Nigerians react as president Buhari extends medical leave

Nigerians give mixed reactions as President Muhammadu Buhari extends his medical leave, deepening suspicions his health is worse than officials are admitting publicly.

LAGOS, NIGERIA (FILE) (REUTERS) – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari asked parliament last week to extend his medical leave, deepening suspicions among many Nigerians his health is worse than officials are admitting publicly.

Anger is mounting over his continued absence as the country efforts to recover from a spluttering economy.

Buhari’s extended leave could further erode confidence in his administration, already under pressure from investors to let Nigeria’s currency float freely to try to revive an oil-driven economy now at its weakest in 25 years.

Lagos resident, Olugbolahan, said Nigerians have a right to know the true state of Buhari’s health.

“Normally Nigerians are supposed to know the health condition of the president, just like the head of the family is sick and the doctor is preventing the health condition from his family, so we can relate it to that. So they are not transparent enough,” he said.

Meanwhile, businessman Oloyede Kamoru said Nigeria’s vice president is capable of running the country in Buhari’s absence.

“I think we Nigerians, we are laying more emphasis on Mr. President’s health issue because when he left the vice president have already take his place and we are, I’m very sure, within that week he left, there’s a lot of meeting, a lot of committee that was being formed by the vice president to the issue of governance, it’s still going on, it’s not standstill. So why are we complaining that we want to see the man? His absence is not having any impact on the economic issue. I think what we should do is focus on the economy issue and I think our vice president is doing that, so there’s no need making noise about his health,” Kamoru said.

Buhari also spent nearly two weeks in London last June for treatment for an ear infection, stoking concerns for his health.

Lagos based political analyst, Malachy Ugwummadu said there is no need for secrecy.

“Anyone of us, anytime, can fall ill, indeed can die, and so if that is a reality of life, what then is the need for the secrecy usually associated with all of this, particularly at his age, for a man who had struggled for 12 whopping years?” he said.

“Nigerian people have become completely disorientated, disillusioned and demobilized and therefore issues that ought to gain sufficient premium suffer the attention that they need, when other mundane issues that need to be trivialised or dealt with peripherally gain traction and before you know it, overwhelm them in such a way that you could see that these people — that is the Nigerian people — have completely lost track of what should, you know, constitute their priorities,” he added.

Buhari, whose age is officially given as 74, took office in 2015 on pledges to diversify the economy away from oil, fight corruption and end an Islamic insurgency by Boko Haram that broke out in the northeast in 2009.

But critics said he has made little progress, with Nigeria still heavily dependent on exports of crude, the price of which has halved since 2014.

The still active insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people and led to a humanitarian crisis that has left 1.8 million Nigerians at risk of starvation and turned millions more into refugees.

Many of the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the northeast town of Chibok in 2014 remain missing.

Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in after the death in 2010 of President Umaru Yar’Adua. His illness created a power vacuum that was filled by Jonathan, his vice president, only after three months of political infighting.

Some fear a rerun of the unstable three months when former President Umaru Yar’Adua was ill before he died.

Like Yar’Adua, Buhari is a Muslim from the north, and like Jonathan, the current president’s deputy Osinbajo is a southern Christian.

Traditionally the two religious groups have taken turns to hold the presidency, but that accord was unbalanced by the death of Yar’Adua before his first four-year term ended. Olusegun Obasanjo, his Christian predecessor, held office for the maximum eight years, while Jonathan was in power for five.

Nigeria is no stranger to ethnically — and religiously — charged violence. Conflict has swept the country’s heartland, where hundreds have died in clashes between Muslim herders and mainly Christian farmers, and militants continue to operate in the oil-rich Delta region in the southeast.