President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria announced an indefinite extension to his medical leave in London Sunday, unnecessarily unnerving the nation.
The announcement was made in a statement issued by Femi Adesina, a spokesperson to the president, according to SaharaReporters. Adesina said President Buhari had been advised by his doctors to complete a cycle of tests before returning home; he had originally been scheduled to return to Nigeria on Sunday.
Adesina also condemned the rumors making rounds within the country that the president may have died in a London hospital, describing it as complete falsehood, but maintained a disturbing silence about when Buhari would be expected back in the country.
He also didn’t give any details about the president’s health condition. SaharaReporters, however, quotes unnamed sources that say President Buhari may need to be away for at least four months following surgery.
Why the Secrecy?
When President Buhari departed Nigeria for London mid-January, it was initially announced that he was going on vacation. After the Nigerian press got wind of the fact that the President was ill, a spokesperson clarified that the President was on a two-week health leave.
While President Buhari is not immune to occasional bouts of ill health, what many find disturbing is the needless cloud of secrecy surrounding the Nigerian President’s health. He is sick no doubt, but the Nigerian people who elected him and are paying for his premium health care in a British hospital, (a luxury that the vast majority of the citizenry will never access in their lifetime) deserve to know his health status, the nature of his ailment, and perhaps the doctor’s prognosis.
The continuous attempt by Buhari’s close aids to shroud the state of his health is a throwback to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua era, when Nigerians were held in a chokehold by a small cabal that withheld information about the President’s health and his whereabouts from the public.
Many will remember that the evil cabal was determined to hold on to power and privilege using a terminally ill (some believe already dead) man as a smokescreen.
In the 20 months since he assumed the presidency in May 2015, Mr. Buhari has had to put his official duties on hold to seek foreign medical care at least four times. This is a clear indication of a debilitating condition or the manifestations of poor health as a result of old age, which is yet another sad reminder about Africa’s problem with tired old people continuing in positions of leadership.
There is also the little matter of him seeking medical care outside the shores of the country, a clear about-face from an earlier campaign promise, where Mr. Buhari vowed to put an end to the era of top government officials seeking medical assistance abroad.
Buhari’s broken promise is especially hard to take when viewed against the backdrop that the budgetary provision for the Aso Rock Presidential Clinic (which serves the first family), dwarfs the total outlay for all tertiary health facilities in the country put together.
Before his departure to London, Buhari made a show of following due process by handing over the reins of state to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who is now supposed to act in his absence. While that is commendable, it has done little to wave aside the cloud of uncertainty that hangs heavy in the country.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, needs more than just a president acting in a delegated capacity, especially now that the country is in the middle of one of its worst recession in decades.
Mr. Buhari should honourably quit office or at least be upfront with his countrymen about his exact condition.