In Nigeria, we have incredible appetite for the dramatic. Irrespective of how uncomplicated an issue or situation is, Nigerians will build a muddled plot around it and end up confusing themselves and as many people of the world as get interested.
A mortal being, who has seen and fought many wars and is possibly closer to 90 than his official 74 years of age falls ill and the country calls a conference of ridicule over itself.
To start with, what should surprise a country that elects a man in his 70s, assuming the official age is true, about the fact that the man they have put in office has fallen ill? That is in a country where life expectancy is less than 50. President MuhammaduBuhari has thus surpassed the average survival age by a clear two decades yet we make such a spectacle of his ill-health.
It is clear though that if he had a choice in the matter, President Buhari would not play the game of his ill-health this way. Buhari himself showed us that the day he returned from his first medical vacation last March.
While his staff and friends had told us that he was in good health and not under any threat, the good old man revealed that he indeed visited hell and returned. He said he had never been ill like he was those couple of weeks. He put a lie to the comedy of errors that his minders put up in his absence. That is the injustice and violence that ill-health does to power. It holds the powerful hostage and subjects him to the whim of influence mongers and opportunists in the corridors of power.
These ones pretend to love the President but they love no one but themselves and their pockets. It was in their interest that the letter transmitted to the National Assembly on the eve of the President’s latest departure intentionally attempted to detract from the authority of the Acting President, Prof YemiOsinbajo.
Now, the President’s latest sojourn has entered its 101th day yet no Nigerian, possibly not even the man holding the forte for him, has an idea of what exactly ails the leader of the world’s most populous black nation.
When Nigerians ask, the replies they get vacillate from “the President is the only one who can reveal”, to “He is a private citizen” and downright blackmail about why Nigerians should pray rather than ask questions about the man they voted for to turn their country around.
At some other times, they will remind us that the man handed over to his deputy thereby living no vacuum in governance; what other reasons do the people have to complain about?
They have beaten that drum so much it does not only now sound worn out, it comes across like the President did us a favour.
Hear his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Shehu Garba, in an interview with Arise News Network earlier this week: “In the constitution, there is nowhere the President is required to disclose his illness. This is a country where past presidents never fell ill before. Even when they fell ill, nobody knew about it. This is a country where past presidents never handed over to their deputies;” in essence, Shehu is of the belief that Buhari did Nigeria a favour by handing over to his deputy.
This narrative has gone on for so long that it is about time its proponents were told that the President did us no favour by handing over to the Vice President. He only satisfied the constitution which he swore to uphold and nothing less would have been expected of a man who promised that he was going to change the ways things were done.
If the President had been tempted to do otherwise, he would have contravened Nigeria’s constitution and opened himself up to possible impeachment, something you cannot put past the current crop of legislators.
But let us even interrogate the so-called transfer of power. How much of progress has Nigeria made in the aftermath of the President’s departure. What concrete policies of state have affected the lives of the people in any significant way?
I understand that the Acting President signed the budget, weeks after it was ready; can we ascertain the level of performance of the budget almost three months after? He issued a number of Executive Orders; can we ask questions about how effectively those orders are running? He also recently swore in two ministers, weeks after eyebrows have been raised over his refusal to take the step, but only assigned portfolios to the ministers on Wednesday after much water passed under the bridge.
None of these half presidential measures would be strange to anyone who understands the undercurrents of politics in Nigeria, however.
The letter sent to the National Assembly by the ailing President on his way out of the country, carried an import that cannot be lost on Osinbajo. It is like that the man who gives out a ram to his friend and refuses to release the leash. The Acting President has indeed taken the baton of power but he knows power in Nigeria enough to realise that he is surrounded by agents of the donor of the power, without which he cannot do much. This is why every now and then, press statements are issued to remind us that the President is in charge like it happened during the recent attack on a church in Ozubulu, Anambra State. Is it then possible to have two captains in a ship?
In addition to that, Osinbajo would be hamstrung from going the whole hog by a number of other factors. Humility and what they call “wisdom” in Christianese will suggest to the Acting President not to “overreach,” so as not to offend the one on whose benevolence he attained that position in the first place.
That, added to the hope that unalloyed loyalty, even to the point of subservience, would guarantee a return to office would make it difficult for the Acting President to make any attempt to rock the boat. Especially, as he represents a constituency whose seat on the table is off the front row.
The point is that very few of these people think about anyone but themselves. Rather than come out with the situation with the President, his handlers have over the past couple of weeks, organised one circus after the other, taking select groups of Nigerians to see the President. They come back with images and lately a video to convince us that all is well with the President.
But the need to present this endless evidence results from nothing but the dishonesty of those in power, which has in effect created a mountain of distrust in the minds of the people. If the truth had been told about the President’s situation from the outset, Nigerians would be nothing but empathetic at the moment. Buhari is, after all, a man!
Something, however, suggests that the executors of these trips are beginning to look beyond this dispensation. The ridiculous serial pilgrimages to London, which cost the state huge scare and unaccounted for resources, are not so much about convincing Nigerians that the President is in good health to run through this first term.
It seems that the power mongers already see concluding this first term as a done deal. Those who are asking the President to resume or resign are only wasting their time. Even if they are not harassed into submission by market mobs or the barrel of the guns of overzealous but underpaid remunerated policemen, managers of the President are not in doubt that he will conclude his first term.
What they are after now, is that the President comes back in 2019 and receives the overwhelming support of Nigerians. That is the idea behind these London trips, and it is not about Nigeria, neither is it about Buhari, instead, it is in the interest of the powers behind the throne.
Sadly, Nigerians are always too drawn into the drama to see the big picture. Before we realise it, a fait accompli would be foisted on us. Then, another round of drama will start. It just never ends with us. And the joke is on us all.