Public discourse has dramatically shifted from concerns about President Muhammadu Buhari’s health status to anxiety over his return date, SUNDAY ODE reports.The recent news of President Muhammadu Buhari’s improving state of health was, no doubt, exciting to many Nigerians. But not the doubting Thomas! They must wait to feel the part of the body where Christ was pierced with the spear and nails. The doubts are, however, being cleared by events of each passing day.
No matter the divide to which anyone may belong, it is pretty difficult to ignore the reports from London, the British capital, where President Buhari has been on medical vacation since May 7. The reports basically on Buhari’s health suggest that there’s every cause for those who wish the President well to rejoice and join in the loud shout of victory.
First was the report by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo who, after what looked like a secret visit to his principal, said there was no cause for alarm. The summary of his report was that Buhari was recuperating very fast and would soon return home. “We had a very good time, we had a very good conversation on wide ranging issues and he is in very good spirit, he is recuperating very quickly and he is doing very well. He is in very high spirit, he is recuperating very well and we had very long conversation. We spoke for well over an hour and his humor is all there. He is doing well and he is recuperating fast,” Osinbajo had told State House Correspondents upon his return from a recent visit to Buhari in London.
Pressed to put a date to the anticipated return of the President, Osinbajo simply said: “I think very shortly. I think we should really expect him back very shortly. Like I said he is recuperating very fast and he is doing very well.” Days and weeks have since passed after the remarks by the Acting President but the question of when will the President return has not been fully answered. However, Buhari had seemingly answered this question rather anticipatorily both at the beginning of his journey to London and in the days that have followed. He had stated pointblank that his return would be subject to the decisions of his physicians.
Some doubted Osinbajo’s report on account of the fact that his visit to Buhari was initially shrouded in secrecy. He had touched down in London and was almost into the scheduled meeting with the President before his handlers, ostensibly forced by some trending unkind suggestions in the online media, decided to remove the veil on the visit.Those who discredited the Acting President’s report also capitalized on the fact that the visit and meeting with the President ended without pictorial evidence. Why didn’t Buhari and his vice take a photograph so as to clear the rumour that the former had been incapacitated, they had asked? Accordingly, they would rather believe the report of the Governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose that the President had become some vegetable.
Then came the governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and some party leaders. Their visit to London to see the recuperating President and return was made public and promptly too. And there were also pictures of the governors and the President on lunch table to show that the visit was not a fluke.
Yet, some still wouldn’t believe that the pictures were real. They asked why the photographs were not taken with Buhari either welcoming his guests with a handshake or at least standing up during the photo session. The conclusion they tried to draw was that it was a stage-managed affair and that Buhari would never be well enough to sit down with anybody at lunch table or in a meeting.
Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode and Fayose who have been leading the pack of “Buhari can never be well enough to lead Nigeria again” cynics even threatened that they had pictures to prove that the APC governors and leaders who visited Buhari were hiding the truth about the President’s true state of health.
The report by Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha on the visit as relayed to the Presidency spokesman, Femi Adesina for onward communication to the public rather fired their doubts and hardened their hearts the more. Besides the stance not to take any information from a third party about the health of the President seriously they couldn’t stand the fact that the report was coming from Okorocha who had consistently countered their attacks on Buhari and warned Nigerians not to fall for their antics.A press statement titled “The Buhari We Met, By Okorocha”, issued by Adesina following his conversation with Okorocha upon the return of the APC governors and leaders from the United Kingdom said Nigerians no longer had to worry over the President’s health as he was progressively recovering fast.
The statement had read: “In a telephone conversation following the meeting of All Progressives Congress (APC) governors and leaders with President Muhammadu Buhari in London Sunday, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, said the President was very cheerful and has not lost any bit of his sense of humour.”The governor said the party delegation spent more than an hour with President Buhari over lunch, and it was very clear from the discussions that he followed developments at home very closely. He said the President was delighted to receive the delegation and asked each governor about affairs in his state. He also asked the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, about the state of the railways.”When asked to react to all the negative things being said about him, the President just laughed, describing such negative reports as lies. Governor Okorocha said President Buhari was completely unperturbed by the cocktail of lies. He, instead, sent his best wishes to Nigerians.
