Beyond the shoddy response to coronavirus

By Obi Nwakanma

The health of the President of any country is a national security priority. Elaborate structures are put in place to secure the capacity of the President to function.

No country leaves the primary care of its national political leadership to the expertise of another country, however friendly. Doing that leaves the possibility that a trojan horse can be introduced through control of the life and mental circumstance of the leader of a country by another country.

Countries are notoriously protective of their sovereign space. What better way to control the affairs of a nation remotely than by the control of a sick head of state whose life and survival is in the hands of a foreign government? He would do anything asked of him to stay alive! Buhari’s health, for the past five years, has been an issue. The health and activities of the President are shrouded in mystery.

This ring of silence around the life of the President gives the impression of the hijack of Nigeria by a cabal. This cabal is what Americans call the ‘deep state.’ It is like a black hole. But Nigeria’s Executive Council is as remote as the President. No one knows exactly the mind of this administration regarding foreign and domestic policy.

While Nigerians are deeply divided and bicker, the grounds beneath their feet shift dangerously. For much of the time, Nigerians suspected that the late Mr Abba Kyari was the de facto President of Nigeria. But what is the President’s will within the Constitution? How could the President’s Chief of Staff prevent ministers of government from access to the President? All matters went through him.

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How constitutional is this? The life of the Executive Council of the Federation is established by the Constitution. Although each minister serves at the behest and the pleasure of the President, once constituted, the Executive Council is the highest administrative council of the land.

It is a “Council” which means that if it came to procedural votes, the President’s vote is one, and can only break a tie. This means only the Executive Council, with the President as the head, is the executive government of the land.

A presidential staff member who appropriates the right of the President is subject to investigation by the office of the Attorney General, and might, in fact, be tried for a high crime against the state.

In two instances, Abba Kyari seemed to have overstepped his bounds as the President’s points-man: once was during the period in which the Vice-President acted for the President, and a conflict arose between Winifred Oyo-Ita, Permanent Secretary and Head of Service of the Federation, and Abba Kyari over the scandal of the reinstatement of Abdul Rasheed Maina, who had a cloud hanging over him over alleged Pension Fund racket.

The second was only just months before his death, over sore points with Mr Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser who accused him of interfering with the national security of Nigeria and issued directives to Service Chiefs to desist forthwith from meetings with the President’s Chief of Staff on national security matters.

This public row very remarkably elicited no public response from the President, either backing his National Security Adviser or his Chief of Staff. It was almost as if he was not in the picture. One would also think that the Committee on National Security of the National Assembly, the oversight body of the House and the Senate on national security issues, would have summarily investigated this serious breach of the rules of public governance in the Presidency.

But no such thing happened. And it leads us only to the question: To what extent is the conspiracy if indeed there is a conspiracy? That row nevertheless led to the speculation that a great crack had finally appeared in the finely wrought partnership that had allegedly hijacked the Presidency.

There is great speculation by Nigerians that Buhari has not been in the picture since 2017 when he had his last major health crisis. Conspiracy theorists have even pushed the rumour that it is not Muhammadu Buhari that is there, but a double recruited from Sudan!

This, of course, is only still the yarn of folk with feverish and mischievous imaginations. But the distance and serial absence of Buhari in the public life; the larger-than-life image which the late Abba Kyari assumed in this Presidency, the various gaffes and public policy contradictions associated with this Presidency feeds these dangerous speculations and makes Nigerians sceptical, and increasingly restless.

This restlessness has increased, particularly with the shoddy response to the coronavirus event, and the lack of leadership shown in prepping Nigerians for its effects. There is no discussion even now about the post-coronavirus world, and preparations made to cushion its after effects, or even its current effects.

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Kano was long predicted to be the pandemic bomb. In the last week, we have seen reports, especially on social media of a deluge of the “northern poor” or the “Almajirai” fleeing southwards, hiding in long trailers, breaking the Cordon Sanitaire erected to stave off the spread of the virus.

The disruption of the national balance of the states is the first stage towards national implosion which many of us have been predicting as a result of the very poor institutional response to public health, poverty alleviation, and population management by the governments of Nigeria. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Buhari has remained unnaturally remote and silent for the leader of any nation.

He was slow in responding to the crisis. He has not been roused even now by the number of dying people in Kano. He was not even present at the burial of his closet aide, Abba Kyari. He only penned a short, very uncharacteristic eulogy, which every stylist could read, even with the most cursory glance, and does not sound like Buhari, and then he went into hiding.

The serious question every serious Nigerian is asking is: Where is President Buhari? Can the real Buhari stand up and be counted? Can he just get up and address Nigerians without the shield of bullish hide-and-seek swathed in the empty bloviations of the likes of Femi Adesina? I’d watched Femi Adesina, the President’s media spokesman, in a question and answer session moderated on Channels TV. Let me say he is constantly rude to Nigerians.

He uses his bully pulpit to really bully those who disagree with the government rather than rationalize and mediate the differences of perception. He calls the opposition, “wailers.” And he basically fudges the fact on behalf of the President. He says “presidential broadcasts are rarely live.” But all presidential address of the President with the media should be mostly live! It is just that President Buhari has rarely addressed a live media audience.

He relies on the likes of Adesina and Garba Shehu to hide him. A President who avoids the media; who does not speak directly to the people on a weekly briefing, particularly during a national emergency, has something to hide. That is a fact one. Buhari seems to be hiding something about himself and his ability to govern as a result of his health from Nigerians.

What, we don’t frankly know. Adesina says it is a matter of style. It is Buhari’s style to be remote because “style” is “idiosyncratic.”

That might well be. But, as Mac Azuike drilled into my Sophomore English class on Stylistics in the ‘80s, “style” is also “content and form.” If it is the President’s style to stay silent and indecipherable, while Nigeria suppurates, then, of course, the question must be raised: of what use is he as President? This is what many Nigerians tried to ask Femi Adesina in that chat. And he bullied, insulted, and dismissed their concerns.

He asked one caller to run for President in 2023 if he was dissatisfied and if he dared. This is what folk call, “bullcrap.” The National Assembly must take the necessary steps and find out if this President is still with us, and fit to run Nigeria. There are too many national security issues at stake.


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