By Josef Omorotionmwan
LATELY, the issue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s health has thoroughly dominated the popular press in Nigeria. We are, however, unable to remember when Buhari was elected to take on the toga of God who knows the end from the beginning. Buhari could not have known that somewhere along the line, he would become so ill like he has never been before. He did not ask for illness but illness came when it did.
When illness struck, Buhari did what he thought best in the circumstance – he took himself some 4,000 kilometres away from the hurly-burly of office, in search of the best possible remedy. That soon became his first offence – why should he travel out?
The man remained in the UK and carefully obeyed the instructions of his Doctors. When the Doctors decided that he was well enough to return to Nigeria, he wasted no time before returning. The same Doctors instructed him on what to do and what to avoid during the period of convalescence. Most recuperating patients are temporarily cluster-phobic – they avoid crowd.
Rather than be genuinely happy that our President came home alive, some people engage in lamentation. They complain that he did not attend one meeting or the other; and he failed to go to the Mosque for morning prayers. They must complain, not that the man is not working, but that he is working from home. Haba! In this computer age, we wonder who is not working from home, particularly for a man whose home and office are in Aso Rock.
Some critics have said that Buhari looks frail and fragile. This is stating the obvious. How else should he look after a prolonged illness – like a boxer or weight-lifter? Are we not all getting older by the day and losing vitality? Buhari is human. On assuming office, he assembled a crack team of Cabinet Ministers; and the Government is moving smoothly. His war on corruption is on course, much to the chagrin of the offenders.
Buhari’s strongest point is that he delegates functions and that is why God keeps giving him capable and trust-worthy lieutenants. Even in the best of health, we saw how he piloted the affairs of this country with the late General Tunde Idiagbon. And this time around, who can fault the choice of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo?
Clearly, those calling on Buhari to quit are totally ignorant of the constitutional procedure for doing so. They must quickly acquaint themselves with the provisions of Sections 144-146 of the 1999 Constitution, which spell out the procedure for presidential incapacitation and subsequent vacancy. That Buhari is absent from the Mosque or from a meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, does not suggest he is anywhere near incapacitation.
Worldwide, there have been terrible cases of presidential disability and succession. We cannot forget so soon how Nigeria almost crumbled when the Late President Musa Yar’Adua was vegetating in far-away Saudi Arabia and Goodluck Jonathan had no legal authority to take over his functions. That was a good ground to declare presidential disability but we did not.
Boris Yelsin virtually ran the Russian presidency, shuttling between the hospital and his office due to frequent and varying ailments.
In the USA, the seriousness of presidential disability has been illustrated on two principal occasions; first, we remember President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924). In the fall of 1919, Wilson became incapacitated by partial paralysis and he was totally unable to perform the responsibilities of his office. His condition was carefully concealed from the American people while his wife effectively took over the running of the presidency.
Secondly, there was the case of President Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969). He was disabled on several occasions – by a heart attack in 1955; an ileitis attack in 1956; and a severe stroke in 1957. The first two attacks knocked him down for about six months.
Like Vice President Goodluck Jonathan under Yar’Adua, Richard Nixon who was Eisenhower’s Vice President lacked legal authority to take over the responsibilities of President. Rather, a Presidential Assistant, Sherman Adam, took over the duties of the President.
In the case of Nigeria, we also remember how the Presidential Adviser on National Assembly matters went to present the 2010 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly while Vice President Jonathan watched helplessly.
The US situation has since changed. In 1967, the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provided for definite procedures that enable the Vice President to take over the President’s functions in the event of presidential disability.
It bears repeating here, that our travail in the presidential succession is self-inflicted. We did a good job of lifting, wholesale, the procedure for removing a disable American President. But whereas the American Constitution went an extra mile to provide for an American President who recovers fully to return to office; in Nigeria, once a President is removed, it is over and out, no matter how well he gets. Once elected, therefore, a Nigerian President is likely to glue himself to that office till there is no more breath in him.
Nigeria today has a President who is not incapacitated in any way. We have a vivacious Vice President who is able and capable of working to constitutional prescription; and there are Ministers who know their onions. Who, then, was Buhari trying to impress when he struggled to the Mosque last Friday? Those looters who want him dead; and who will not be satisfied even if he offers them his head? For goodness sake, let Buhari stay at home; cross his legs and observe his Salat and Jumat prayers. Let him religiously keep his appointments with the UK Doctors. That way, he will recuperate properly for the good people of this country!
Like the Psalmist in Psalms 118:17, Buhari will not die but live to fulfill his purpose for Nigeria. He will provide a perfect example of the proverbial dry tree, which while people look upon it to fall, will remain standing while the living trees will be falling. Buhari will successfully outlive his tenure(s). This we pray.