Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
By Frisky Larr
At the peak of election campaigns in 2015, the then ruling party of the incumbent President Jonathan released a medical report purportedly issued by a University Teaching hospital in the Northern part of the country. The report contained a bombshell. The opposition’s candidate for the Presidency, Muhammadu Buhari, was supposedly suffering from prostate cancer at an advanced stage. The information was promptly discountenanced and dismissed by the candidate. It was finally laid to rest when the University Teaching Hospital at the center of the controversy disowned the report.
The election campaigns continued in earnest and without much ado. Aside a few tripping overs on campaign stages, the candidate of the then opposition APC did not hit the headline for any significant negativity. Rumors about his health persisted all the same. He was claimed unfit for the rigors of a Nigerian presidency.
The election came to pass and Muhammadu Buhari won. Then something fizzled into the rumor mill. The media reported the President-elect regretting having won the election so late in his life wishing he had won the election when he was still fit and agile. The losing party wasted no time jumping and feasting on this valueless comment in the wake of an already lost election. The PDP saw its claim vindicated that the victorious candidate was constrained by health challenges to mount the saddle of governance. Again, Muhammadu Buhari subjected the pregnant comment to mild and positive relativism.
Today, a lot has happened to warrant a flashback and a closer look at memory lane.
Barely one year in office, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was overwhelmingly hailed and admired for “integrity” and patriotism was seeking medical treatment in England away from all the lavish facilities that a presidential clinic in Aso Rock had to offer. Precisely in June 2016, Cliff Owen, writing for the Associated Press, reported that President Buhari was treating an ear infection in a British hospital. The outrage was initially muted given a long honeymooning with the electorate. A few, who probed beyond the surface, however, began to question what happened to the promised rescue and rejuvenation of dilapidating public infrastructure.
Dr. Osahon Enabulele, former President of the Nigerian Medical Association, summed it up in a striking observation:
“This foreign medical trip flies in the face of the government’s declaration to halt medical tourism, which by the end of 2013, has led to capital flight of about $1bn … I see no reason why, in 2016, Mr. President could not have stayed back in Nigeria to attend to his ear infection.” This was yet in 2016.
In February 2017, the same old story reemerged. The President was in the hospital again, admitted in a secret London location. The rumor mill woke up from its self-ordained slumber. Several wannabes and self-imposed insiders planted and germinated the never-verified and never-confirmed story that the President had been poisoned in Aso villa and had to be rushed to London for emergency treatment. As the treatment dragged on in London, the President reported that he would extend his stay to obtain the results of medical tests. Days ran into weeks and weeks ran into months. The rumor mill intensified. The extent of some coverup was no longer in doubt. The President was rumored to have died in the aftermath of surgery prompting the crackbrained mischief of a cloned Jibril of Sudan by some pubescent, self-serving dullards.
Yet, there was no disguising the fact that the President was in deep health trouble that seemed to have bordered on life and death and was craftily concealed by everyone around him, notably the unelected kitchen cabinet. From prostate cancer, through ear infection down to blood tests and all possible imaginations, speculations went wild on what the President was likely suffering from.
In the end, the President survived the major health scare but his credibility that was founded on integrity and patriotism suffered and continues to suffer a major hit ever after.
Since the start of his Presidency in May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari held one media chat before the direct gaze of the citizenry only on December 30, 2015. I remember approaching one of the President’s media aides at the time, to give me a slot among interviewers in the next media chat. I was assured then, that my request would be considered. Ever since though, no more media chat has been held and may ever be held again in the current dispensation. Several developments have fueled this speculation more than sufficiently. We will return to this later.
Knowing his personal health problems that took a huge toll on him on his London hospital bed and knowing the pressure of public scrutiny with the hunger to obtain the ever-elusive information on the President’s health, Muhammadu Buhari knew and was convinced that a single term of four years was enough strains on his nerves and overall bearing. He would have no more of the Presidency after four years. For some reason, however, there were voices and forces in the inner chamber, which seemingly convinced him that they would lift the strains off his shoulders and run a proxy presidency while he recuperates and takes a back seat.
