Muhammadu Buhari was elected president of Nigeria at the age of 72 years. By all parameters, he was clearly a senior citizen. Africa has an impressive list of geriatrics in power, but President Buhari is definitely one of the few on the continent today to have been first elected president in their 70’s.
Since he assumed office 12 months ago, President Buhari has had to contend with falling revenues from oil receipts and a slide in the value of the naira. He has also had to engage in a convoluted battle to prosecute corrupt persons and recover looted funds from the last government of Goodluck Jonathan.
All of that may have taken a toll on the health of President Buhari, who is now 73 years old. Talk about his health has constantly been in the news over the last couple of weeks. On Monday, June 6, Nigerian state house officials announced that the president would fly to London on a 10-day trip to get some rest.
Segun Adesina, his special adviser on media and publicity while speaking to the press is quoted as saying, “It is natural that the president as a human being is taking 10 days to rest, but he is not ill.” Adesina added, “in that period he will see specialists who will look at his ear because he has been treating that ear locally for some time.”
After the intense political melodrama that played out in Nigeria over the poor health and eventual death in office of the late president Umar Musa Yar’adua, nothing gets the Nigerian political press buzzing non-stop like news about a sick or ailing president or top government official. Consequently, a sitting president’s aides or his strongest supporters consider it near-blasphemy to describe him as sick.
Over the last couple of weeks, however, President Buhari has had to cancel or reschedule a number of his engagements, most notably his scheduled visit to Ogoni land in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger delta to start off an oil spill cleanup. In response to his planned visit, a group of armed militants in the oil region threatened maximum damage and warned of dire consequences to the president’s safety in the event that he visited their land. In the end, President Buhari made a last minute cancellation and dispatched his vice to represent him, with state house spokespersons offering only vague reasons why.
Many insiders are the opinion that the president was simply too ill to travel, but since it has become de-facto state policy to conceal even the most rudimentary concerns about the Nigerian president’s health, presidential aides were never going to open up about the true reasons for the cancellation; the militia, on their part, promptly claimed a victory about scaring off a president and commander-in-chief away from their land.
President Buhari is expected back in Nigeria on June 16 at the end of his 10 day rest or treatment.