The President and His Handlers, By Jibrin Ibrahim

On Wednesday, President Buhari was once again absent from the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting. An explanation was offered. We were told that his doctors had asked him to rest. Ordinarily, this should not be a matter for discussion because any human being could be medically advised to stay away from work at any time. The issue however was that on Tuesday, the day before, the Presidency had announced that the president had resumed work after taking time to rest and had two sessions in his office with the Attorney General of the Federation and with the Executive Director of the NNPC. It would be recalled that thirteen of us had published a statement on Monday entitled: “President Buhari Should Take Medical Leave Immediately.”

In our statement, we had recalled the fact that President Mohammadu Buhari had been to the United Kingdom on a medical vacation, which lasted 59 days. While he was away, his handlers had been telling Nigerians that he was “hale and hearty.” But upon his return to the country, President Buhari disclosed that he had never been that sick in his entire life. Even though the President did not disclose the nature of his ailment, he revealed that he went through blood transfusion. While thanking the Nigerian people for their prayers, the President announced that he might soon travel back for further medical treatment.

We also recalled that a few weeks ago, the Governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai had urged Nigerians to give President Buhari time to recover from his sickness. The plea was made after the Governor had visited and presumable assessed the state of the President at the presidential villa in Abuja. The prolonged absence of the President from public functions was most probably an indication that the President was not very well. When people are sick, the normal advice from well-wishers is that they should seek the best medical attention available to them.

Someone’s is normally a private matter but when the person in question is a president, citizens wonder and worry whether their leader is in a position to fulfil their mandate. Presidential democracies in which the people vote directly for their president is based on an expectation that the president would engage and interface with the people on a regular basis. When therefore the people note that there is silence, they begin to wonder. Today, it is seven years since we lost President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The late President fell seriously sick while in office and his handlers did not explain to Nigerians the state of the President. It was after his death that we realized he had not been in a state to exercise his mandate for some time before his death and the facts were hidden from Nigerians. It is therefore understandable that a lot of concern is being expressed at this point. Nigerians would simply want to be reassured that all is well.

While President Buhari was on medical vacation in London and his handlers were assuring us on his , some of us were surprised to learn that his Special adviser on media and publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina that he got to speak to him on 25th February 2017, about five weeks after the President’s departure. An excited Femi Adesina wrote on his Facebook page: “At exactly 2.43 pm today, Saturday, February 25, 2017, my phone rang. Who was at the other end? Tunde Sabiu, personal assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari.‘”Hold on for Mr President,’ Tunde said.“And in a matter of seconds, the very familiar voice came: ‘Femi, how are you?’ (He calls me Adesina most times, but today, he opted for Femi). “I screamed, Mr. President, I have missed you. How are you sir?“He first laughed. That familiar laugh, then he said, ‘I am still resting. Thank you for holding out against mischief-makers.’“I said it was my duty, the very least I could do, adding how happy I was to speak with him.” What this episode told Nigerians was that those who speak for the President have themselves had no direct information on the state of the President. This makes their job extremely difficult not only because they have no direct information but also because they would not know for sure how the President wants information he has provided to be pitched. Femi Adesina had explained in his excitement at that time that: “It was a defining moment for me. For more than a month, I had always spoken with aides who are with the president in London.” People who speak for the President should normally be speaking with the President routinely so that we the consumers of the information would be reassured that he who speaks for the president speaks also with the president.

In our statement, we had pointed out that instead of embarking on regular briefing on the actual state of the of President Buhari, officials of the federal government have continued to assure the Nigerian people that there is no need for apprehension over the matter. In defending the absence of the President at the FEC meeting of last week, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu had stated that “the president’s doctors have advised on his taking things slowly, as he fully recovers from the long period of treatment in the United Kingdom some weeks ago.” Why then was the announcement made this Tuesday that he had resumed duties only for the story to revert to the default setting on Wednesday when Information Minister Lai Mohammed explained that: “President Muhammadu Buhari continues to take a rest from official functions on the advice of his doctors.” There are definitely issues about information management that poses questions.

Nigerians of goodwill have been praying for a speedy and full recovery of President Buhari so that he could continue his good work. As we continue to pray, it is appropriate that he should go to his doctors so that they could attend to his health without any further delay.