Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The federal government has again launched another spirited attempt to convince increasingly sceptical Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is in the United Kingdom on an extended vacation, is “hale and hearty”, adding that there was no basis comparing the president’s health with what played out during the Umaru Yar’Adua presidency.
Minister of information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed made the spirited defence yesterday when he briefed State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He insisted that Buhari was neither ill, nor was he in any danger that calls for panic.
The minister also reacted to the charge that he had failed to provide hourly briefings on the status of the president’s health, even though he had challenged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led government in 2010 to do the same when the late Yar’Adua was sick and later died in office.
According to him, it was like comparing apple with oranges.
He added that Buhari was not in a hospital in London and was not in any danger relating to his health.
The minister also said there was no cause for alarm.
He explained that the controversy surrounding the health of the president had played out because of the nature of his transparency.
According to him, the president was a victim of transparency.
He said: “I think I can say without any equivocation that he is well, he is hale and he is hearty, no question about that.
“Mr. President is not ill, he is not in hospital, there will be no need to give anybody hourly bulletins about his health pure and simple,” the minister said.
He added: “Mr. President, like I said elsewhere, is a victim of his own transparency, he was going on leave, he did what the constitution said he should do: he transmitted a letter to the National Assembly and an acting president was put in place and he said ‘while I am on leave, I am going to conduct some medical tests’, which all of us do without announcing it.
“And of course less than six hours after he got there, he was pronounced dead by some people. Even those who saw him climb the aircraft in Abuja said he was flown by air ambulance.
“But I can assure you that Mr. President is well, he is hale and hearty, and there is no cause for concern. The acting president speaks to him everyday and he told you so.”
The information minister said that he could however not blame Buhari for his rumoured death that has followed his vacation abroad.
“I won’t blame Mr. President, because this is the third time you are declaring him dead.”
Asked why Buhari went on vacation at a time Nigeria is in a recession, the minister said: “Our constitution guarantees that. Did Obama not go on leave, do other presidents not go on leave.
“Mr. President will go on vacation when he has to go on vacation. Do you know how many ministers have gone on vacation this year? To say Mr. President cannot go on vacation that is ridiculous.
“You see, on a lighter note, do you think Mr. President will be ill and we will be here and going about our business like this?
“He (pointing to a colleague) was in Anambra two to three days ago, I was in Ilorin on Monday, all our ministers are busy. But I want to assure you that Mr. President is well and he is in absolutely no danger.
“I think it was one of the newspapers that said when I was the spokesman of the Action Congress (AC), I demanded for hourly bulletins on Yar’Adua’s health and that I ought to be giving hourly bulletins as Minister of Information on the health of the president. And I said you are comparing apple with oranges.”
Buhari left Nigeria on January 19 on a vacation for 10 working days and was slated to return on February 5 in order to resume work the next day.
However, on the day he was supposed to return to the country, the presidency issued a statement explaining that the president had decided to extend his vacation on the advise of his doctors. No date was given on when he would return.
Since his departure, Buhari has not been seen or heard from, fuelling speculations about his well being.
Some photographs released by the presidency and close associates of the president, showing Buhari vacationing in the UK with his wife, among others, have not helped to douse concerns.