His wife cried out and complained of a power hijack and a President that knew little to nothing about the day-to-day running of his presidency but she was quickly relegated to “the kitchen and the other room”.
The 2019 presidential campaign then came and exposed to a sufficient extent, the troubles that were concealed behind the iron curtain of the puppet theater. The first interview featuring the President and his Deputy on a television stage to bolster reelection chances revealed what had become of the President after the long stay in a London hospital. It was no longer the Muhammadu Buhari, who faced the media on December 30, 2015. No longer the President that I so badly wished to confront and hit with hard questions one day and expect hard and confident answers in return. Nigeria saw a President that seemed confused by all measures, aloof from the major issues and facts of governance and above all, with a subtle hint of cognitive limitations. His constant reference to his trusted deputy for information before answering questions on issues and the direct intervention of the deputy to help his boss when memories obviously, failed, showed the picture of a grandfather being playfully teased by his grandchildren, who habitually regard him as the product of the older generation that is clearly out of touch.
It all reached a peak, however, when the President took to the stage to take personal and physical charge of the campaigns. Incidents of tripping over steps and cables while going upstage had already made observers wonder, why the aging President was subjecting himself to these torturous rigors. When he ended up proclaiming a gubernatorial candidate as the presidential candidate of his party, however, while he, himself, was the actual presidential candidate, fears were triggered, of cognitive incapacitation of sort. Today, many more incidents of absolute disconnect in public speeches and televised interviews have served to double-down on public perception and the fear of a degenerating cognitive capacity. It also serves to explain, why a media chat may never happen again under the present dispensation.
In the end, the circumstances permitted no other conclusion than such that the ship of the Nigerian state is currently being steered by some backdoor pirates of disreputable acclaim in the aftermath of a persuasive hijack. This ceased to be a matter of wild speculation latest at the point in time, in which the dispute between the President’s family clan and the first lady – wife of the President – blew up in open space. After several months of speculation, the hidden Pirates of the Caribbean could be identified by name.
That leads to the crucial question, “So what?” as frequently asked by protagonists of the current dispensation as it stands. It can be argued that the events of the 2019 presidential elections aptly revealed albeit in subtle terms, what the reality of the presidency has been since the President’s long hospital stay and what it would continue to be as already illustrated above. The choice was between this unspoken arrangement and the opposition candidate with a very huge baggage that was foreseeably poisonous to the country.
Precisely herein lies the crime of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in willfully sabotaging vital national interest. There is no other way the choice of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the party’s candidate to run against Muhammadu Buhari can be credibly described. A party that was so incapable of picking a credible presidential candidate and succumbed to the power of pecuniary influence and open bribery to present a candidate, can lay no claim to ultimate competitiveness. There is no point at this juncture, going into details about the antecedents of the former Vice President. The amount of money that candidate Atiku spent prosecuting the presidential campaign from the primaries to the major battle alone (to match the limitless financial prowess of the ruling party seating over bullion vans and the Central Bank), would have been a huge burden on the national treasury to recover, assuming Atiku had thought of replenishing his coffers, upon becoming President. In the end, the incumbent President was offered a ready alibi of being the lesser of two evils in the face of grim national challenges. It doesn’t matter though that the President’s henchmen would have rigged the election to their favor all the same since they believe it is a northern presidency that must serve out having been cheated in the past as well. The PDP provided a ready and acceptable justification for President Buhari’s stolen victory.
Now, back again to the question “So what?”, many have opined on Social Media that they would rather be governed by a cabal than by a “Certified thief”. There has been an aggrandized embrace of the achievements of the Buhari government and a gross demonization of what Atiku would have stood for. Rightly so too.
