Beyond The Buhari Declaration. By Akin Osuntokun.

On account of dejavu alone President Mohammadu Buhari chose the wrong moment to lay bare the open secret of his ambition for a second term in office. In terms of symbolic association, departing Abuja for London in the past one and half years evokes all the wrong memories. Predictably, even before he landed in London, the maniacally driven gossip mills in Nigeria had revved into overdrive in speculations on the real story behind the departure, this time around-afterall, the scheduled meeting of the commonwealth heads of states and government was a week away. Adding sumptuous grit to the rumor mill was the New York Times:

“Despite calls to step aside and concerns about mysterious health problems, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria on Monday declared his intention to seek re-election next year, ending months of speculation. Last year, he spent nearly four months in Britain receiving treatment for an illness that the government has not disclosed, leading to fears that he would never return. But over the past year, calls for him not to run again — or even to step down before his current term ends — have grown steadily. Two former presidents, civic leaders, opposition politicians and even some of Mr. Buhari’s former allies have said he should make way for a younger generation of leaders. Within hours of announcing his intention to run, the president traveled to London to attend a meeting of Commonwealth leaders. His office did not give a date for his return, leading to renewed rumors in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, that Mr. Buhari would once again be receiving medical attention in London”.

There are the short, medium and long term perspectives to the declaration. In the instant, as we have seen, it brings up the issue of his health. Beyond raising the specter of the pseudo religious taboo of not speaking ill of the ill is the fact that raising concerns about a President’s health is not a partisan issue. It is the privilege and right of citizens to inquire about the well-being of the most privileged public official to whom they have entrusted their collective destiny. If a military President can hold himself to the bar of publicly accountability in disclosing the precise nature of the medical attention he sought in France-(radiculopathy) how much else should we hold a democratically elected President accountable?. It is the reason why the Nigerian constitution is not silent in anticipating the scenario of a President taking ill or incapacitated and the consequential remedies instituted for that kind of development.

I can comfortably predict, though, that Buhari will sooner host a Presidential media chat on his return home where he will speak with solemnity and religious fatalism about his health-life and death and all in between are in the omnipotent hands of God who gives and takes away as he pleases. And then feigning superstition and in dubious piety, the clerics, both Mohammedan and Christian, will take a cue and chastise an unruly laity to desist from making the health of a vulnerable victim a political issue. Prayers, we will be told, is what we owe the President.

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