Divided Nigeria on verge of implosion amid Buhari illness

Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari (AP)

By EMEKA OKONKWO
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE deteriorating health of President Muhammadu Buhari has set off an intense jostle for power within Nigeria’s fracturing ruling party and brought to the fore the polarisation of Africa’s most populous country along ethnic and political lines.
This week, panic continued gripping Nigeria after Buhari returned to
United Kingdom to receive further treatment on his recurrent illness.
The 74-year-old previously spent seven weeks in London for treatment of an undisclosed illness but thought to be prostate cancer.
It could not be ascertained how long he will be away, with his office
stating “the length of the President’s stay in London will be determined by the doctors.”
“Government will continue to function normally under the able leadership of the Vice President (Yemi Osinbajo),” said Femi Adesina, presidential spokesperson.
Last week, Buhari missed three cabinet meetings as well as the wedding of his grandson in the north-western Kaduna.
The reaction by the founding National Chairman of Buhari’s All
Progressives Congress, (APC), Basi Akande, highlighted the panic that has gripped the country, divisions within the party, emanating from the thorny relations between Buhari and the senate as well as the ethnic tensions simmering.
“The health of the leader is intricately intertwined with the health of the nation. It is more so in a delicately fragile union of nations called Nigeria,” Akande said.
It is a delicate issue since then-President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office in 2010. He had failed to hand power to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan who would succeed him.
Akande bemoaned the infighting within the ruling party was also taking its toll on Buhari.
“There are two challenges facing the country today,” said Akande.
“The first and most critical is the health of the President which,
unfortunately, is a development beyond his control and for which we did not prepare. The second is the disorder and lack of cohesion between the National Assembly and the Presidency.”
“The greatest danger however is for political interests at the corridor of power attempting to feast on the health of Mr President in a dangerous manner that may aggravate the problems between the executive and national assembly without realizing if, in the end, it could drag the entire country into avoidable doom.”
Akande said the health of Buhari had left the conflict-prone country
“delicately fragile” hence the need to avoid the “ugly consequences” of letting Buhari’s ailments throw Nigeria into “confusion.”
“Those who wish to harvest political gains out of the health of the
President are mistaken. This is not Nigeria of 1993. We are in a new
national and global era of constitutionalism and order.”
In 1993, Moshood Abiola, a southerner, defeated northerner Bashir Tofa military ruler Ibrahim Babangida annulled the polls, leading to a crisis that ended with Sani Abacha heading a coup later in the year.
“If Buhari dies, no-one should dream of scuttling Osinbajo’s succession and thereby deprive the south-west of the Presidency like they did in 1993 when Abiola’s mandate was annulled by the northern military simply because they did not want a southern president,” former minister Femi Fani-Kayode, one of Buhari’s fiercest critics, said.
It is alleged while the constitution stipulates the vice president takes over in the event of the demise or retirement of the head of state, the northerners, the constituency that Buhari represents, within APC plan to scuttle Osinbajo’s ascension. Osinbajo is a southerner from the Lagos State.
The Northern Patriotic Assembly and APC Youth Wing have raised such fears through public statements attacking southerners as Akande for “immoral and despicable statements” that Osinbajo was in line to succeed Buhari in the event of the above scenarios.
Fani-Kayode, who has recently come under criticism for “celebrating” the ill-health of Buhari, accused a “cabal of northerners holding “this poor,frail, sick and elderly man to ransom and keeping him in the Presidential Villa, probably against his will.”
Sources disclosed so-called loyalists, afraid of losing influence of
power, asked Buhari to treat himself in Nigeria while Osinbajo performed minimal tasks.
“It is incontrovertible that those around him have held him captive and are indulging in what I once described in an essay that I wrote seven years during the last days of President Yar’adua as ‘corpsocracy’, said Fani-Kayode.
“Everything is coming to a head. The next few months will be instructive and critical and much will happen that will surprise and shock the world and the Nigerian people.”
Meanwhile, two key events in the past week added to the tension afflicting Nigeria since Buhari’s health woes.
The week coincided with the seventh-year anniversary of Yar’adua.
Jonathan paid tribute to Yar’adua.
Jonathan’s remembrance came even as Buhari, who is from the northern
Katsina, the same state Yar’Adua hailed from, battled ill-health.
Highlighting the polarisation, Jonathan made no mention of Buhari when many thought he would use this as an opportunity to wish him well.
There was also a meeting of former military rulers- Ibrahim Babangida,Abdul Salami Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo- in the central Niger State, purportedly to discuss issues affecting the country.
Buhari is ironically a former military ruler but was democratically
elected in 2015 as head of Africa’s most populous country of over 180
million people.
A coalition of political organisations aligned to Buhari’s party slammed the former autocratic leaders for the meeting.
“We wonder what positive ideas of democracy, development and progress that must have motivated these three ex dictators to rub minds now in our political life,” said Nelson Ekujumi, June 12 Coalition of Democratic Formations (J12CODEF) general secretary.
Lagos-based analyst, Olalekan Adigun, however saw nothing amiss with the retired generals meeting.
He said Nigeria had a constitutionally established Council of State which comprised all former presidents, sitting governors and Attorneys-General to advice the President on regular basis.
“There is nothing really unusual about the meeting between the former
presidents. If they advise Buhari to resign due to his poor health, it is left for the president to take or not to take their advice,” stated Adigun.
He allayed fears of a so-called power vacuum as exaggerated by the media and opposition.
“When the president is indisposed, the vice president performs his
functions as long as he is still alive. Don’t forget, of the 45 United States presidents, eight have died in office. Out of these, four died of natural causes. None resigned due to poor health because nothing in the constitution says so. It’s the same thing for Nigeria,” Adigun argued.
“It is understandable for people to play politics with the president’s health. In Nigeria, everything seems to be politics, including something as petty as Jollof Rice.”
Speaking in Lagos, Osinbajo called on citizens to remain patient in the face of the current hardships.
“I can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Buhari’s deputy said.
– CAJ News

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