100 Days In London President Buhari's absence leaves Nigerians worried

The president has been away from Nigeria for 100 days, and it has not been smooth sailing for the country.

  • Published:
President Muhammadu Buhari (middle), Lai Mohammed play

From left: Lauretta Onochie, Lai Mohammed and President Muhammad Buhari

(Bayo Omoboriowo)
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When President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls on May 7, 2017 at the State House in Abuja, he was struggling to get his words out and find his feet.

He was shorn of colour as well and his frailty couldn't have been missed by even the most casual of observers. 

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (centre) met the 82 rescued Chibok girls after their release in a prisoner swap deal play

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (centre) met the 82 rescued Chibok girls after their release in a prisoner swap deal

(PGDBA&HND Mass Communication/AFP/File)

 

"I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom", the President said, his voice barely above a whimper.

"On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you," he added.

But there was little joy in his cadence.

Missing In Action

Buhari's appearance before the rescued Chibok girls on the day was the culmination of a tense couple of days in which Nigeria's leader had missed consecutive Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings.

FEC play

Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja

(Pulse)

 

Buhari had also shown up for prayers at a Mosque looking like he would need an arm of support to reach his car.

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had also pushed back at reports that had quoted him saying Buhari was going to be working from home; after the Nigerian leader had missed back-to-back FEC meetings - the highest decision making gathering in the land.

"He asked the Vice President to preside over today's federal executive council meeting", Mohammed explained.

"The President only decided to work from home today, not that he has decided to work from home henceforth", Mohammed stressed.

"In addition, he also asked that all his files be taken home to him and he will be working from home today."

The date: April 26, 2017.

'Coordinate Activities of Government'

Mohammed's difficult attempt at explaining an earlier comment wasn't lost on anyone. Buhari, who had confessed he'd never been so ill in his lifetime when he returned from an earlier medical vacation on March 10, 2017, Nigerians averred, was critically ill again.

President Mohammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria on March 10 after nearly two months' medical leave in Britain play

President Mohammadu Buhari returned to Nigeria on March 10 after nearly two months' medical leave in Britain

(AFP/File)

 

The confirmation arrived the desk of Senate President Bukola Saraki in the first week of May.

"In compliance with Section 145(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended, I wish to inform the Distinguished Senate that I will be away for a scheduled medical follow-up with my doctors in London", the President's letter, dated May 5, 2017, read. 

The letter continued: "The length of my stay will be determined by the doctor's advice. While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the government. Please accept, Distinguished Senate President, the assurances of my highest consideration."

On May 7, 2017, Nigeria's President hopped on the plane to yet another medical vacation, his third within a two-year span.

President Muhammadu Buhari leaving Nigeria for London play

President Muhammadu Buhari leaving Nigeria for London on Sunday, May 7, 2017

(Simeonatiba.com)

 

In stepped Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who immediately assumed the mantle of Acting President as Nigerians took to every social media platform to debate the meaning of the word 'coordinate' in Buhari's letter.

A presidency in shambles

The first notable embarrassment for the Presidency with Buhari away, didn't take long. There was a budget waiting to be signed by a President.

Was the appropriation document going to be couriered to London for an ailing president to assent? Will the Acting President be allowed to do the honours?

Yemi Osinbajo play

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo

(Punch Newspapers)

 

On May 17, 2017, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, stepped before the TV cameras to fuel a controversy that should have been better managed if everyone in the presidency was singing from the same hymn sheet.

"The President will assent to the budget, the Acting President is in office and when the budget is transmitted, it will go through the processes and all those other questions will answer itself," Enang said.

Enang's comments became sufficient fodder for those who held that the Buhari presidency had been 'hijacked by a cabal' who wouldn't allow Osinbajo wield any sort of authority in the president's absence.

Attacked by the media and the public, Enang returned to the press 48 hours later to say his earlier comments had been taken out of context.

“Let me use this opportunity to clarify an issue. The Acting President has the power to assent to the budget and he will assent to it when the processes are completed”, Enang said with a pained expression.

“The Acting President has the power to assent to the budget. In February, he assented to 7 or 8 bills. Those that he didn’t agree with, he wrote the Senate and House of Representatives that he had withheld his assent from them.

“He has the power of the President to assent to it. But the assent to the appropriation bill will be after the completion of the standard operation process. The bill has 30 days within which it will be assented to but the process can be completed within two or three days.

“So, it is not possible to say it will be assented to in so, so and so day or in two or three days. It’s upon the completion of the process that it will be assented to by the president and the president here now is the acting president.”

Osinbajo made it clear he would act according to his title as Acting President. He released a statement on May 18, 2017 to drive home the point.

“Just so we are clear: when the time comes, everything is set and he is satisfied, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo will assent to the 2017 budget,” the short and concise statement from Osinbajo’s office read.

