Aspects of his private life that affect his performance in office are of public interest
The current health status of President Muhammadu Buhari is a matter of serious public concern and interest. The president is first and foremost the pre-eminent citizen of our country who was elected by popular mandate. To that extent, while in office, the demarcation between his private life and public career is thin and can hardly be separated. While the president and his family are therefore entitled to the normal spheres of privacy, those aspects of his private life that directly affect his performance of the duties attached to his office are strictly of public interest.
However, we also recognise the fact that Section 14 of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act excludes the disclosure of information on the health of any person without his/ her authorisation. It is perhaps pursuant to that law that the acting president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, told Nigerians that only the president can give information on his state of health. But that law has to be amended to compel elected officials to disclose their health status since they occupy public offices which do not admit of secrecy in any manner whatsoever.
In fairness to President Buhari, he has spared the nation any unnecessary anxiety and confusion by promptly transmitting to the National Assembly the requisite instrument of authority for the vice-president to continue to function in acting capacity in his absence.
That indicates a strong belief in the legal basis of his power and authority as well as the elementary fact that the constitution as the ultimate law of the land is the definitive guidebook for the smooth and orderly running of Nigeria. In this respect, there will be no recurrence of the speculations and confusion that pervaded the prolonged medical vacation of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009/2010.
While this newspaper and the rest of Nigeria wish the president speedy recovery, it is incumbent on the acting president to continue to manage the affairs of state with the delicate balance of constitutional imperatives and political common sense. This is the best way to ensure that the president’s temporary incapacity does not translate into systemic dysfunction until he is well enough to return to the country and resume duties.
For those entrusted with public communication at the presidency, the challenge henceforth is to provide timely, credible and useful information on the president’s health to Nigerians and the rest of the world in order to avoid wild rumours and the usual mischievous imputations and computations for which the Nigerian power elite has become famous.
To the political class in particular, we urge greater restraint in both utterance and activity. That the president is ill and seeking medical solution abroad does not in any way affect the four-year tenure of our democratic cycle; nor does it affect the validity of the constitution. It would be a great disservice to the nation for politicians to conduct themselves in a manner that minimally conveys the impression that there is about to be a power vacuum in Aso Villa. Right now, there is none, at least not in the eyes of the law.
It is true that the nation is passing through difficult economic times. It is also true that not every campaign promise of the administration has been fulfilled. But we must not play politics with the adversity of our people; nor must we depart from the norms of our essential African humanism which dictates empathy with those in distress and solidarity in times of communal travail. Moreover, when the head of the house is not at home in circumstances such as we find ourselves now, it is not time to engage in the hawking of blames, mischief making or unnecessary political rascality and power adventurism.
As matters stand now, Nigerians must meet two main requirements: abide by the letter and spirit of the constitution and let the machinery of government thrive under the acting president, Prof. Osinbajo while we continue to wish and pray for the speedy recovery of President Buhari.
For those entrusted with public communication at the presidency, the challenge henceforth is to provide timely, credible and useful information on the president’s health to Nigerians and the rest of the world in order to avoid wild rumours and the usual mischievous imputations and computations for which the Nigerian power elite has become famous