By Obi Nwakanma
The gaits of President Muhammadu Buhari as he wobbled through the ceremonies during his recent visit to Washington DC gave him away. The Nigerian President was breathless, and kept himself together with a great reserve of will that must have come only with his military training. President Buhari is far too distracted by his illness to govern. The state of the President’s mental and physical health is now, to all intents and purposes, a national security matter for Nigeria.
The subject of the President’s health has been a major point of discussion through this presidency. That man has spent quite a number of his days in office in hospital, and mind you, not in a Nigerian hospital, but with his doctors in the UK who have been managing his health crisis, the fact or detail of which has now assumed the nature of state secret. So, here is the irony: Britain knows the secrets of the health of Nigeria’s President, but Nigeria and Nigerians do not. If this were not so tragic and disturbing, it would be amusing. But it is not amusing. It is not even funny. It is simply the indices of the real state of Nigeria.
It is a country that has lost control of all its systems; in which every system of control – national security, national economy, national morality, national administration, have collapsed. There is no question: The President of Nigeria has the widest power accorded to any democratically elected executive office in the world. It has powers wider than the President of the United States, and I use the United States as an example, because it is the source of our constitutional aspirations – our model. We basically plagiarized the American model, with just a few misreadings here and there. The chief misreading is the power the framers of the current constitution in use ceded to the offices rather than to the institutions that constitute the foundations of the state.
The President of Nigeria thus, once elected, has near-absolute power. Although he appoints the Executive Council, the ministers are nothing but his minions. He is not just Head of state, he is “boss” and he can overrule any votes reached by the ministerial council. The idea of a “council” presumes a certain capacity for coherent organic action based on the given function of the council. A council could be advisory, deliberative, administrative, or consultative.
The body of ministers under the president is fundamentally an advisory, rather than an administrative body. It is different from the parliamentary system of democracy, where the council of ministers is an executive body with administrative powers. The ministers are appointed from elected members of parliament, and once appointed by the president on the advise of the Prime Minister, becomes the actual political heads of assigned ministries. Ministers are equal theoretically to the Prime Minister, who however has the privilege of his leadership of his party in parliament.
Government constituted under that protocol has a conciliar status, and operates under the principle of “collective responsibility” in parliament where government business takes place. It is not so under the presidential system. The power of the executive is vested absolutely on the president. He takes responsibility for the triumphs and failures of his government. He is literally the power of the state.
There are great advantages and equally great advantages in the operations of the presidential system. The idea that “the buck stops” at the table of the president ought to guarantee that whereas such a president functions with such wide powers, it equally falls upon him to account to the electorate and take responsibility. The president swears an oath of allegiance to the nation, and an oath to uphold the constitution under which his office and his powers are established. But it is very clear, and should be without question now, that President Muhammadu Buhari appears far too ill to govern. His ill health has severely limited, and even compromised his ability to carry out the frankly strenuous duties of a president.
His actions, demeanor, and even his decisions as the President, some of which have dire implications for Nigeria’s national security seem to suggest that this President is far too overwhelmed by his condition for him to continue. The evidence is right before our very eyes. The total collapse of state institutions; the level of insecurity in Nigeria which has attained levels never before reached; the crisis of the economy which is in very slow recovery in spite of the potentials. It is true that Obasanjo’s era was possibly the darkest period in terms of national insecurity, for Nigerians who still remember incidents of frequent kidnappings; militia violence, frequent assassinations and violent eliminations of political opponents.
None of the cases of these assassinations carried out during Obasanjo had been solved by Nigeria’s police. They seem so far like cold cases. But what is very clear is that such threats of highbrow kidnapping and political assassinations suddenly stopped as soon as Obasanjo left office. That state of national security chaos was suddenly contained. Nigerians had relative peace under the Yar Adua/ Goodluck Jonathan presidency: there were no political assassinations; no fear of the repression of citizens, except in that one case of the anti-subsidy protests in Lagos that was forcefully dispersed. In general, Jonathan gave Nigerians a semblance of peace. The Boko Haram scenario which he had inherited from Obasanjo was also largely contained.
The one incident of the controversial kidnap of the Chibok Girls was an act of sabotage orchestrated mostly, as the Nigerian National Intelligence services claimed, by top political actors opposed to Jonathan’s administration. Among those arrested as financiers and supporters of Boko Haram is a current APC senator, who it must be noted, was quickly released from detention by Buhari on coming to power. It was the current APC opposition rallying their international supporters through Tinubu, Fayemi, Amechi, Lai Mohammed, Oyegun, and the current president, that campaigned against the sale of Arms to Nigeria by the “international community,” including the USA and South Africa, based on their claims that the military operations by the Jonathan administration was “violating the civil rights” of Northerners. The Jonathan administration was reduced to the humiliating prospects of therefore sourcing arms through the Black Market.
Nigerians surely ought to remember this, as swell as the very truth that by the time Buhari came to power, the Nigerian security forces had driven Boko Haram deeper and deeper into Sambisa forests, wedged between it and the Cameroonian forces, and they were at the edge of total elimination with sustained military and strategic operations when Buhari was elected.
But Nigerians must at least acknowledge, that in spite of his failures, the chief of which was Jonathan’s image as a weak president too quick to make concessions, particularly to “the North,” he ran a relatively sane, and focused administration. His greatest achievement was that he created the environment of peace and freedom for Nigerians, which in turn, for the first time in decades, gave Nigerians a sense of prosperity and possibility.
All that cocky sense of prosperity and possibility that came with a surge of new economic life, quickly disappeared with Buhari. Buhari’s appointments quickly reflected the terrible limitations of his mission. Rather than rally Nigeria towards a genuinely coherent recovery, he placed his bet on a very obsolete, narrow agenda. The result is with us. The sense of personal and national insecurity has returned. Among his failures is his frequent blaming of the “corruption” of the last administration for his problems. But Jonathan never travelled abroad for his health.
Jonathan never sent any of his kids to school abroad. Jonathan has publicly declared that if the Nigerian government ever found any accounts in his name in a foreign bank they should seize it. This is the challenge that he has consistently placed before Buhari’s administration. This administration, for all its ruckus about “corruption” in Jonathan’s administration has never been able to provide actionable proof, or conviction in a proper court, beyond its lame court of public opinion.
The greatest betrayal is that Buhari has to keep the secret of the status of his health from Nigerians, and in spite of repeated requests by Nigeria’s elected National Assembly, prefers to leave his medical records and the management of his health in the hands of a foreign and competing power to which he apparently, logically has more loyalty.
For it is an axiom, the man whom you owe your stomach and your life, owns you. Buhari is Britain’s, and the Nigerian National Assembly must do its duty to Nigerians by invoking their power particularly on sections 143 and 144 of the Nigerian constitution, because the health of the President, and the management of the health of the president of any nation is a national security issue, and cannot be left in the hands of a foreign power, ally or not.