President Muhammadu Buhari flew from Nigeria to London last week allegedly on “vacation” and his spokesman said he will also have a medical checkup while in the UK.
On Saturday a UK-based online publication reported that the president had died. As this wasn’t corroborated by any reputable organ or official sources, the story did not grow legs. But it didn’t stop Buhari’s handlers from responding by posting a picture on Twitter on Sunday that showed the president watching a news programme from his London base.
The picture did little to quell the rumours as it couldn’t be dated. And still the president refused to appear in public. It is understandable that he is on vacation, but a responsive leader would have arranged to address his fellow citizens to allay the fears that something is amiss.
Many Nigerians fear a repeat of the circumstances around the demise of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who fell in ill and was flown to Saudi Arabia and whose subsequent death in 2010 was shrouded in mystery and nearly resulted in a constitutional crisis.
In the absence of a Buhari appearance, the rumour mill has gone into overdrive this week. One Abuja-based source claimed that “there’s a mad scramble going on right now” in the capital. There are reports of attempts to force the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to resign and handover power to the Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Meanwhile in London, there are unconfirmed reports that the president was taken to Kings College Hospital in South London on a life support machine. One doctor, who knows staff there claimed that he was told that they saw him come into the hospital, but “he didn’t look that bad”.
Another Abuja source couldn’t confirm if Buhari is ill, but alleged that the president was sick before the (s)election in 2015 and “has had several setbacks” since.
Nobody, apart from Buhari and people close to him, is quite sure what is going on. But the suspense should not be allowed to continue. The president should tell Nigerians the truth about his health and whether it is affecting his ability to do his job properly. Many Nigerians had already criticised the decision to take a “vacation” at this time, with so many fires burning across the country.
But most importantly, Buhari needs to address the nation immediately to confirm that rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.