Of course, corruption has been curbed as compared to the Jonathan days when corruption raged uncontrolled and illicit millionaires sprang up on the heels of oil subsidy fraud with the President claiming he was there to spread wealth and not poverty by ignoring the costs to the overall economic and financial health of the country. Of course, our foreign reserves have been boosted and several measures put in place to move the country forward, etc. etc. Yet, could a government have truly been expected to exist for almost 5 years with zero achievements? Jonathan also had a positive scorecard in several areas of national management.
In spite of all the failures of previous governments, the present government, even before the incapacitation of President Buhari, cannot be said to have been very honest and progressive. Oil subsidy was supposed to have long been removed. That is what Nigerians were made to understand. Jonathanians grumbled at the ease with which Nigerians accepted the removal oil subsidy under Buhari and almost set the nation on fire when the former President attempted it. Today, it is a reality that the subsidy scheme was continued quietly albeit by trimming off the countless number of thieves that pervaded the system in the previous administration. Yet, it was done at the cost of lying to the people. Now, people celebrate the closure of borders as a major achievement when a single visit to Dubai or Malaysia would open eyes to the depth of our misplaced priorities in celebrating piecemeal progress.
Aside the unconstitutionality of ruling by proxies and holding the country hostage to a sick and obviously (at least, partially) incapacitated President, where does our country stand today, if unelected individuals form a mafia-type clique ruling Nigeria in line with their whims and caprices as long as they can manage and deceive an old man and remain accountable to no one but themselves?
With piecemeal progress and failure to make an indelible mark on vital infrastructure such as healthcare facilities, not the least, the presidential clinic in Aso Rock, to save the country trillions of Naira in presidential health tourism, Nigeria now has a clique that seems to have helped reduce the numerical scale of corruption that hitherto prevailed in the country, by now having enough left to themselves to steal with impunity with no one to account to.
The agenda of empowering the North above all other regions, which President Buhari does not reject but cautiously sought to avoid in his early days by following the letters of the constitution on Federal character, seemed to have been brutally, wantonly and suddenly jettisoned in the wake of the resignation of one Minister Adeosun. Before then though, complaints had been recorded about the ethnic concentration of the service chiefs. Today, the ethnic and regional agenda has not only been planted and consolidated, but the actors are also actively scheming to shape the post-Buhari era with an eye on potent ethnic divisionism.
A wedge has not only been driven between the President and his beautiful amazon wife, but the mafia group has also successfully expanded the gap between the President and the Vice President, whom the President once trusted above all cabal members. Indeed, the fear of a Vice President, whose publicly perceived penchant for actionist thrusts and less rhetoric pageantry, now seems to have scared the hell out of the cabal in their drive to design the succession chamber for the post-Buhari era.
Today, they have become so intolerant of criticism that I, too, will have serious reasons for concern, penning this brutally honest submission to their distaste. What benefit has Nigeria from a self-serving cabal sowing ethnic division, locking up dissenting voices in breach of court decisions, rigging elections with the might of the military after condemning a predecessor’s actions that now seem angelic in comparison? What do we have to celebrate when the gains made under an ethnically color-blind Olusegun Obasanjo in balancing the federal character and continued by Jonathan, have all been torpedoed by an invisible presidency? What have we to celebrate when the gains of a President conceding defeat is now replaced by refusal to declare electoral results to make way for days of result-doctoring? What have we to celebrate when the promises of 2015 such as revamping of refineries, stopping of health tourism, the priority of revamping infrastructure, etc. have no visible shape on the scorecard? Today, a Minister is declaring openly that Nigerian roads are not as bad as people claim.
The present anachronistic state of Nigeria’s infrastructure, celebrating the launching of 18th-century locomotives that are abandoned by countries that have long left us behind and all the fatal decisions and political scheming behind the scene, are loaded upon the image of Muhammadu Buhari.
The question then remains, if President Buhari is truly incapacitated. If true, to what extent? What does he still perceive, comprehend or discern within the complex maze of political facts, figures and strategic scheming? Where is this cabal driving Nigeria?
Frisky Larr is a political commentator and author of several books on Nigeria’s political dislocation!