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Muhammadu Buhari: Nigeria’s president spent three months in London in 2017 on sick leave. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The UK Guardian’s take on Buhari’s troubles

29 August 2018

As UK prime minister Theresa May is welcomed in Abuja today by President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has come into focus for the British media.  The country’s Guardian newspaper takes a look at what’s on Buhari’s plate.

Political intrigue swirls around Buhari as May arrives in Nigeria

Nigeria’s president beset by health questions, defections and disillusioned voters

It is Theresa May’s first visit to Nigeria, but Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, has made many trips to the UK over the past two years.

However, while May was greeted by drummers and a red carpet, Buhari has kept as low a profile as possible on his UK visits.

The septuagenarian president spent three months in London in 2017 on sick leave with an unknown illness thought to be cancer. He was not seen for two months and his aides refused to say what was wrong with him. His deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, ran the country in his absence.

Buhari’s health appears to have improved since, though he almost never speaks to the media so it is difficult to judge.

At a joint press conference with Donald Trump in Washington in April, Buhari read his speech from a piece of paper, hardly raising his eyes and appearing frail in stark contrast with Trump’s energetic bombast.

He gave short, artless responses to obviously planted questions from pro-government Nigerian journalists. According to the Financial Times, after their meeting Trump commented that he never wanted to meet someone as “lifeless” as Buhari again.

In Abuja with Emmanuel Macron three months later, Buhari looked far better, smiling as he gave apparently unscripted remarks and joked with the French president about his trip to the Fela Kuti shrine.

Muhammadu Buhari and Donald Trump at a White House press conference in April 
Muhammadu Buhari and Donald Trump at a White House press conference in April . Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Since then, however, Buhari has spent 10 days in London, ostensibly on vacation, but speculation was high that he was there to see his doctors.

Political intrigue is thickening ahead of next year’s presidential election. Buhari has announced he will run again, but there has been a spate of defections from his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

One of the senators who left is due to announce his intention to run against Buhari in Abuja on Wednesday, attracting large crowds just as May arrives. Rabiu Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano with many votes behind him, will put himself forward for the main opposition People’s Democratic party (PDP).

Many Nigerians are disillusioned by a lack of progress made by Buhari’s administration. Promises to fight corruption and restore security have not been fully met.

The Guardian revealed last month that thousands of people who had fled Boko Haram were being sent back to the ruins of their houses in unsafe garrison towns, in an apparent attempt to persuade voters that the extremist group has been defeated.


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