“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy … therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 12:1 + Matthew 23:2)
In writing this article, I understand that some persons’ sensibilities would be offended; maybe a little more than some. Yet, I choose to write because we cannot continue to shy away from important issues that affect Nigeria’s existence. During the 2015 general elections campaign, the then General Muhammadu Buhari pledged to ban medical tourism by government officials. Today, we are celebrating 100 straight days of President Buhari’s sojourn in London, his second trip this year.
On May 7, 2017, Buhari left Nigeria for the UK to address an undisclosed health issue. Earlier in the year, he had spent 50 days, from January 19 to March 10 in the UK on similar health grounds. In 2016, barely a year into his tenure as president, he had been to London to treat an ear infection. Seeing that the president is officially 74 years old, one would be understanding about his health challenges. However, for a crusader who promised to change the status quo, doing the same thing he earlier railed against hardly helps his reputation.
A similar event played out in 2009 when the then President Umaru Yar’adua was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment. At that time, Nigeria stood on a precipice as the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was not empowered to act as president. After invoking the doctrine of necessity to make Jonathan acting-president, the National Assembly tweaked the constitution to avoid a repeat by making it clear that should a president while leaving on vacation fail to transmit a letter transferring power to the vice, the power would nevertheless be automatically transferred. However, the constitution failed to specify how long a president can be away on vacation. Hence, tight supporters of President Buhari have pointed out that unlike the Yar’adua scenario, Buhari duly transmitted a letter to the Senate and has therefore fulfilled the requirement of the law. Is this right?
Has Buhari fulfilled the legal provisions of the law? Absolutely, yes! Has Buhari fulfilled the moral provisions set by his reputation and campaign promises? Absolutely, not! During former President Jonathan’s tenure, he made an infamous statement about not “giving a damn” about publicly declaring his assets. Nigerians were aghast, and pointed to his statement as proof that he was not only corrupt, but was also a protector of the corrupt. However, Jonathan’s assertion was legally correct. The present law does not mandate public office holders to make their assets public; they only need to file a private declaration with the relevant government agency. If Jonathan could be derided for hiding behind legal loopholes, why have we set a different standard for Buhari.
Some Buhari apologists have pointed out that the wheels of governance are turning since there is an acting president in person of the erudite Professor Yemi Osinbajo. While this is correct, they conveniently fail to acknowledge the nuances of Nigerian politics where an acting office holder does not really pull all the strings. For example, while Osinbajo may be tagged as “Acting President”, it is doubtful that he can fire a minister or a service chief, except Buhari “authorises” such a move. Even in the case of signing the 2017 budget, there were speculations about who would sign the document, and a statement later appeared that Buhari had given Osinbajo a directive to sign the budget. Now we can argue all we want that Osinbajo legally has all the power he needs, but in reality, it is not so.
Some apologists have staunchly argued that anyone calling for Buhari’s resignation is a supporter of corruption. As far as these ones are concerned, the only person qualified to tackle the pervasive corruption in Nigeria is President Buhari. To these ones, I would say that they are the reason someone like Robert Mugabe is still in office in Zimbabwe at the age of 93 after spending over 30 years ruling that country. A country that sees one person as a messiah is doomed to fail. Let’s even assume that out of about 180 million Nigerians, only Buhari is unsullied enough to fight corruption. What happens when his four-year tenure ends, or even if he gets to do eight years? Would we change the constitution to perpetuate him in office so he can continue fighting corruption? Or are we so idealistic to think Nigeria’s Augean stables can be wiped clean in four or eight years?
One of Buhari’s numerous mouthpieces, Lauretta Onochie, went on Channels TV to say it was disrespectful for any Nigerian to ask about President Buhari’s health, because “he is a private citizen”. She failed to explain how many private citizens can afford to fly in the presidential jet, keep it parked in London, and stay at Nigeria’s diplomatic residence in London to receive high-profile guests. If someone were to ask about my health, I could say it is private, but if you are a president, being funded with state monies, people have the right to know about your health status. If Buhari were a company CEO, the board would be right to ask about his health since investors’ funds have been entrusted into his hands. How much more a country’s president. Lauretta, just like most Nigerian politicians, are ignorant of the notion of “servant leadership”; happily failing to note that public officials are employees of the Nigerian people.
It is 100 days today, plus the 50 days earlier in the year. One country’s president has failed to step foot on his homeland, even spawning a parody quiz on CNN. We can continue to give excuses for Buhari’s health and moral failures, or we can decide to take the high road and talk about the way forward. While I understand that any talk about a resignation would realistically have to consider the north’s feeling of being “cheated” twice, that is a discussion that has to hold. Maybe Nigeria can negotiate a way for Buhari to address his health in peace. His spirit may be willing, but his body is weak.
Image Credit: post-nigeria.com