The prolonged absence of President Muhammadu Buhari from Aso Rock Villa, on health grounds, has continued to generate unhealthy controversies around the wellbeing of the President and that of the country he was elected to lead.
This is not the first time Nigerians would be faced with questionable information relating to the health of a serving President; Buhari is also not the first president to seek, on a rather frequent basis, medical attention in more developed countries of the world, in spite of huge yearly allocations to a primitive health sector.
But he may be the first President to hand over a comatose economy to his Vice, three times, within a space of 20 months, and under a stressed political atmosphere.
Unlike in the early part of 2010, when late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet refused to allow him hand over properly to his Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, even when it was confirmed that he was lying critically ill at King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Saudi Arabia, Buhari demonstrated some form of patriotism and respect for the Constitution of Nigeria, when he willingly transferred the responsibilities of the Number One office to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
It is true that the President promptly transmitted the necessary instrument of authority for Osinbajo to function in acting capacity in his absence. Would this, however, in the real sense of Nigeria’s complex and dirty political setting, give the VP the nerve to fix what should be urgently corrected in a comatose economy? Can the prof. close critical deals, financial or otherwise, that should be the exclusive preserve of Mr. President?
The courage to do this, even amid wild speculations that the marriage of convenience between the President and those perceived to be Osinbajo’s benefactors had long broken down, is, ordinarily, one that should be commended.
At this point in Nigeria’s political history, however, not many people would have that golden patience to appreciate the import of Buhari’s action. With Nigeria’s inflation rate reaching a more than 11-year high of 18.72 per cent as at January 2017; exchange rate at N507 to a dollar at the parallel market as at Wednesday; power generation at a 10-year low of less than 3,000 megawatts, almost unable to light a single bulb for a country as big as Nigeria; average crude oil production at its lowest level in about three decades; and high-level crime rising unchecked, Nigeria may pass for a country in a war situation.
When these are added to huge job losses, occasioned by operational stress in the public and private sectors of the economy; wavering policy direction; local/foreign investment scare; and rising unemployment, hope for survival becomes dimmer.
For the discerning, therefore, this is hardly a time to leave any vacuum that would affect critical decision making at the centre. I have read diverse comments on the President’s delayed return to his duty post, mainly relating to his right to medical leave; I have listened to top public officials dousing the tension caused by rumours of incapacitation or even death around our president; and I have seen presidential aides and the inner circle at the Villa falling over themselves, almost on a daily basis, to prove that the President is hale and hearty.
But these will not, in anyway, solve the peculiar problem caused by his protracted stay away from the seat of power. It is true that the President promptly transmitted the necessary instrument of authority for Osinbajo to function in acting capacity in his absence.
Would this, however, in the real sense of Nigeria’s complex and dirty political setting, give the VP the nerve to fix what should be urgently corrected in a distressed economy? Can the prof. close critical deals, financial or otherwise, that should be the exclusive preserve of Mr. President? Can he single-handedly approve the sacking of any of the clueless, confirmed, non-performers or value eroders parading themselves as policy makers in Buhari’s cabinet? If anyone thinks he can, I honestly don’t.
In a country where the dangerous power game going on in the corridors of power could consume anybody, no matter how loyal, there are people, who would have given themselves the hard task of watching every step the vice-president takes to see the slightest opportunity to label him a traitor for their own pecuniary or institutional gains.
This aside, the Nigerian economy, as it is today, is on fire; and requires a multidimensional collaboration of the efforts of seasoned firefighters to quench what is fast becoming a national nightmare. And from what I see on television everyday, the vice-president is obviously overstretched.
Despite his outwardly energetic disposition while presiding over key state house functions, his stressed looks expose the enormous pressure of having to manage Nigeria at this point in time when even two hands are not enough.
If after 21 months of dancing around the same problems clearly spelt out by the All Progressives Congress in the run up to the 2015 elections, major development indices are still pointing far South, it does not make either political or economic sense to keep the same economic team.
No matter how bad the economy was, just before May 2015, credible hands should have influenced some signs of recovery by now. In the absence of this, and with the rich crying, the poor wailing and businesses bleeding, Nigerians need no distractions from urgent nation building efforts.
Until stakeholders see, under the acting president, convincing actions aimed at correcting fundamental anomalies in the nation’s economy, every policy statement or situation report made by those in charge, especially with regard to the President’s absence, would amount to simple deceit.
I can bet that President Buhari is not a leader that would prefer to continue to unwind abroad when his house is on fire. He is too passionate about the project Nigeria, to do so. But the pain in Nigeria is so intense that there is hardly any room for sentiments.
Nevertheless, it would be insensitive not to wish the President well in a period like this. He remains one of the best the country has at the moment. I, therefore, want to join well-meaning Nigerians in wishing him quick recovery, if indeed he is indisposed. Please come home soon, Mr. President. We all miss you!