90 Days Later: Details Of The Difficult New Struggle To Bring Buhari Back To Nigeria
In recent weeks, the cabal around Mr. Buhari has used a flurry of well-orchestrated visits to the ailing president by political personages to sell a narrative of “miraculous recovery.” But such rosy impressions are belied by a palpable deterioration in President Buhari’s health, according to accounts offered by a few sources knowledgeable about the Nigerian leader’s condition.
President Buhari abruptly left Nigeria for the UK on May 7, 2017, arriving at Luton airport in London. He immediately proceeded to a London hospital where treatment had been set up prior to his arrival, said one of our sources. According to that source, Mr. Buhari’s initial treatment was so grueling that it left him devastated and weak, with severe difficulty speaking and eating.
For weeks after his arrival in the UK, no political figure in Abuja heard from Mr. Buhari either in person or via phone calls. In fact, for some time his aides with direct access to him were reduced to just two, while the remainder of the retinue that traveled with him was left in hotels in London, kept in the dark about his health condition.
The prolonged period during which Mr. Buhari was incommunicado fueled rumors that he was completely incapacitated. Some members of the cabal around him, as well as his wife, traveled to London in search of the president, but mostly came back empty-handed.
The spell was somewhat broken in late June when Mr. Buhari’s aides released an audio recording of his Sallah greetings to Muslims celebrating Eid-el-Fitr. The president’s message, spoken in a weary voice in Hausa, immediately drew criticism from Nigerians who pointed to the fact that the message seemed to ignore the significant portion of non-Hausa speaking Muslims in Nigeria.
Mr. Buhari’s sign of life in his Sallah message seemed to energize members of his cabal to start envisioning a future past his presidency. In Saudi Arabia, a major player among the cabal, Isa Funtua, met with numerous political players, including Senate President Bukola Saraki, whom he designated as the arrowhead of a post-Buhari power arrangement.
A source familiar with that meeting disclosed that Mr. Funtua proposed that, even if Buhari were in a vegetative state, acting President Yemi Osinbajo should be barred from becoming the substantive president. His fear was that an Osinbajo presidency would alter the power equation for members of the cabal who believe that power should remain in the north for eight years. Mr. Funtua reportedly reminded the audience in Saudi Arabia that the last time an apparently “soft” southerner, Goodluck Jonathan, was given power, he used state resources “to marginalize the north.”
He described Mr. Osinbajo as politically “stronger” and “wiser” than Mr. Jonathan, especially because of his godfather, former Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu, whom he suggested should be completely neutralized because he was too ambitious and politically strategic.
In a slight deviation from the Funtua plan, the other half of the cabal led by the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, was devising another agenda. The Kyari group would be open to extracting a resignation letter from Mr. Buhari and accept Mr. Osinbajo’s assumption of full presidential powers if the current acting President would agree to pick Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as his Vice President.
However, a snag to the plan was that Mr. Malami and Mr. Osinbajo have pretty much parted ways. Acting President Osinbajo has been directly coordinating justice-related matters, even convening meetings related to the national prosecution committee behind Mr. Malami’s back.
While the cabal’s jostling was going on, Mrs. Buhari traveled to London to see her ailing husband. A diplomat source said the First Lady rented an apartment in London away from the “Abuja House” residence where her husband stays.
SaharaReporters learned that three or four days after her arrival in London, Mrs. Buhari was told to join her husband for dinner. The meeting turned out heartwarming as Mr. Buhari reportedly managed to speak and to sit to eat with her. After subsequently spending more time with her husband, Mrs. Buhari told other family members that he was making “a miraculous recovery.” She then wrote Facebook updates warning the “jackals and hyenas” based in Abuja that the “King of the Animal Kingdom” would soon return and send them packing.
The same day, the president’s daughter, Zarah, took to Twitter to claim that her father was in great shape.
A few days later, acting President Osinbajo snuck out of Abuja for a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Buhari. On his return, he asserted that Mr. Buhari was in great shape, was recovering quite fast and would soon be back.