On June 12, 2017, amid fresh legislative padding allegations, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo passed the annual budget into law.

Osinbajo signs 2017 Budget play

Osinbajo signs 2017 Budget

(OVP)

 

He was gradually emerging from the shadows and reminding everyone that there was no power vacuum.

Charm Offensives

Osinbajo’s leadership style is remarkably warmer where Buhari’s is considered cold and aloof.

On May 26, 2017, the Acting President waltzed into the Garki market in Abuja to feel the pulse of the people.

There was a wide grin here, a smile there and plenty of high fives thrown in for effect as Nigeria’s stop-gap leader interacted with traders, itinerant salespersons and fish sellers.

Crowd at Garki market can't get enough of Osinbajo play

Crowd at Garki market can't get enough of Osinbajo

(Novo Isioro)

 

On the same day, Osinbajo invited school kids to his office for a presidential hangout as the cameras rolled.

On May 27, 2017, Osinbajo read the nation’s democracy day speech, in which he warned agitators clamouring for secession that their hate speeches would no longer be tolerated on his watch.

Dealing With Hate Speeches

“It is inevitable that grievances and frustrations will arise from time to time”, Osinbajo declared.

“This is normal. What is not normal, or acceptable, is employing these frustrations as justification for indulging in discrimination or hate speech or hateful conduct of any kind, or for seeking to undermine by violent or other illegal means the very existence of the sovereign entity that has brought us all together as brothers and sisters and citizens.

“Nigeria belongs to all of us. No one person or group of persons is more important or more entitled than the other in this space that we all call home.

“And we have a responsibility to live in peace and harmony with one another, to seek peaceful and constitutional means of expressing our wishes and desires, and to resist all who might seek to sow confusion and hatred for their own selfish interests”.

Osinbajo’s comments were aimed at Biafra agitators and separatists heating up the polity from the Niger Delta to the northern fringes, spearheaded by British-Nigerian political activist, Nnamdi Kanu.

The Democracy Day address would also set the tone for the Acting President’s series of dialogues with leaders of different ethnic groups who had perfected the sinister act of issuing vitriolic statements to the other.

Osinbajo meets Igbo leaders play

Osinbajo meets Igbo leaders

(OVP)

 

Everyone was asking out of the Federation, even as Nigeria threatened to boil over with the ghost of a bloody civil war of the ‘60s, looming in the horizon.

It was Osinbajo’s lot to nip the agitations and inciting comments in the bud and steady the polity with Buhari away. It’s a task the Acting President has since warmed up to.

Insecurity In The Land

Buhari left a nation that was beginning to make discernible gains against terrorist group Boko Haram.

However, Boko Haram’s soft target attacks have been rather very frequent. The insurgents had also abducted and slain, bombed communities and displaced farmers.

L-R: Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff; Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ibik–Eke Ibns; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar play

L-R: Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff; Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ibik–Eke Ibns; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar

(Channels TV)

 

In one of its most daring attacks yet, the insurgents engaged soldiers traveling with lecturers and oil exploration workers in a gun duel. News of the ambush emerged on July 28, 2017.

As the dust settled in the wake of the encounter, some lecturers and oil exploration workers had been reported dead. Killed as well were a handful of soldiers.

ALSO READ: Shekau mocks President, Army Chief in new video

Hours later, Nigeria’s Commander-In-Chief, Osinbajo, ordered military chiefs back to Maiduguri where the command center against the insurgents is marooned.

With Buhari away, Osinbajo has also had to deal with ethnic skirmishes in Southern Kaduna and elsewhere, murder in church, the never ending war between pastoralists and farmers and threats of Niger Delta militants in Nigeria’s south.

‘Resume or resign’ protests

On Monday, August 7, 2017 protesters of the ‘Our Mumu Don Do’ movement, led by entertainer and social activist Charles Oputa better known as Charly Boy, marched from Unity Fountain to the Presidential Villa in the nation’s capital.

The protesters demanded that Buhari returns to his work desk or tenders his resignation. The hashtag #ResumeOrResign has been the rallying cry of the group on social media, for well over a week now.

Charly Boy during the anti-Buhari protest play

Charly Boy during the anti-Buhari protest

(Facebook/Deji Adeyanju)

 

According to Deji Adeyanju who is a co-convener of the group, “We demand that the president either personally or through his aides make the true detail of his health known to all Nigerians; that the president should address all Nigerians in a language we can all understand on the true state of his health and other national issues;

“That he returns to the country and resume work as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to lead us out of the economic and security quagmire we have been pushed into as a nation; if President Buhari fails, refuses and/or neglects to do any of the above, then he should  resign from office; if he fails to honourably resign, then he should be impeached from office by the national assembly."

On August 8, 2017, police fired teargas canisters and water cannons at the protesters. Charly Boy slumped to the floor after inhaling teargas fumes.

