Yar’Ádua and Buhari: Between ill-health and power vacuum

LAGOS— Against the backdrop of intense speculations surrounding the 10-day vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United Kingdom and the repeated assurances by presidential aides and other government officials that all was well with the President, it is not surprising that Nigerians would engage in a long and anxious wait for his return to the country to resume work today as slated. Soon after the President left the country on January 18, 2017, the rumour mill went into overdrive with speculations over his state or condition of health, with suggestions in many quarters that there was more to the trip than the Presidency was prepared to tell Nigerians. Indeed, the Presidential spokespersons had their hands full in dealing with these speculations and quelling growing public concern about the President’s health status. This they did by repeatedly, assuring that in line with the letter the President sent to the National Assembly about his vacation and informing that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would act in his absence, he (Buhari) would certainly resume work  today. But just when Nigerians were already coming to terms with these assurances and looking forward to seeing and hearing from their President today, they were told, yesterday, of a letter he had sent to the National Assembly informing the national lawmakers that he was extending his vacation, which also entails being away from the country longer than expected. More mystifying is the fact that the duration of the extension was not specified. The development has almost immediately given rise to more speculations and uncertainty, with some individuals already pointing at an uncanny parallel between it and the leadership drama that characterised the days of the late Umaru Yar’Ádua presidency. It will be recalled that the late  President Yar’Adua left Nigeria on November 23, 2009 for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. After much speculations with some claiming that the president was battling with a chronic allergic disorder and had intermittent kidney failure, Nigerians were later informed that he was being treated in a Saudi Arabia clinic for a heart condition identified as pericaditis, which some medical authorities claim was a mere complication of what is known as Churg Strauss syndrome. His ill-health induced absence from the country and three months stay away from the levers of power created a lot of room for speculation, with anxiety and tension hitting the roof over the resulting power vacuum since he did not officially hand over power to the then Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Even his return to the country in February did not allay the tension but rather fuelled it, especially as he was kept away from the public by some power elements, who elected to rule on his behalf. It took the intervention of the National Assembly which invoked the now popular Doctrine of Necessity to declare Jonathan acting President. This unprecedented move by the National Assembly, the Senate to be specific, somehow reduced the prevailing tension in the country, bringing respite to many who were afraid that the country was on the verge of imploding. Given this scenario, Nigerians may have every reason to worry. But observers feel justified in insisting that there exists a world of difference between what happened during the Yar’Ádua era and what is happening now. They base their argument on the fact that President Buhari officially handed the reins of office to his vice before embarking on his vacation, which was not the case with the late President Yar’Ádua.


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