President Muhammadu Buhari’s 800-metre walk and the Presidency’s claim that the exercise means he’s physically fit to rule for another four years, has raised questions about the President’s health status again, Olalekan Adetayo reports.
Watchers of political events in the country do not need a soothsayer to know that the state of health of President Muhammadu Buhari will be a major campaign issue ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
Buhari’s health issue came up very early in the life of his administration when he started embarking on trips to London, United Kingdom to see his medical doctors.
The 75-year-old Nigerian leader had between February 5 and 10, 2016, less than a year after he took his oath of office, embarked on a six-day vacation to London. Four months later, specifically on June 6, 2016, he embarked on another 10-day vacation to attend to an ear infection.
His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, had explained then that the retired military general was battling with what he called “persistent ear infection.” Buhari returned to Nigeria on June 19, 2016 after spending 14 days in London.
Exactly seven months after, he again left the country on January 19, 2017 on what the Presidency described then as medical vacation.
When the trip was prolonged, presidential aides announced that the President would be staying back in the British capital to enable him to collect results of some medical tests he did. Buhari returned to the country on March 10, 2017 after a 49-day medical sojourn, looking frail. He personally admitted that he had never been that sick in his life.
After missing public events, including three consecutive weekly Federal Executive Council meetings which raised anxiety in the country, Buhari on May 7, 2017 returned to London for medical consultation.
He returned to the country on August 19, 2017. That was after some Nigerians protested both in Abuja and London, demanding that he either returned to the country or resigned.
Although not as bad as that of 2017, Buhari had also at various times this year had causes to travel out of the country to see his doctors many times.
On his way back from Washington D.C where he met the United States President, Donald Trump, in April, the President reportedly seized the opportunity of the technical stop-over for aircraft maintenance in London to meet with his doctor who asked him to return on a later date.
Based on this, Buhari on May 8, 2018 again embarked on another medical trip to the UK. He returned to the country on May 11.
The latest of his London trips was the 10 working days holiday Buhari again embarked upon from August 3, 2018. He remained in London where his doctors are based throughout the vacation. He returned to the warm reception of his supporters and government officials last Saturday.
A school of thought believes that Buhari’s state of health, particularly his frequent absence from the country, has been giving some power brokers popularly referred to in political circle as cabal members the needed tonic to hijack the government and take critical decisions in the President’s name.
The cabal members are probably those the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, referred to when he said some individuals had constituted themselves into “government within government” in the country. The manner in which the former Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Daura, sent officials of the DSS to the National Assembly while Buhari was away without the permission of the then acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, readily comes to mind.
It is therefore understandable that political opponents will want to make political gains from Buhari’s frequent London shuttles.
Taking the lead in this regard is the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal. The governor had last week claimed that Buhari was too old to rule the country beyond 2019.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is just too old to be Nigeria’s leader, despite his integrity and impeccable character…We all know that there is a vacuum in the government occasioned by his indisposition probably because of his old age or health condition. That is why Nigerians are yearning for younger ones to lead this country,” the governor who is believed to be interested in taking over Buhari’s job had said.
Surprisingly, the Presidency did not react formally to Tambuwal’s statement. But an opportunity presented itself on Tuesday not only to react to the governor’s claim but also to prove that the President is fit for second term in office.
After taking part in the Eid-el Kabir prayers at the praying ground in Daura, his hometown, Buhari decided to trek to his private residence. The Presidency put the distance at 800 metres.
The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, saw the “feat” as an opportunity to reply Tambuwal.
“I think the President has done one thing today – that the issue is not how old one is but how fit he is; how healthy he is. Now that the President has proven his fitness and well-being, to continue in office is a settled matter. I think that if people want to campaign against him they should do so on issues that are of significance to Nigerians. The President is fit, he is healthy; he is good to go for second term,” he said.
Casual walking does not translate to medical fitness -NMA boss
Was Shehu right in his submission that the President’s much-publicised 800 metres trek was a proof that he is fit enough to rule for another four years despite his recent health challenges? The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Faduyile, gave a broad medical expert’s opinion on the issue. Faduyile told our correspondent on the telephone that casual walking alone was not enough to declare somebody medically fit.
He said Buhari’s trekking and the translation given to it could however be taken socially to mean that some people believed that the President was too weak to perform such task and he beat their imagination with his performance.