Deji Adeyanju during the anti-Buhari protest play

Deji Adeyanju during the anti-Buhari protest

(Facebook/Deji Adeyanju)

 

“Over 120 policemen attacked about 10 of us”, said Adeyanju. “They used teargas, water cannons and dogs but there's no going back. We continue tomorrow”, he vowed.

On August 10, 2017, a group of counter-demonstrators called 'The Coalition for Good Governance and Change Initiative' took to the streets of Abuja to voice their support for the ailing President Buhari.

ALSO READ: Protesters clash in Abuja over absent President

The group displayed placards bearing messages like, “Buhari, Osinbajo, we are fully with you", "Our president is recuperating, Nigeria is moving forward. No cause for alarm", "Nigerians unite for peace", "We stand against terrorism", "If we don't kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. - Buhari".

Convener Okpokwu Ogenyi, said, "No provision of the constitution gave time limit when the president is expected to return and resume his duties if sick as well, it is not found anywhere in the constitution the time frame of an Acting President.

"In as much as we all want our president back to his duties, the constitution never stipulated how long a serving President of Nigeria can be away on medical holiday.

"Anyone demanding the resignation or forced return of the president is daring God”.

Pro-Buhari protesters in Abuja play

Pro-Buhari protesters in Abuja

(Twitter/@SaharaReporters)

 

The police had to wade in to prevent both sets of demonstrators from clashing on August 11, 2017.

The president’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, called the ‘Resume or Resign’ protesters "an illegal assembly stealthily organised to deliver a blow to the war against corruption."

The protesters are two weeks into their march at the time of writing, however.

The Visits and Photo Ops

With Buhari away in London past the 60-day mark, concerns over the state of his health took on a life of its own.

On July 11, 2017, Osinbajo embarked on a trip to London to see Buhari. He returned with the now well-worn line attesting to Buhari’s retention of his famed sense of humour.

On Sunday, July 23, 2017, the Nigerian presidency blessed the nation with a photo of President Muhammadu Buhari having bananas and soda drinks with select State Governors and members of the cabinet.

Buhari meets APC Governors and chieftains play

Buhari meets APC Governors and chieftains

(Presidency)

 

It was the first time Nigerians would have an idea of what their president looked like, 77 days after he left them for London.

A few days later, another batch of Governors embarked on the trip to London to see Buhari. They returned to regale the nation with hackneyed tales of how many jokes the vacationing President cracked while they were with him.

The photo-ops and visits have been very regular in recent times.

Buhari has since met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Sports Minister Solomon Dalung and his communications team led by Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed.

On the eve of his 100th day abroad, Buhari met with Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) secretary Muhammadu Barkindo.

President Muhammadu Buhari met with the Secretary General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Muhammadu Barkindo at Abuja House, London play

President Muhammadu Buhari met with the Secretary General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Muhammadu Barkindo at Abuja House, London

(Twitter/@SaharaReporters )

 

The president does look much better - from the pictures taken at his Abuja House residence in London. His pale demeanour is gradually giving way to something resembling an exuberant light skin. The smile is back and his steps are steadier.

The voice is still shaky but the man does seem on his way to a recovery from whatever ails him.

President Buhari, the Governors and his aides have repeatedly said he’ll only return whenever his doctors hand him the all clear.

“I have learnt to obey my doctor’s orders rather than be the one issuing the orders. Here, the doctor is absolutely in charge,” the President told his last group of August visitors.

He also stressed that he absolutely would love to return home if the decision was his alone to make.

Like Yar’adua, like Buhari?

Comparisons have been made between Buhari’s predicament and that of President Umaru Yar’adua who left Nigeria on November 23, 2009 and returned under the cover of darkness on February 24, 2010 - hooked on a life support machine.

Yar’adua was declared dead on May 5, 2010.

However, while the Yar’adua scenario was shrouded in extreme secrecy and intense power play, Buhari did constitutionally hand over to his deputy before disappearing. The presidency has also authorized pictures of the ailing president from London in a bid to calm frayed nerves back home.

This handout photograph taken and released by the Nigerian government last month shows President Muhammadu Buhari (2R) receiving visitors in London where he has been undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness for more than three months. play

This handout photograph taken and released by the Nigerian government last month shows President Muhammadu Buhari (2R) receiving visitors in London where he has been undergoing treatment for an undisclosed illness for more than three months.

(NIGERIA STATE HOUSE/AFP)

 

No one knew what Yar’adua looked like while his ordeal lasted.

However, 100 days after, no one knows what ails the Nigerian leader and the apprehension back home is likely to persist if Buhari doesn’t make a return sooner.

For all anyone knows, Buhari was head of the ticket in March 2015 and the powers of an Acting President are still limited.

There have also been growing calls for the Nigerian leader to relinquish his hold on the throne in order to better deal with his faltering health.

There are still certain things photo-ops can’t fix.

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