On Monday, Abubakar railed at PUNCH journalist, Olalekan Adetayo, for deconstructing Buhari’s health challenge and its debilitating impact on governance. Abubakar summarily humiliated and childishly expelled the bemused journalist from Aso Rock. Abubakar’s high-handedness is not the first time an Aso Rock CSO will go above and beyond the remit of the office. Hamza al-Mustapha, the CSO to the late Gen. Sani Abacha, was a scandalous prototype for Abubakar and his predecessor, Abdulrahman Mani. Neither Abubakar nor any of his colleagues, can -or will- stop us from questioning the state of Buhari’s health.
We will keep exercising our rights to ask about Buhari’s mental and physical capabilities, and if he is fit to occupy that office. Even when he had not fallen ill, Buhari is not what you could describe as a philosopher king. Now that he has been -in his own words- sicker than he has ever been in his life, can he steer the ship of the state without running it aground? It is a legitimate question and no bullying can prevent us from asking.
The inhabitants of Aso Rock seem to be perennially divorced from the reality Nigerians live through, and abuse of power is a fruit of such alienation. The present occupant’s troupe has added emotional blackmail to myopia that issued from them. These days, Buhari’s aides tell us not to gloat about the President’s health condition, and we should pray for him.
Asking us to pray for a man they claim is not sick is an exploitation of collective religiosity, an underhanded tactic to seal our mouths from challenging the farce they stage. What exactly about a report that posited that Buhari’s ongoing health issues had truncated daily governance as he has missed many mandatory activities rattled Abubakar? It is international news that Buhari is ailing and that Nigeria suffers from a lack of governance yet Abubakar is enraged.
There are two immediate concerns here: First, which should be of higher interest to the CSO, the reality of Buhari’s governance being impeded by his ill-health or the report of that reality? Second is the uncouth fundamentalism of presidential aides. Abubakar’s zeal at repressing journalistic rights to defend his master, of course, reflects the kind of governance we have in Nigeria. This is not the first time that aides in Aso Rock would demonstrate that they are unschooled in basic principles of democracy and governance. Two years ago, African Independent Television was banned from Aso Rock because their coverage during the 2015 election campaign antagonised Buhari! The President’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina’s attempt at damage control and disowning the CSO only further cements what one has always suspected: That there is no coordination in Buhari’s government and that everyone just acts as they deem fit by dispensing injustices in their respective sphere of influence.
In 2017, Nigeria regresses to the Dark Ages when we ask reasonable questions on the health or ill-health of our leaders. We have travelled this route, twice, in our recent history. First was Abacha, the head of a junta that was not averse to jailing journalists or proscribing media outfits when they reported on his ill-health. Till date, what exactly took place on June 8, 2008, has remained an urban lore. It is ironic that a general who tried to prevent everyone from knowing about his failing health will forever reside in our minds as the murderous leader whose weak heart gave out while allegedly copulating with imported consorts.
The late Umaru Yar’Adua was another leader whose health condition was also questionable. Until his eventual death, we were lied to incessantly by a cabal that ran the government on his behalf – from his wife to aides that ‘‘kidnapped’’ him. His death was an anti-climax, and rather than a human sympathy for the dead, the best he got was a sigh of relief from a nation that was tired of the drama.
The same pattern has run from the incidents of 1993, 2007 and 2017. Leaders who knew their health was failing clung to Aso Rock like a sinner hugs the cross. What exactly ails President Buhari that questions about it meet with either silence or outright hostility? The reports of our President’s health are hidden from his own citizens whose votes legitimate his office yet all the details are laid bare in a hospital somewhere in London. Nigerians pay his health bill with their blood even while their own children die from lack of basic medical infrastructure at home yet they are not supposed to question what ails the President.
If Nigerians are filling the gaps in official communication with speculation, gossip, and media reports, people like Abubakar should know better than bark. They should supply valid information, simple. At this stage in our national life and with two presidents who died in office after their sicknesses were hid from the public, no leader should go through the same magic of lying and deflecting from the issue of his health anymore. If Buhari is incapacitated, he should admit it. If his health impedes governance, he should live up to the propaganda they dispense about him being a straightforward and honest man by resigning. By no means should one man’s ambition hold the rest of the country hostage. To prove how much disregard they have for Nigerians, Buhari’s aides and paid flatterers are hinting at a second term when the man can barely perform in his first term!
In 2013, when the Muhammadu Buhari candidacy was imminent, he was being sold then, as usual, as an honest man who could clean up the soiled soul of Nigeria; I wrote that if he was honest enough, Buhari should admit he was not what Nigeria needed and move on. Four years later, Buhari’s messianic aura and the much-vaunted propaganda about the power of his body language to heal the nation have seen demystification. It did not take long before all saw him for what he is: Long on reputation and short on actual leadership integrity. We are shackled -for better or worse- with a leader who played his last card before the game even begun. Now that we are in the middle of the duel, we are confronted with a lack of game plan, or tactic, or philosophy for ruling Nigeria. Buhari has become a rarely seen President of the Aso Rock, appearing only now and then like the phantom of the opera.
If the best a President who has not been seen in public for two weeks could do was appear at the National Mosque, Abuja for Juma’at service, what it shows is that he only panders to the primal instincts of his theocratic power base. He does not have to get a single thing right as long as he can appear in mosques and sell to his most faithful and devoted followers, the image of a religious man who has surrendered to God. When Buhari was sick and in London, the few times he was said to have called Nigeria, he either spoke to some mullahs who were praying for his recovery, or he called his aide, Femi Adesina, with nothing more edifying to say than gossip about “mischief makers.”
Yes, the President of a country leaves his people hanging on the state of his health and the issues of governance to talk about his haters. That is how you know Buhari’s ailment is not just physiological; he also suffers a lack of regard for Nigerians.