Buhari’s month long absence from Nigeria

Last month, a social media storm arose thanks to the revelation that the popular reality television show Big Brother Nigeria was not actually being filmed in the country, but in South Africa. Strangely, the quality of not being present in the country is something currently shared by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on medical vacation in London.

Early in February, Buhari’s absence triggered protests in Abuja the country’s capital regarding the rise in food prices and the price of other goods. Currently, Nigeria is gripped by a devastating economic crisis as it deals with a range of issues: low international oil prices only now being managed, Boko Haram insurgency, and devalued currency thanks to foreign-currency shortage.

In the face of these problems – and in the face of rumours of his death, Buhari has tried to put to rest speculation about his wellbeing yet the exact nature of his illness has not been disclosed.  Due to the increasing  confusion surrounding when Buhari will return, popular discontent is soaring. The protests at the beginning of February were small, but the message was overwhelmingly loud and clear. The idea that democracy in Nigeria does little for the poor seems only reinforced by the fact that despite Buhari’s past condemnation of medical tourism, he himself has taken such a lengthy medical stay in Britain.

Furthermore, though the president has overseen the detaining of various officials in his famous campaign to end corruption, scepticism over his competency and suspicion that he is simply avoiding accountability continues to brew. In the face of this uncertainty, supporters of the president insist on the need for calm. Notably, Buhari took a call from the US President Donald Trump whilst in London – perhaps showing that he has not relinquished all presidential duties. They also stress that Buhari has formally handed over power to vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, signalling that the situation remains stable.

In his role as acting president, Yemi Osinbajo is overseeing the development of a plan for economic recovery. The vice-president also led talks in Niger Delta, hoping to reach a settlement with local militant groups who are disrupting the region’s production of oil. These actions have been welcomed by investors, whom Osinbajo has played a role in reassuring in Buhari’s absence.

However, many spectators remain unsatisfied. Some suggest that ministers may feel little or no loyalty towards Osinbajo, limiting his ability to act. Certainly, there can be no doubt that Nigerians would like to receive more detailed information from Buhari himself – particularly when updates of his activities come from his sporadic and detail light Twitter posts.

Political analyst Bolaji Okusaga notes:

“I thought that when the whole speculation and rumour about his death or you know or all of that his alleged death gained ground, what would have actually been the most effective thing to have done at that point would have been for them to actually have had the president speak to us and that can happen via Skype”.

Parallels have been drawn with the political upset that took hold of Nigeria in 2010 when then-President Umaru Yar’Adua spent three secret months in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment, passing away shortly after returning home.

Yar-Adua’s absence created a power vacuum owing to the lack of judiciary awareness that power was to be transferred to then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. The chaos that engulfed the Nigerian government during this time was exacerbated by attempts to prevent Goodluck Jonathan from governing, due to tension between Muslim and Christian politicians. Songhai Advisory suggests that a similar situation could arise again in the face of another Christian vice president.

Overall, for a country striving for meaningful political stability and economic prosperity, Buhari’s long absence feels like a very much unwanted halt in progress.

Featured image | President Muhammadu Buhari: flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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