By Rotimi Fasan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has by now spent about a week of his ten-day medical leave in the United Kingdom. As we move closer to next year’s election and the possibility of the president winning his re-election bid (even as that looks increasingly precarious), Nigerians should look forward to the president spending more time outside the country.
The president has altogether spent close to six months of his four years presidency on leave. That is quite a lot of time for an elected leader to be absent from duty. Yet, it’s not as if there are not enough Nigerians either interested in or qualified to serve as president. It’s odd that an individual would hold on firmly to an office his health makes impossible to execute, leaving him at the mercy of subordinates who take advantage of his situation to do all kinds of things in his name. Not considering other shortcomings of his presidency, Buhari’s health issue is enough reason to conclude that the demands of being president might be too much for him. But he holds on doggedly to the office like a child holds her toy doll.
His most recent visit to see his doctors was just a few weeks ago. Buhari was on his way home from a state visit to the United States when he made a detour to see his doctor in the UK. Until then this visit was unannounced and surrounded with stealth. An inane report credited to one of the presidential spokespersons said something about the presidential jet stopping over to refuel in the UK. This was quickly shot down and replaced with an explanation less insulting to Nigerians. As at now, no Nigerian knows what ails the president, making him such a frequent medical tourist to the UK.
In terms of their frequency, President Buhari has indeed taken more time away from the work he freely offered himself and he was elected to do. His closest rival to the unenviable diadem for absenteeism is without doubt the late Umar Yar’ Adua who had a long spell in and out of hospital for an ailment that would unfortunately take his life and cut his presidency short.
While Buhari’s frequent visit to see his doctors has been a moral issue for many Nigerians who couldn’t see the justification in the country paying his medical bills (Many Nigerians will readily dispense with that claim that the president or some of his admirers take care of his medical expenses- a stunning claim on its own considering its security implications) for an ailment they are not permitted to know, a far more concerning issue for his much advertised integrity is the way the president handles defections of erstwhile supporters from the All Progressives Congress, APC. The hurricane of mass defection, of a kind with and on the scale of an epidemic that has stricken the APC and is of late threatening the re-election plans of Buhari, has given the APC leadership a lot to worry about.
What started and continued like a smoldering fire for the better part of three years has finally broken out into a full conflagration that the leaders of the APC say they are not bothered about. While the APC has urged its supporters to remain calm it has not taken its own counsel in its response. The rhetorical war is flaring up in earnest with the APC leadership threatening to force defectors from its fold out of the positions they held as members of the party. The Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, the main beneficiary of the defections, has not been slow to accuse the APC of underhand dealings in its attempt to stop defections from its side of the political divide. The accusation goes high up to the presidency that is said to be in the know of all that has been going on since the tsunami of defections hit the polity.
President Buhari has himself come under fire, his belated effort to rally members of his party under his leadership and dissuade the defectors having failed. Indeed his latest medical visit to the UK has been called out by the PDP as a not-too- clever way to stay out of the mudslinging, arm twisting and hounding of opposition elements by agents of the administration.
They argue the president was leaving the field open for his attack dogs to go wild on the defectors as are other opponents of the president. For the PDP and the rest of Nigerians such underhand measures have put a big question mark on the celebrated integrity of President Buhari. This is the case even while the presidency has denied its involvement or any interest in the ongoing altercation between agents of the government and defectors from the APC.
Up until now, there have not been many moments to closely and directly scrutinise Buhari’s moral credentials as issues concern him save, perhaps, for the debates ignited by his school certificate and medical challenges. We have seen him shield his subordinates and others loyal to him from processes of the law. He has turned a blind eye to their moral failings, pretending not to notice or know what Nigerians have had to say about how these individuals have soiled his acclaimed integrity. But caught in similar situation as his predecessors in office, situations where he could like them unfairly deploy the powers at his disposal,
Nigerians have not had many opportunities to observe Buhari closely. Until lately that is. In recent weeks, Buhari’s security agents, the usual culprits in past misadventures involving previous occupants of the presidency, specifically the police and the EFCC, have suddenly come alive in a way many have found threatening to democratic norms.
They have not masked their partisanship in the defection imbroglio given the manner they have gone after defectors from the APC, from the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, Samuel Ortom and Abdulfata Ahmed, respectively the governors of Benue and Kwara States to mention a few prominent names among many others.
These individuals have not only stirred agents of the Buhari administration awake, they have suddenly become enemies of the president and thus constituted security risks for their decision to leave the APC. Both the police and especially the EFCC are waking up from their deathly slumber as they dust up forgotten files harbouring evidently damaging dossiers on members of the political class that have shifted allegiance to opposition parties. It is clear what these arm twisting games are meant to achieve- to give the defectors more than enough work to distract them from their potentially successful plot to unseat Buhari.
The question now is this: in what way is Mai Gaskiya different from his predecessors like Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan who towed similar path?