By Tunde Rahman; tunderahmanu@yahoo.com

President Muhammadu Buhari seems quite sick. I’m certainly not a doctor, but from the spate of seemingly conflicting press and public statements made by some of his aides, the president may not be as fit as a fiddle after all. Presidential Spokesman Femi Adesina issued two statements during the week and within 24 hours difference on the health of Mr. President: one denying that he was sick and the other informing the nation that the president would travel abroad to treat an ailment.  On Thursday, June 4, reacting to reports on Buhari’s health, Adesina said the president was “as fit as a fiddle”. He told TheCable online: “Didn’t you see pictures of him (Buhari) receiving Anglican Bishops yesterday? Did he look sick? The president is as fit as a fiddle. Anyone who says he is sick is telling lies.

“That is a figment of the person’s imagination. Just yesterday he received the Primate of the Anglican Communion and Archbishops at the Presidential Villa. He also received former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He is hale and hearty.  The imagination of whoever says that is on overdrive”. The next day, June 5, Adesina told a bemused nation that President Buhari would travel to London to treat ear infection. That is not exactly how he put it though. He chose a rather circuitous way to say what had been alleged: “President Muhammadu Buhari will take 10 days off and travel to London on Monday, June 6th to rest. During the holiday, he will see an E.N.T. specialist for a persistent ear infection. The President was examined by his Personal Physician and an E.N.T Specialist in Abuja and was treated. Both Nigerian doctors recommended further evaluation purely as a precaution.” Though Adesina said the president would be away for just 10 days, some reports had speculated he would spend longer than that abroad. In follow-up interviews, the presidential spokesman explained that the president is on holiday and not on medical leave and that he was not going to London principally for medical treatment. He also said President Buhari is not sick but added that we should all pray for him.

This apparent inconsistency is worrying. But if there was any doubt that he is ill, the president himself cleared it all. On Monday, June 6, on his way to London, he told reporters at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, that like every human, he could fall ill.
Also, the admission in the prayer by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Dauda Lawal, at the Federal Executive Council meeting last Wednesday, June 8, that the president and three ministers are sick, may have also settled the issue.
I’m a Muslim – and currently observe the Ramadan fast – so I do not wish the president ill. As a matter of fact, I pray that the president receives good treatment for the ailing ear, recovers soon and return to the country in good time as well. But I’m just troubled that the presidency is engaging in double speak on the matter of the health status of the president and this should be worrying given the nation’s experience not too long ago. The decision of the hawks at Aso Rock Presidential Villa to hide the real health situation of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from the public, pretending that the man was well, and blocking then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, from taking over power as acting president landed the nation in darkness for many months until the National Assembly saved the day with its Doctrine of Necessity. While the shenanigan going on at the Aso Rock Villa lasted, the nation was bleeding badly as the hawks took over, leaving the nation to pay dearly for it. We know the story too well.
Now, President Buhari has done the right thing by writing to the National Assembly, notifying the two chambers of his trip abroad and informing them that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would be acting as president while he is away. But the health situation of the president has given rise to fears and apprehension in some quarters. These are in two dimensions.

There are those, particularly in the North, who sound very apprehensive talking about the president’s health, saying not again, even though there is no evidence yet that the nation has any cause to worry. Their fear is hinged on the North’s recent experience when the death, in 2010 of President Yar ‘Adua after three years in office, cut short the region’s hold on power after just eight years out of power since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. This is something many in the North fear to even contemplate. There is yet another set of people across the two divides – North and South – whose reaction sounds somewhat like this: didn’t we warn you, how could you elect a 73-year-old as president and expect there’ll be no possibility of failing health?

But Vice President Osinbajo is trudging on in the absence of President Buhari. He is presiding over FEC meeting and taking major decisions, even though there are speculations about a growing power struggle within the presidency. For instance, some doubt if Osinbajo is actually acting as president as rumours swirl, right or wrong, that a cabal is holding power in trust for the president. Such feeling of suspicion and distrust is bound to arise in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious federal system like ours. The only time such mutual suspicion and mistrust are muted is during military regime, and this is often due to the command structure of the military, which demands absolute loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief from subordinates.  This delicate relationship between a military leader and his deputy is known to have snapped during the Abacha regime when the late dictator arrested his Second-in-Command, Lt. Gen Oladipo Diya (rtd), and attempted to eliminate him over a phantom coup until providence intervened.
Whilst not inferring a crisis of trust exist in the presidency, it’s important nonetheless to emphasise how expedient it is for the president and his deputy to be on the same page, to bond together and try and rise above any feeling of suspicion and mistrust in the interest of the country.

Bank Retrenchments: When Will Minister Ngige Enforce His Order?
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige of that infamous Anambra abduction saga of 2003, will not seize to amuse. The other day he directed banks, insurance companies and financial institutions to immediately halt further retrenchment of their staff. What a pleasant thing to hear from the Honourable Minister! Over 3000 bank and insurance workers have lost their jobs owing to the harsh operating environment. The banks have employed all kinds of coinage for the gale of sack: downsizing, rightsizing, rationalisation and what have you. Many, this writer inclusive, would ordinarily have laughed off Minister Ngige’s directive giving the impotency of the order, but the matter that has rendered over 3000 jobless is not a laughing matter. To rub the weakness of his directive on Ngige’s face, barely 24 hours after the order on June 3, Skye Bank laid off 175 of its workers and some other financial institutions have followed suit. And then a flustered Minister added a clincher: government will withdraw the operating licences of banks and other financial institutions flouting the halt-the-gale-of-retrenchment order.

But for the life of me, can Minister Ngige force a willing employee on an unwilling employer who feels it cannot continue to pick the staff’s bill? Rather than issuing empty orders, should n’t the government preoccupy itself with addressing the operating environment that has made it difficult for banks and financial institutions to keep its work force.

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