Buhari and fortune hunters
In the last few weeks a creeping uneasiness has been gripping the nation. Our nerves are at full stretch as we grapple with the terrifying prospect of a nation in drift due to the ill-health of the nation’s Chief Executive Officer, Muhammadu Buhari.
For three weeks in a row the President has been absent from the Federal Executive Council meeting which he normally chairs except he is out of the country or on vacation, medical or non-medical. A couple of months ago, the President spent 49 days with doctors in England who were treating him for an undisclosed ailment. On his return, he told the nation that he had never been this ill in his entire life. He also said that he would be going back for further treatment. Now he is ill again and his spin doctors have dutifully informed us that his medical doctors told him to have a longer rest as a condition for full recovery. They have also let out the vital information that he has a fully fitted office in his Aso Rock residence and he has been working from there.
However, the hoarding of appropriate information on the President’s health status has opened a new window for rumours and speculations all over again. Last week, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, only explained why the President has been absent for weeks in a row from the FEC meetings. He said “the President continues to take a rest from official functions on the advice of his doctors. He is taking his doctor’s advice so that he can fully recover.” This information is a non-information. It reveals nothing that we have not heard before. It says nothing about the nature of the President’s ailment. It gives no indication as to how long the recommended rest is likely to last. It does not tell us whether the extended rest has nullified the need for another medical vacation abroad. It falls for short of the expected obligation of full disclosure.
The President’s wife, Aisha, was even more opague in her own comment: “I wish to inform everyone that his (Buhari’s) health is not as bad as it is being perceived. Meanwhile, he continues to carry out his responsibilities.” This statement is as misty and filmy as the nimbus cloud. The perception of the situation that people have gained derives from the information that they have been given or denied. Perception is different from reality, from what you really are. In image management, perception is more important than reality. It is perception that colours what we see, how we interpret what we see, and what we believe. Perception often depends on the information we have, how we get it and how believable the message giver is. The President’s wife has not destroyed the perception which she thinks people have of her husband’s health. That perception, whatever it is, can only be destroyed by a gang of brutal facts. And no one is offering any information that can slaughter that ghost of rumour-mongering. She herself has not volunteered any. That is why the nation is witnessing this heavy-handed drama that is playing out, with ethnic associations issuing threats or tirades and some men of timber, caliber and caterpillar holding closed door meetings. We are now beginning to have an obsessive sense of something seriously going wrong. The tension generated by this drama is reaching a flash point. The reasons for the tension are two (a) if the President is unwell, the nation cannot be well because he is the fulcrum of the government’s machinery. (b) some hot-button issues that need urgent presidential attention are left unresolved because of the antipathy between the Executive and the National Assembly and the Vice President is mandate-wise unequipped for that role.
It is in that light that the statement made by the President’s Personal Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, ought to be examined. She says the President will go on another medical vacation when his doctors decide. That is a fair thing to say because doctors run our lives from the cradle to the casket. She then wanders into a minefield by saying that “governance is not a one-man show; the job is not like splitting firewood where the axe is in the hand of one man. It is team work so Buhari is working.”
Madam Onochie’s postulation is purely, merely, exactly an exercise in academic junketing. In the real world, in the Nigerian Presidential system, governance is largely a one-man show. Any other player, including the Vice President, is only playing a bit part. Here is why: one man heads the National Economic Council and the Federal Executive Council. One man is the visitor to all the Federal Universities; one man appoints the Governor of the Central Bank and the Chief Justice of Nigeria. One man presents the national budget to the National Assembly and disburses same when approved. One man confers national honours to deserving citizens and even foreigners; one man appoints all of Nigeria’s ambassadors to all countries and receives all foreign ambassadors when they step into Nigeria. One man is the Chairman of the Police Council that appoints the Inspector General of Police. One man is the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Navy and Airforce. Only one man in Nigeria can command our troops to go to war. That man is President Buhari. The powers of that office are awesome, intimidating and mind-blowing. This overwhelming concentration of powers in one man’s hand is the reason for the cut-throat, do or die posturing at elections and provides the perfect recipe for kleptocracy. It can be said without much fear of exaggeration that one of the very few things a Nigerian President cannot do is to make a man a woman or a woman a man.
I have heard it said that it is immaterial whether or not the President attends the meetings of the Federal Executive Council which he has skipped three times now in a row. This must be said by people in Buhari’s amen corner but it does their reputation no good. This is a futile effort to draw wool across people’s eyes on this important constitutional provision. In Section 148 subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution it is specifically stated that “the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purpose of:
Determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation.(b) Coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities and ©advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.
Anyone who tries to underrate the importance of the FEC meetings is simply tilting at windmills. Even in normal times the collective wisdom of the FEC members is a desideratum. But these times are far from normal. People are committing suicide. Others are selling their children to be able to feed themselves. So an abnormal period such as this calls for absolute dedication from all especially the President. If he is not able to give the office his full and undivided attention because of his health the wise thing is for him to take another medical vacation. Is the President afflicted by the agony of indecision or are there forces insisting on his hanging around and giving the false impression of sweating it out in a “fully fitted office in his residence” rather than in the official office that we know? This sounds like jiggery pokery. I think the President should take his medical vacation now and save the country from the current performance anxiety.
While Buhari’s health is a source of concern to most Nigerians, some of his political appointees are exhibiting gross insensitivity to his health challenge and the mood of the nation. A few of them are crowing about how Buhari will sweep the polls in 2019. The latest do-gooder is the Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, who can easily pass for an Aghanistani Taliban with his long and unkempt beard. He says in an interview with The Sunday Tribune April 30, 2017 that “we will beg Buhari to run in 2019.” The timing of his patronising remark is overwhelmingly inauspicious and inappropriate. It is a crude insult to Nigerians and a dishonest attempt at pretending to be Buhari’s friend. The truth is that right now Buhari is sick and deserves only efforts at getting him back on his feet and not the distraction of Shittu and the other dishonest lobbyists craving for the President’s unmerited affection. By the way, Shittu wants to be Governor of Oyo State. Meanwhile, the telecommunications operators he is supposed to supervise are swindling the public while he and his team look the other way.
The other truth is that right now the country is moving slowly, very slowly, like a procession and any talk about 2019 is, again, an insult to Nigerians. Is this a country that people worry more about elections than about governance? If Buhari wants to run in 2019 he will be assessed on two criteria namely: his health and his performance. But he still has two years to pass both tests and any assessment of him now is purely tentative, premature and diversionary.
Nigeria deserves to be spared, for now, the flippant tongues of hired hands and fortune hunters, so that we can concentrate on turning the country into a place to go to, not one to flee from.