President’s Long Sick Leave Fuels Power Grab Fear

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The Nigerian leader’s absence on Wednesday from his third cabinet meeting in as many weeks has heightened fears about his health and whether close allies might be profiting from his illness.

President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, has barely been seen since returning in March from seven weeks of medical leave in London, where he was treated for an unspecified illness.

His wife, Aisha, played down the extent of her husband’s health problems in a series of tweets on Tuesday night in which she said that his “health is not as bad as it’s being perceived” and that he “continues to carry out his responsibilities.”

Despite Mrs Aisha Buhari’s reassurances, the president failed to attend the meeting of the federal executive council, which was held as usual within walking distance of the presidential villa. “All he is doing is following his doctors’ advice to rest enough,” Lai Mohammed, the information minister, said.

On his return from Britain Mr Buhari said that he had never been so ill and alluded to having had a blood transfusion, but further details about his condition remain closely guarded. He has now missed three successive cabinet meetings, a prayer session last Friday and one of his grandson’s weddings on Saturday.

A group of politically unaligned members of civil society urged Mr Buhari this week to “heed the advice of his personal physicians by taking a rest to attend to his health without any further delay”. One of the signatories, the political analyst Jibrin Ibrahim, told The Times yesterday that he was worried the president, whose reputation for honesty belies that of many Nigerian politicians, was being manipulated. “The real concern is that people around him might be blocking him from getting treatment abroad, for selfish reasons,” Ibrahim said.

Asked what those reasons might be, Ibrahim said: “Pecuniary. If the president is not on top of things then all sorts of deals could be being done.” He said that there was “suspicion, but we have no proof of this, they might be making money behind his back”.

Some diplomats believe that close allies of Mr Buhari, a Muslim from the north, are motivated by keeping the presidency away from the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, with an eye to the next election, due in two years. “Getting Buhari to anoint a northerner as his successor for 2019 is their only goal,” one diplomat said, adding that Mr Osinbajo’s well-received performance during Mr Buhari’s seven-week absence had only “hardened their resolve”.

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate, has called on the president to reveal the nature of his condition and has likened Mr Buhari’s stance to that of President Trump on his tax returns.
The uncertainty over Mr Buhari’s health comes at a difficult time for Nigeria, which is under severe pressure from low prices of oil, its primary export, and internal security problems including those posed by Boko Haram terrorists and food shortages in the northeast.

Many Nigerians remain concerned about potential political turmoil given the similarities to events in 2009 when President Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the country’s north, left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. He was never seen in public again and died soon after his return to Nigeria in May 2010.

He was replaced in the intervening period by his vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, who went on to win the 2011 election.

•Culled from The Times of London