There’s a chance that President Muhammadu Buhari would have come back to Nigeria by the time you read this column, but the fact that he had twice postponed his return date encourages one conclusion: that the man is really, really sick. So here’s a humane proposal for the president: consider handing in your resignation letter.
I’m aware that some Nigerians still consider Mr. Buhari essential, if not indispensable, to our country’s prospect of rebirth. To these, a suggestion that the man ought to quit office must sound heretical—indeed seem like a prescription with a dollop of ghastly mischief. But such people are grandly deluded. Concrete ideas, not the cult of any particular personality, are best for a polity in need of ethical rejuvenation. And two years of Mr. Buhari’s tenure as president are adequate to demonstrate his paucity of ideas.
In place of robust and organic ideas for transforming Nigeria, he has merely offered us the pabulum that his reputation and goodwill are enough.
That idea, of the transformative power of President Buhari’s supposed moral gravitas, is hollow. What significant transformation have Nigerians witnessed, in any sector of their life, in the two years of Buhari’s presidency? The so-called war on corruption, Mr. Buhari’s best calling card, has failed to achieve the conviction of one significant political figure from the recent past.
After all the public drama of Dasukigate, what is the status of the case against former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki? If Mr. Buhari’s government has not been able to prosecute Mr. Dasuki to date, is there much hope of his administration making a noticeable dent in the war against corruption via prosecutorial means? I don’t think so.
Worse, Mr. Buhari’s much-vaunted crusade against graft has neither dampened nor discouraged the appetite for corruption in Nigeria. Police and customs officers still farm out on the road and extort bribes from hapless commuters and traders. Under Mr. Buhari’s watch, the Central Bank of Nigeria and other agencies corruptly handed out jobs to children and wards of the most privileged. Elections are still fraught with fraud, with the police and army rolled out to serve the ruling party’s partisan interests. Judicial processes operate at snail-speed; lawyers and judges collude in using incessant adjournments to derail justice. Mr. Buhari has done little more than yawn when political appointees close to him have been accused of corrupt acts.
If the Buhari brand ever represented antipathy to corruption, that image is now profoundly tarnished. At its core, corruption in Nigeria remains as vibrant and resilient as ever. If there’s a scaling back in levels of embezzlement, it owes less to the Buhari effect than to the significant decline in oil revenues.
As I have argued before, a government that disdains judicial orders, that turns the military on unarmed civilians, whether Shiites or Biafran agitators, is engaged in egregious acts of corruption.
The case for President Buhari’s resignation is unassailable. Any seriously sick president deserves the time and space to focus on his health. He can hardly do so while shouldering the burden of running a complex and beleaguered country. Besides, Nigeria is beset by grave crises that appear to worsen by the day. Nigerians deserve a leader at the height of mental and physical fitness, a president endowed with the agility and energy to wrestle with his country’s deep-rooted problems.
The trouble is not just that Mr. Buhari is enfeebled by age and illness. The greater issue is that he presides over a country that is manifestly sicker than he. The idea that an ailing man can effectively mind the business of a more seriously sick country is, quite simply, absurd. Should anybody doubt the graveness of Nigeria’s sickness, the fact of President Buhari’s prolonged medical trip to Britain should settle the matter.
Consider the facts for a moment. Mr. Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and all employees at Aso Rock enjoy the most generously funded health facility within the Nigerian space. On February 2, 2016, Premium Times reported that the Presidency’s clinic “will get N787 million more in capital allocation than all the 16 teaching hospitals combined.”
According to the report, the “State House Medical Center is a facility that provides healthcare for President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and other employees of the Presidency, all possibly less than a thousand.
“Federal teaching hospitals cater for the heath needs of millions of Nigerians, train medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation while also serving as top medical research centers.
“A breakdown of the 2016 Appropriation Bill shows that a total of N3.87 billion has been allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic.” That allocation, I emphasize, exceeded the budget for the country’s 16 teaching hospitals.
In June 2016, Mr. Buhari hopped off to Britain to be treated for an ear infection. On this, his latest medical excursion to London, neither he nor his aides specified the nature of his malaise. Instead, his trip was portrayed as a vacation during which the president was to undergo “routine medical checkup.” Mr. Buhari wrote to tell the Senate, in foggy phraseology, that he was extending his stay in the UK “until the doctors are satisfied that certain factors are ruled out.”
The doleful implication should not be lost on anyone. The best-funded clinic in Nigeria does not suffice to treat the president’s ear infection. Nor does the president have enough confidence in the same clinic to do his “routine checkups” there. Imagine, then, the fate of Nigerians who have no choice, but must seek treatment at the ill-equipped, wretchedly funded hospitals in our country. Are these Nigerians not simply woebegone, bereft of hope?
Let’s be fair: President Buhari is no sole author of the mess that is Nigeria. But let’s be honest: he has contributed, quite richly, to the creation of that mess. He has been a player as a military and civilian ruler. There is no evidence in his public career that he paid attention to bringing about a sound healthcare system for Nigerians. Instead, he has been content to travel to the UK for the kind of healthcare that he and his fellow cast of misrulers should have envisioned for all Nigerians.
The management of a country’s affairs should never be a part-time task. Even the most stable and developed nations require vigilant leadership. Nigeria, with its broken educational system, non-existent healthcare policy, terrible roads, shameful power supply etc, can ill afford a leader who, frequently, must choose between attending to his private headache or his country’s.
It makes eminent sense that Mr. Buhari resign in order to look after his frail health. Nigeria should be in the hands of a leader who shows no sign of physical or mental debilitation.
If this would serve as encouragement to do the right thing, I’d support giving Mr. Buhari a gift that he—like other former rulers of Nigeria—has not earned. I would propose that the Nigerian people continue to pick up his healthcare bills after his resignation. But acting President Osinbajo should begin, immediately, to outline a viable healthcare system for Nigerians. It should be designed for humans, a humane replacement for the current morass whereby Nigerians see hospitals as hopeless locations where they are condemned to suffer and die needlessly.
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