Despite those inflated claims, SaharaReporters learned that the cabal was not quite satisfied with Mr. Osinbajo’s body language as he relayed the message to Nigerians. Some cabal insiders alleged that the acting President’s close aides had leaked information to the media, especially SaharaReporters, that Mr. Buhari was far from a picture of great shape.
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Osinbajo encountered a highly emaciated and feeble Buhari who could not speak coherently. It was no surprise that the acting President did not bring back with him any audio, video or photo of the meeting.
On July 23, 2017, a few days after Osibanjo returned, the cabal arranged a visit by handpicked party leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Led by Odigie Oyegun, the visiting party included some governors and ministers. The meeting managed to produce a single photo showing Buhari sitting at the edge of the table, but without partaking in the feast.
The single photo perhaps caused greater harm than was anticipated.
Almost immediately, an announcement was made that seven governors of the APC as well as others handpicked from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were to visit Mr. Buhari in London on July 26, 2017. Led by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, the governors gushed about Mr. Buhari’s recovery. They also claimed that their meeting with him lasted almost an hour and that the president discussed issues of national importance, a ploy to give the impression that he was closely monitoring events at home.
A bunch of photographs showed Mr. Buhari smiling. Even so, no single video or audio was presented to Nigerians from all the visits. Nor could any of the visitors tell when Mr. Buhari would return home.
Saharareporters also learned former President Olusegun Obasanjo also visited Buhari in London in the company of former Osun state, Gov. Olagunsoye Oyinlola, although Obasanjo is yet to make a public pronouncement on the trip.
Several sources told SaharaReporters that the highly publicized visits were designed to create the appearance that Mr. Buhari was regaining his health and was prepared to resume in office.
Yet, our sources revealed that Mr. Buhari’s ability to receive visitors was no indication of improved health, but came after his completion of a course of treatment that lasted three months. According to the source, since the completion of that course of treatment, Mr. Buhari occasionally enjoys momentary relief. “He can see people and sit for a little bit of time, but that does not mean he is healed as his doctors are yet to conclude that he is free of the disease afflicting him,” one of the sources said. They added that the President had not regained his health and had lost so much weight that he is “padded” just before his meetings with governors and politicians.
According to the source, members of the cabal around Mr. Buhari were once again pressuring him to return to Nigeria, his frail health notwithstanding. Should the cabal win out again, they would simply use the president’s presence as a ruse to manipulate policies and politics to serve their individual interests.
The president’s doctors appear to have a different agenda. One of our sources stated there was no plan by Mr. Buhari’s doctors to let him travel to Nigeria in the near future.
“They [doctors] have asked that Mr. President should stay in the UK for another period of monitoring and round of treatment that could last weeks if not months.”
SaharaReporters had revealed that the cabal behind Mr. Buhari was considering claiming that the president was embarking on his vacation after close to three months of treatment during this particular trip. Prior to the current medical trip, President Buhari had spent close to 50 days in London between December and February.
One of our sources, briefed by one of the governors who recently saw Mr. Buhari, revealed that the ailing president “is only okay a few hours some days. And it takes a lot of work to prepare him for meeting people.”
Another source drew attention to Mr. Buhari’s look during his recent meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, adding that the president seemed a shadow of his former self.
One source said Mrs. Buhari had earlier been told her husband would be able to return with her to Nigeria last Wednesday, only to find out he was in no shape for the trip. She quietly left London alone and appeared in Imo State last Thursday for an event.
Placed in a desperate situation, the cabal has claimed that Mr. Buhari was waiting to regain some weight before returning to resume work. But after two previous occasions when the president was hurriedly flown into Nigeria, only to return to the UK for urgent care, there appears to be a sobering sense among some members of the cabal that their incessant game may be losing its efficacy. According to one source, “The only people who can give a trustworthy update on President Buhari’s real health status are his doctors, not politicians.”
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