By Abimbola Adelakun
President Muhammadu Buhari is once again on medical tourism to the United Kingdom. According to media reports, the number of days Buhari has been absent from his duty post for medical reasons has now surpassed the record of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Buhari has been in office for three years, but he has been on medical tourism for up to six months. From the time he stepped out in June 2016 to ostensibly treat an ear infection in Germany, Buhari has gradually abandoned pretences that he is a healthy man who is only dealing with minor human frailties. Now, we know the man is unwell. The tense question everybody seems to be avoiding – and understandably so too due to cultural reasons – is, what if he dies?
I know Buhari apologists reading this are already listing their rehearsed line of defences: life belongs to God; nobody can say whose turn it is; death is an inevitable biological reality; age, sickness, and death are not necessarily coterminous; it is immoral and irreverent to talk about the death of someone still living; Buhari was hospitalised for a prolonged time last year, and he recovered, etc. Some of his most zealous followers even add that nobody in this world is more qualified to be the President of Nigeria till 2023 than he is. They urge us to overlook his health issues and focus on whatever they think his administration has managed to achieve. While I do not personally wish anyone dead (partly because it is pointless), we should not avoid a deliberation of what is at stake if anything happens to Buhari.
We cannot ignore the fact that Buhari has one of the most fanatical sets of followers in the world. They are so enamoured of the Buhari mystique they take him to be a god. Like all gods, they do not think he can succumb to the vagaries of the flesh. They think the man is superhuman and their minds are the shrine where he is worshipped in a manner befitting a deity. Remember there was a time they invented stories of how his body language was healing all of Nigeria’s maladies, ranging from corruption to power failure? Even now that their grounded feet are yielding to the vertigo of reality, they still have not let go of the myths about Buhari’s abilities. They continue to imagine Buhari their god can indeed transcend human limitations. They believe that things fell apart in Nigeria, not because the hyped Buhari mystique is incompetent to fulfil its extravagant promises, but because corruption fought back. They are content to fashion simplistic and reductionistic answers to complex problems.
They are the reason Nigeria needs to be extra wary. If anything ever happens to Buhari, these people could raze Nigeria to ashes and needlessly sacrifice innocent lives over nothing. This is not mere conjecture; we saw it happen in 2011. When Buhari lost the presidential election, his followers did not think he deserved to lose, and they went on the rampage for days. They were aggrieved. They killed, they stole, they destroyed. They let loose their murderous maniac upon people who had nothing to do with Buhari’s electoral loss. They imagined the Presidency was a throne, and Buhari a divinely appointed monarch. The democratic rights of others, they surmised, should not prevent his reign. According to a human rights organisation, about 1,000 lives were killed during that conflict. While the killings were going on, Buhari himself retreated into his shell, sulky and adamant that they robbed him of the Presidency. He refused to caution his supporters and waited for a public outcry to be unleashed against him before he finally disowned the rioters. In his mind, Buhari probably thought the carnage was warranted. When he would later speak about the electoral crisis in Nigeria, it was to warn us about baboons and monkeys that would be soaked in blood. He sounded as unrepentant as ever. Those unfortunate lives were collateral damage and barely merited his empathy. For that man, ambition is everything even if it comes at the cost of human lives.
Since Buhari started going to the UK on medical holiday, he has hardly addressed the issue of his health. On one occasion though, he did admit that he was sicker than he had ever been in his life. And that admission must have been a slip because his aides had spent weeks fibbing about the man’s true health conditions. When he rushed home from a prolonged medical vacation in 2017 because he feared the pro-Biafran protesters would break up the country, he did not speak on what took him away for so long. He could have used the opportunity to inform people he was unwell and that his condition is natural but that would detract from his myth. If anything ever happens to him, his uninformed followers, and innumerable they are, will throw a fit because they will assume the southerners killed him. They will imagine they got rid of him because he is honest, and because he stopped corrupt people from turning Nigeria into a feeding trough.
Buhari’s popularity among his talakawa crowd is as strong as ever. At every rally he has had in recent times, they dutifully assemble in their mammoth numbers, their spectacular presence a major middle finger to critics of Buhari’s incompetence. No matter how simple-minded those followers might be, they can still read meanings into the Nigerian political drama. They are aware that without Buhari, the All Progressives Congress would never have smelt the Presidency. If he embarks on a gruelling re-election campaign schedule in 2019 and gets exhausted by the demands of his job, they will not let him take responsibility for his choices like an adult. They will blame the APC for using him and his huge following to win the election. They will suspect that the whole “Sai Baba” movement in the South-West was not borne out of sincerity but a mere ploy to return power to the South-West. Anyone who has seen the murderous rage of these people when their religion was supposedly desecrated will not toy with the death of someone they adore with relish. Buhari is aware of the following he has and the threat they constitute. The danger is unspoken but that does not make it unreal.
We should not assume that their rage will be confined to the northern region where Buhari is most popular. No. For daring to speak against Buhari in Wuse Market in the Federal Capital Territory, Charly Boy was nearly lynched by Buhari’s supporters. That should tell us these people have no sense of limits. They are too zealous in their affection for Buhari to be restrained by the tenets of democracy that grant all of us the equal right to speak against our leaders and the conditions in which they oppress us. Charly Boy did not go into their houses to complain about Buhari; his campaign was in a public square, and he was well within his rights as a Nigerian citizen. It is in this same country that a man, Joachim Iroko, was attacked by Buhari’s supporters because he named his dog “Buhari.” That one happened in Sango-Ota, Ogun State. Nobody should underestimate what his adorable followers are capable of, and that is why his health issue needs to be taken seriously. If the APC has not raised it with him till now, they should tell him that he cannot afford to be sneaky about his condition. He needs to be selfless and consider the possibility that the stress of governance and re-election, coupled with his old age will take its toll at some point. They should raise the possibility of him retiring and going home to nurse his dignity. If he genuinely loves Nigeria, he should not leave us with more problems than what we already battle. There is too much bloodshed in Nigeria as it is, and our security apparatus can barely contain them. If his followers could destroy so many lives in 2011 over an electoral loss, I shudder to think what they will do if anything happens to him.
Abimbola Adelakun is a journalist with the Punch