“According to him, Nigerians don’t have to worry at all, adding that President Buhari will be back as soon as the doctors give him the green light. By our visit to London today, the merchants of lies have been put out of business and Nigerians will not buy the garbage they have been selling. All those who look up to fake news can find better use for their time,” Governor Okorocha noted.There was another delegation to London by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum led by its Chairman, Abdulaziz Yari who is also the Governor of Zamfara State. The governors were meticulous as they took along with them the personal photographer to the President, Bayo Omoboriowo. Not only that, they also ensured that the delegation included governors from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
The pictures of the governors’ visit circulated by Omoboriowo were enough to erase any shadow of doubt over the President’s progressive recuperation. The President was captured welcoming his guests with handshake and smile, standing, apart from the group photographs. Akwa-Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel of the PDP who spoke on behalf of the governors’ delegation reported that God had answered the prayers of Nigerians because Buhari’s recovery was fast and miraculous! No doubt, the governors’ visit had put paid to the endless media debate on whether Buhari was still alive. Even his rate of recovery can no longer make sellable headlines given what Nigerians have already seen for themselves. So, the issue of the moment for the anti- Buhari campaigners is “return now or resign.”
A group led by Mr. Charles Oputah popularly known as Charly Boy had on Monday staged a protest in Abuja demanding that the President should either return to Nigerian now or resign from his position. Again, another group in response staged a solidarity protest in support of Buhari.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a reaction, however observed that while the protest was in free excercise of their democratic rights, they had over stepped their bounds by calling on the President to resign for no just reason other than that he is taking care of his health abroad. In a statement titled “Government is focused, will not be distracted”, Malam Shehu wrote: “I wish to respond to media enquiries following demonstration by a few citizens this morning in Abuja. The demonstration is in the exercise of their freedom under the constitution, which guarantees their right to embark on peaceful protests.”So long as they remain peaceful, we have no problem with them. What is democracy if citizens can’t peacefully demonstrate? On the second issue, demanding the President’s return, or resignation or certain explanations, I would say that they have over-stepped their bounds.
“The President has complied 100 percent with the constitution by handing over power to the Vice-President before proceeding on his vacation. He has not breached any law or the constitution by staying away from office to take care of his health.”Equally, there is nothing like a power vacuum in the country given the competence and general harmony with which the whole government is running. Any such calls as being made by this or any other group represent an irrational assault on the constitution and should be ignored by well-meaning members of the public. The need of the hour for this country is to rid it of corruption, reform and reinvigorate the economy and to fight crime and insurgency.
“The government is busy with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure all over the country. It is creating jobs for the unemployed. It has set its sights on the larger picture of the country’s development; investing in rail and power projects and redeeming the country’s image from the mountains of corruption scandals that have marred it. We will not, therefore, be distracted by this or any other groups.”
But signals that the President is strong enough to return to the country any moment emerged when members of his media team and his Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Matters, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, paid him a visit at the Abuja House in London on Saturday.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, Buhari said he believes he is strong enough to return to the country, but his doctors will be the ones to determine when he returns.
“I feel I could go home, but the doctors are in charge. I’ve now learnt to obey orders, rather than be obeyed,” President was quoted as saying after informing the team that his health has improved tremendously.When asked about how he felt about the theories about his health, President Buhari who said he has followed events in the country in his absence was “amused”, according to the statement.He, however, thanked Nigerians for praying for him and expressed the hope that he would soon return home. “I thank all those who are praying. May God reward them,” he said.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, led the media team which comprised of the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina; Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu and Personal Assistant on Digital/Online Media, Lauretta Onochie.
But anxiety has continued to mount over the President’s return date especially after the series of recent visits by highly placed Nigerians to him in London and the common verdict that he is recuperating very fast. In the past weeks, State House Correspondents have been put on the edge over rumours and speculations of his purported arrival in the country. They had been inundated with intermittent calls from the news rooms to find if Buhari was back yet in the country. Those calls, according to findings, were prompted more often than not by social media posts. But as the President’s handlers have always insisted, Buhari’s return will not be like a thief in the night because he’s President of Nigeria.
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