Close to 100 days after returning to the UK for a follow up treatment, uncertainty continues to trail the true state of health of President Muhammad Buhari. Whereas well choreographed visits and pictures have become a somewhat effective tool in the hands of the government to puncture claims he has become unconscious and on life-support equipments, the non-disclosure of the President's ailment(s) and the level of progress (or lack of it) continues to put to question the reliability of the accounts being given by the different batches of official pilgrims to the President’s Abuja House location in London.
At the NIG, it is our utmost wish that President Buhari gets well soonest, and that he regains enough strength to return home without further relapse as occurred in May this year, which apparently necessitated his return for further treatment. It is our view that the President deserves the prayers and goodwill of every Nigerian, not just because of his position but basically because it is the least he deserves as a human being undergoing a very difficult time. Illnesses and diseases afflict human beings of all shades and hue, and no one, not even a President is, by virtue of the office, immuned to them, more so at an old age.
While we wish the President speedy recovery however, it is the firm conviction of the NIG that his position as the head of government and State of Nigeria is no longer tenable. Nigerians voted massively in 2015 for General Buhari on account of his claim to integrity, of which the previous government was widely regarded as being in deficit. It is time for him, at this crucial moment, to demonstrate that integrity by stepping down to focus fully on his recovery efforts. He owes it to Nigerians, who seem forever understanding, to declare his inability to carry on based on the physical challenges his present state of health constitute.
The position of NIG is predicated on the seriousness of the President's health challenges, considered so on account of the decision to continue to keep them secret. When the President had hearing infections sometime in 2016, his office was eager to publicize same owing to its not too serious nature, and the relatively limited period of treatment. Given the length the government has gone since December last year to conceal the ailments for which the President had practically become a resident of the UK, it is safe to assume they are serious enough to warrant his exit from office. Though he didn't elaborate, the President himself during the brief return home earlier in the year noted that he had never been so ill all his life. He has since spent close to twice the period he did when he first embarked on treatment. There are no assurances about if and when he is likely to return to full fitness. And assuming he does, as hoped, it is very doubtful if the rigour of office will be compatible with his health management regime.
We have taken note of efforts to find parallels in presidential illnesses in history, notably in the United States where many great leaders like FDR Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon among others had to contend with health challenges while in office. We hasten to say however, not in any of the oft cited instances did the President of the United States become obviously incapacitated for so long a period of time. Obviously, none became so ill that he had to travel thousands of miles away from home in search of healing, and cocooned abroad for a length of time this extended. Americans would obviously have revolted.
The Federal Government has come out to say that the President is not contemplating resignation, as he has not violated any part of the Constitution. Such an argument is hinged on the failure of the nation to address a loophole in the Constitution, in the aftermath of the late President Umaru Musa Yaradua’s episode
Two broad instances are provided for in the Constitution for the removal of the President. One is by the National Assembly commencing an impeachment process, the other is for the Federal Executive Council (FEC), a body of cronies, to declare that the President is incapacitated under section 144.
Section 144 states:
(1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(4) The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.
It is unlikely, no matter how imperative, that the National Assembly or present FEC will rise to the patriotic occasion of invoking this constitutional provisions as is applicable to the President. It is indeed possible to grant that there are many grounds for him in law to continue in office, seeing there is no medical report available for the FEC to deliberate on, or no glaringly impeachable offences likely to pass through the two chambers of the parliament. Yet, this is a test of honor, integrity and patriotism for Mr President.
The argument that all is well because he has handed over power to the Acting President is weak. There is no way the Acting President can function in office maximally without the shadow of the substantive, though incapacitated President looming large over him. He must consider at all times whether a decision about to be taken would sit well with his principal, irk his loyalists, or agree with his thinking, even when the course of action would have been obvious if he was the substantive president. Given the nature of our politics, it is not unlikely that the decisions of the Acting President have to appear first as foremost as those of a loyal deputy not desperate to upstage his principal, even when he has the conviction that such bold decisions are in the interest of the country. For all his efforts at talking tough and making conspicuous appearances to sustain the impression that there is no vacuum created by the president's absence, there is a palpable air of tentativeness about the Acting President that betrays the existential limitations of his current status.
Ultimately, President Buhari needs to ask himself if Nigerians would have entrusted him with the challenging task of leadership if he was in this state before the elections. In the opinion of the NIG, Nigerians would not have voted for a presidential candidate confined abroad for a long period of time in order to undergo intensive treatment for concealed, but nonetheless serious ailments. It is time for him to come clean with Nigerians and seek an understandable departure from office, the allures of power notwithstanding.
For and on behalf of Nigerian Independence Group (NIG)