While running for president in 2007, former President Umar Yar’Adua looked clearly weak. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who tapped Mr. Yar’Adua to succeed him, said he threw his support behind the late president because he understood he was medically fit to govern Nigeria.
Mr. Obasanjo said he became confident of Mr. Yar’Adua’s ability to govern Nigeria after he pored through his health records and sought the opinion of medical experts.
Mr. Obasanjo said he believed Mr. Yar’Adua “had a clean bill” of health report when he tapped him as his replacement in 2007.
But during the campaign, Mr. Yar’Adua gave Nigerians a hint of his health crisis when he suddenly dashed out to Germany, fuelling rumours of his death.
The rumour ushered in the infamous “Umaru! Are you dead?” question on the campaign trail, when Mr. Obasanjo placed a call through to Mr. Yar’Adua in Germany to ask about his situation.
Mr. Yar’Adua won the election, albeit hugely disputed. But three years into his tenure, he passed on in office.
In his 2014 book, ‘My Watch’, Mr. Obasanjo criticised Mr. Yar’Adua’s handling of his health crisis, accusing him of deceiving Nigerians by keeping details of his illness secret.
In the book, Mr. Obasanjo described the manner with which Mr. Yar’Adua and his administration officials handled the situation as “shoddy, tardy, unpatriotic, selfish, and reckless.”
“No nation should be left hanging in such a manner,” he added.
In contrast to Mr. Yar’Adua’s early signs of ailment, President Muhammadu Buhari, as a candidate, seemed agile and alerted, even though he was way older. But the lingering anxiety over the president’s health less than two years in office has left many pondering how information on a president’s health status should be managed.
Also, unlike when the late President Yar’Adua was sick, Mr. Buhari constitutionally transferred power to his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, who now leads the country as acting president; a factor his supporters say distinguishes the two scenarios.
However, for nearly 50 days, Buhari administration officials have provided different versions of the president’s true health situation, even as a cloud of anxiety hangs over the country.
Mr. Buhari wrote to the Nigerian Senate on January 19, disclosing his intention to travel abroad on a 10-day vacation and that he’d handed over to his vice-president.
Although the letter said he will commence the vacation on January 23, Mr. Buhari departed Nigeria on the same day he wrote the lawmakers, an indication all may not have been well with the president.
No sooner had Mr. Buhari left the country than his aides came under attack for their alleged refusal to disclose the true state of the president’s health.
PRESIDENT NOT SICK
The presidential aides and officials then released statements assuring Nigerians the president was not sick.
On January 22, barely two days after the president left, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, declared the president fit on Twitter, and even mocked former President Goodluck Jonathan while at it.
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At some point, senior media aide, Femi Adesina, quoted a passage from the Holy Bible to forestall raging insinuations around the president’s health.
On February 5, a day before Mr. Buhari was due back in the country, his media aides again put out statements to quell rumours of his critical health situation, or worse.
Mr. Shehu said of the president: “He and his delegation were ready to come home today but for the delayed test result which came in today which necessitated that he delays his return. “There is nothing to worry about as far as his condition is concerned.”
This was hours after the president was said to have written to the National Assembly to extend his vacation.
Also on February 6, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo declared Mr. Buhari “hale and hearty” following a telephone discussion.
“Let me first say the President is hale and hearty. I spoke to him just this afternoon and we had a fairly long conversation, he is in good shape and very chatty,” Mr. Osinbajo said.
Three days later following a Federal Executive Council meeting, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, slammed Nigerians for fuelling rumours about Mr. Buhari’s health.
“I can say it without any equivocation, Mr President is well, he is hale and he is hearty; no question about that,” Mr. Mohammed said. “I want to assure you, Mr President is well and he is in absolutely no danger.”
The minister said the president was a victim of his own transparency, adding that Nigerians should not judge him by the standards he applied when he was in opposition and Mr. Yar’Adua took ill.
“Mr. President, like I said elsewhere, is probably a victim of his own transparency,” the minister added. “Mr President is not ill, he is not in hospital and there is no reason to give anybody any bulletin about his health, pure and simple.’’
On the same day, Mr. Buhari’s sister, Rakiya Adamu, implored Nigerians to keep her brother in serious prayers.
On February 9, Christian and Muslim leaders urged their respective fellows to pray for the president. The Sultan of Sokoto reiterated the need to pray for Mr. Buhari on March 1.
On February 14, Mr. Shehu said “Nigerians should be getting ready to see the president in flesh, as soon as possible.”
On February 15, the president received principal officers from the National Assembly, who immediately declared him “healthy, witty and himself.”
On February 16, senior media aide, Femi Adesina, said on TVC’s ‘This Morning‘ that “Mr. President will not speak to Nigerians because he has the ‘right to his vacation, we don’t need to intrude.”
At different media appearances between February 16 and March 1, Mr. Buhari’s administration officials maintained the president was in good health.
OFFICIALS ADMIT BUHARI IS SICK
On March 2, officials admitted for the first time that the president told the King of Morocco that his health was improving during a telephone discussion.
Two days later, the president took a call from Alpha Conde, the chairperson of the AU and president on Guinea.
Mr. Adesina said in a statement after the call that Mr. Conde wished Mr. Buhari good health and speedy recovery.
Within the last two weeks, Mr. Buhari had placed calls to a wide array of personalities within the country, including Mr. Obasanjo who he called on March 5.
Two weeks after Mr. Buhari left the country and speculations about his health raged, Mr. Obasanjo castigated the rumour mongers as “abnormal.”
“If you don’t like him, wait for another election, not going about to say he is dead. No matter his health situation, we should pray for him to recover quick and come back stronger and better,” the former leader said.
While speaking on a Channels Television programme, radical lawyer Femi Falana, blamed presidential aides for the controversy surrounding the president’s health.
Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, questioned how Nigerians were supposed to pray for the president when they did not know if he was truly sick or the nature of the illness.
While the presidency continues to keep mum on the president’s true health status and the nature of his illness, Nigerians remain divided on his continued absence from office.