang into action, trying to debunk rumours that the President was ill. However, in their attempt to cover up, they have made many goofs and gaffes to the extent that the information and culture minister, Lai Muhammed, has been on the receiving end of public anger.
The minister may have unwittingly incurred the wrath of the public by his insistence that his principal, Buhari, was “hale and hearty”. For instance, while addressing State House Reporters at the Villa shortly after the National Executive Council, NEC, meeting on Wednesday, February 1, the minister said: “I think I can say without any equivocation that he (the President) is well, he is hale and hearty, no question about that.” He did not stop there: “Do you think Mr. President will be ill and we will be here and going about our businesses like this? All our ministers are busy. But I want to assure you that Mr. President is well and he is absolutely in no danger.”
If Muhammed expected these soothing words to calm the curiosity of the people, he was dead wrong. Unfortunately, he is not the only one that has been caught up in this trajectory of trying to explain away the President’s rumoured illness.
The torrent of alibi and series of explanation over the President’s health have since shifted to get-well pilgrimages to London by party stalwarts, politicians and other influential people in the country. That appears to be the thing now in vogue. Still, the whole drama playing out cannot hide the fact that the President is indeed indisposed, contrary to what Nigerians were made to believe.
One of the things that probably gave away the game was the fact that the President kept on wearing the same kaftan all through the photo-shots of the numerous get-well visits to him. And in most cases, he was either in the same sitting position or just taking a few guided steps to the front door. This is why the elaborate photo-shots with his hordes of visitors have had little or no positive impact on the psyche of doubting Nigerians. Not even the very recent photograph of the president with Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Ahmed Lawan, the Senate Majority Leader, has been able to sway the people.
While the orchestra is going on in faraway London, intense prayer sessions are simultaneously going on in Nigeria especially in many of the mosques in the northern part of the country as Muslim faithful there have resorted to marathon prayers for the President’s quick recovery. They may have embarked on this bend because the President’s illness is coming so soon after another prominent northerner from the same state of Katsina died in office. President Buhari hails from Daura in Katsina State, while Umaru Yar’Adua, the late president who died on May 5, 2009, also hailed from Katsina town.
The death of Yar’Adua in 2009 opened the gate for Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy, to take over the mantle of leadership. The grudge of the northerners then was that the death of Yar’Adua robbed them of the golden opportunity to preside over the affairs of the country for at least eight years. Now, with the unfolding scenario around Buhari, there is apparent trepidation in the north that what happened in 2009 may happen again. That may be the reason intense prayers are currently ongoing to avert such a bad occurrence.
At any rate, to underscore the fact that the North is not folding its arms this time around, few weeks ago, there was wild rumour that some strong elements of northern extraction in the present government were mounting pressure on Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the ebullient vice president, to resign from office. The reason given by the rumour mongers was that this will pave the way for Bukola Saraki, the ambitious president of the Senate who is from the North central geo-political zone of the country to assume power in the event of anything on toward happening to Buhari. This will enable the North to retain the number one spot in the country’s political equilibrium rather than lose it to another Southerner so soon.
Although Osinbajo has denied this, but Nigeria is a country of immense possibilities especially in the face of rumours and counter-rumours on the health condition of the President. The truth is that the Northern oligarchy loves power and can do anything to retain it.
Right now, his illness apart, there are many people jostling to replace Buhari in the 2019 elections. Many of them are familiar faces but they all have one baggage or the other which will make them ineligible to be nominated. Again, while some of them are too ambitious and largely inexperienced, others are like spent bullets that cannot do anything spectacular anymore. With the simmering crisis within the ruling APC and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, on the throes of death, notwithstanding the recent Appeal Court verdict in Port Harcourt, no one can be sure of the direction of Nigerian politics come 2019.
There are indications that another political realignment may be in the offing. And that realignment may exclude some of the present gladiators in the ruling APC as some of the aggrieved but influential members of the party may go for broke. On the other hand, the PDP, a party that once boasted that it would rule Nigeria till infinity, but was ignominiously defeated in the 2015 elections by a formidable APC, will try to go into alliance with some mushroom political parties. With the gale of defections from the PDP which may get worse in the coming weeks because of the recent Appeal Court verdict, making PDP relevant in the 2019 election may not be far from a mirage.
My worry is that the APC, as presently constituted, may also find it a herculean task winning the presidential election in 2019. I foresee an implosion of the party before then. The options left for the party is either to reorganise quickly and properly or pave the way for some prominent members of the party to form a new alliance and subsequently win the election.
Buhari may be gradually losing favour with the Nigerian electorate as his health could also be a burden to him in 2019. Even in the North where he comes from, many of his compatriots appear not very comfortable with his strides in office. Therefore, the thought of fielding him as president in 2019 may not arise. And if the economy continues on the present downward trend, then your guess would be as good as mine!