A statement released by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu today suggests that he is either brainless, the member of staff who drafted the statement is brainless, or they are both brainless because Shehu must have cleared that statement.
The statement was in response to claims that the jet that took President Muhammadu Buhari to London 54 days ago was running up charges of £4,000 a day, as the president remained in his sick bed in London. The statement said: “The Presidency is constrained to decry criticisms, mostly on social media, on the retention in London of the Presidential Aircraft, NAF 001 as mostly informed by lack of understanding of protocol around foreign trips by Heads of State all over the world.
“It is important to state that for reasons of protocol, national security, diplomacy and prestige, there is no world leader who travels abroad and is left without plans for immediate return or possible evacuation”.
It went on to claim the daily cost would not exceed £1,000 a day – as if this made it any better. But the real story is that Shehu and his underlings thought it was wise to talk about “prestige” in reference to a president of a supposedly sovereign nation being treated for an illness in a foreign country. As if this were not bad enough, the president was first absent 49 days earlier this year, only to return and fly out again for the current absence running into its 54th day.
This is utterly shameful and has rather dragged the reputation of Nigeria in the mud than be associated with “prestige”. There is nothing disgraceful about a human being falling sick. What is outrageous and is that a country with Nigeria’s resources does not have hospitals adequate enough to treat its rulers. Buhari, himself, promised to end the practice of medical tourism when he was running for office. He said in February 2015: “Why do I need to go for foreign medical trip if we cannot make our hospital functional?”
The president reiterated his stance against foreign medical trips in April last year while speaking at the 56th Annual General Conference and Delegates Meeting of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in Sokoto: “This government will not encourage expending the nation’s resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad especially when there is evidence of expertise in Nigeria.”
But it appears he is exempt from his own rules. When he left Nigeria for London in June last year for treatment for an ear infection, Osahon Enabulele, a top Nigerian doctor and vice-president of the Commonwealth Medical Association, called it a “national shame”.
But there is no limit to how far Buhari and his handlers would go in dragging Nigeria down the depths of international embarrassment. Of course, it is not an embarrassment to be sick, but it is embarrassing watching a president spend over 100 days abroad on treatment, while clinging on to power, and not accepting the obvious that he is not fit for duty and doing the honourable thing.
If Buhari and his handlers had any decency, if they had any respect for the country they are meant to be running, he should step down and focus on his health. But we are sadly dealing with people without shame, who have taken a flight from reality. So they tell us instead, in stubborn defiance to rationality and logic, that leaving an aircraft waiting on an ailing president in London, at the cost of £1,000 a day, is a matter of “prestige”. This is nothing but arrogance fuelled by stupidity and is just too cringeworthy.