“Casual walking does not translate to medical fitness. There are so many things that are involved in determining the fitness of anybody at any given time. It will be nice for a normal structured medical fitness test to be done for us to be able to declare someone medically fit. However, for social issue, anybody who is walking and is agile could be taken as being fit. If that is what that trekking of 800 metres has done, maybe it can be taken socially. Some people may believe that His Excellency may be too weak to be able to walk for that much and it may be something that beat their imagination that he has walked that distance. But medically, it does not translate to fitness nor does it say he is not fit,” the NMA boss explained.
Nigeria’s problems can’t be solved by trekking skill -Afenifere
The spokesman for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, is also of the view that celebrating a 800-metre walk can be an indication that there is something wrong.
According to Odumakin, the ability to trek is not one of the characteristics of the leader Nigeria needs at the moment. Instead, he said the country was in dire need of a competent person that can fix its many problems.
He said, “When your dad begins to ask you that ‘do you know I am your dad?’ then something is wrong. When anybody has to do 800 metres walk to convince us that he is fit, it is most likely that the person is unfit. Even if we assume that 800 metres walk is a proof that one is fit, what Nigeria needs today is not about 800 metres walk. It is about being mentally fit, intellectually fit and being competent to run the affairs of the country. If trekking is all we need for somebody to rule Nigeria, then we can pick one of the herdsmen taking cows from Maiduguri to Ibadan. They trek thousands of kilometres daily, so it is not about trekking. It is about being able to push the development of Nigeria, it is about fixing the country and putting the country together. It is about putting an end to the ongoing killings, it is about rebooting our economy to create jobs for the unemployed in order to ease the stress in the land. So, if in the midst of all we are as a country, what anybody can flaunt is about walking 800 metres, I think the person has no business in governance at all.”
Nigeria’s Presidency has been trivialised -Adokeme
From the point of view of a public affairs analyst, Chief Chris Adokeme, saying that the President is fit to contest just because he could trek 800 metres is like trivialising the country’s Presidency.
Adokeme, who is the National President of the University of Port Harcourt Alumni Association, told our correspondent that if the objective of the Presidency was to show that Buhari was medically fit, the right thing to do is to produce his medical certificate.
He said, “I do not know what the people who propounded that theory aimed to achieve, but for me, it just goes to show how much the Presidency of this country has been cheapened. The Presidency has been so trivialised and that is the only reason anyone would say because the man was able to trek 800 metres, that makes him fit to contest election. If their objective is to show that our President is medically fit, which I do not doubt, the simple thing to do is to produce his medical certificate. He goes for test regularly abroad, let them show medical evidence to the effect that he is medically fit.
“It doesn’t take all this 800 metres trekking stuff to make that point. The President is not the only one who can trek 800 metres. If that is all it takes, then it means almost everyone in Nigeria will be able to contest Presidency, including those our Constitution says are not qualified to run on the grounds of age. I think people should be more serious about such matters. The Presidency of Nigeria is not a kindergarten affair where you show medical fitness by merely trekking 800 metres. They may have a good point, but they should not spoil their good point with their kindergarten joke.”
The National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Uche Secondus, had in an interview with THE PUNCH said he found the presidential aide’s claim on Buhari’s 800 metres walk as absurd. Secondus wondered why “a mere walk” would become a yardstick to measure performance and readiness to lead a nation as big and as sophisticated as Nigeria.
He said, “When does a mere walk become readiness of someone to lead? Why celebrating a mere walk of 800 metres? Was the President on a wheel chair before? Why treat him like a child who was just learning how to walk? Is Nigeria or are Nigerians looking for walkers to lead them or someone who has the capacity to lead and tackle their problems? Now, is that what Nigeria has become? Just that someone claimed he walked 800 metres, he is good to go. When he was younger about two or three years ago, we saw his capacity. Is it now that he is old, hardly reads and hardly grants interviews that he would do better? No, tell them that what we need is not what he is offering us. Nigerians deserve more and he needs to do more to convince us that he can lead for the next four years.”
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is on the same page with his party’s chairman on the matter. Abubakar, who is a PDP presidential aspirant, said there was a difference between “walk and work.”
He said while he jogs more than a mile during his exercise, it would be too pedestrian of him to ask Nigerians to vote for him because of that.
“I regularly jog more than a mile and exercise, but it will be pedestrian of me to ask Nigerians to vote for me because of that. I want my party – the PDP, and Nigerians, to vote for me because I work not because I walk. I will work to create jobs. I won’t walk to create an illusion.”
As the 2019 general elections draw nearer, more politicians will still come up with more ‘innovations’ aimed at presenting themselves as being ahead of their opponents.
However, only time will tell if such ingenuities will be potent enough to attract more votes for them.