After claims from the presidency that President Muhammadu Buhari, who left Nigeria on 19 January, was only going to the UK for a well-earned “vacation” and due to return today (Monday 6 February), the reality behind the president’s trip stubbornly refused to get out of the way. So yesterday, the same peddlers of “alternative facts” were forced to inform Nigerians: “President Muhammadu Buhari has written to the national assembly today, February 5, 2017, informing of his desire to extend his leave in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors. The president had planned to return to Abuja this evening, but was advised to complete the test cycle before returning. The notice has since been dispatched to the senate president, and speaker, house of representatives”.
But the notice most likely didn’t bother to inform the legislature of the nature of the president’s illness. No mention of how long the president needed to stay for these “tests” or what the “tests” were for. None of this “test” story stands up to scrutiny from this untrained eye.
What is absolutely clear is that the president and his handlers have not been telling Nigerians the truth about his health. It is clear that his trip to the UK was for some ailment and not a vacation and that this illness is serious enough to prevent his return to Nigeria as scheduled. He has been in the UK for over two weeks and it is hard to envisage a scenario in which mere “tests” would require the president to extend his stay. It is more likely that his illness requires further treatment that could not be continued in Nigeria, perhaps due to risk to the patient.
So why have the president and his handlers decided it is prudent to lie or withhold information about his condition? He was also in the UK in June last year to treat an ear infection – something many found incredulous.
The secrecy around the president’s illness is related to the fact that illness is a condition for his removal from office. The Nigerian Constitution states in section 144:
The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Subsection (4) states:
the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
The “executive council” referred to here is the “body of Ministers” of the federation.
If the real nature of Buhari’s ailment became known to his ministers, they may be forced to come to a judgment on whether the illness makes him incapable of discharging his functions. The longer he remains in the UK, the more likely the federal executive council would be forced to act.
So those suggesting on social media that the president was free to remain in the UK for as long as he likes, while receiving treatment because he handed over to the vice president, are wrong. However, the likelihood of the federal executive council kicking off the process to remove the president on grounds of incapacity remains remote as a majority of the ministers owe their positions to Buhari and his cronies. If the presidency changed hands, it is most likely goodbye to their ministerial careers.
The only thing certain right now is the uncertainty the mystery illness has unleashed and how the attempts to cover it up have just fuelled the speculation. It is also very clear that an Umaru Yar’Adua situation is developing behind the scenes. Yar’Adua was (s)elected president in 2007 with his history of kidney disease hidden from Nigerians. He didn’t survive prolonged treatment in Saudi Arabia and died in 2010. While he was incapacitated, a cabal was alleged to have taken over the running of the country and a crisis ensued as they tried to prevent Yar’Adua’s Number Two Goodluck Jonathan from taking over.
There are similar rumours circulating that, even though Buhari officially handed over to VP Yemi Osinbajo before departing for the UK, some people are plotting to ensure that Osinbajo does not become president in the event of a Buhari death.
Buhari may need “tests” in London, but his illness and the deception around it have made these very testing times for Nigeria.