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Having gone to London to watch the crowning of England’s King Charles III earlier this month, a friend joked last week, President Muhammadu Buhari extended his stay so his dentist could crown his teeth. That was how he read the line from the presidency that the General Buhari had stayed back in London for a dental procedure. 10 days before the end of his presidency, on his return to Nigeria, Buhari commissioned the Presidential Wing of the State House Medical Centre (SHMC). Estimated to have cost N21 billion, this project provides an insight into the mindsets of Nigeria’s higher-ups.
By 2020, the SHMC was reputed to cater for over 32,000 people annually but
chose to relieve their pain by announcing that the bodies of their loved ones have been deposited in or moved from the temporary morgue of the Clinic. For the most part, many believed – not without good reason – that the role of the clinic was to hasten the passage of those who used it to the mortuary.
Yet, this Clinic was one of the better funded medical units in the country. In the four years preceding 2020, it reportedly received average annual appropriations of more than N2.5 billion or a cumulative appropriation of over N10 billion. However, the president and his family and staff for whom it was designed were more comfortable getting their medical needs fulfilled outside Nigeria.
No one will ever fully know how much time President Buhari spent with doctors during his eight years in the presidential villa. By November 2022, one count reported that he had spent at least 237 days of his presidency with doctors outside the country. By the penultimate week of his presidency, the count was 250 days. These numbers are floors, not the ceilings. Tired of the public carping from disaffected Nigerians about his hypocrisy on medical tourism, it seems certain that Buhari’s handlers occasionally dressed up his medical jaunts overseas in a bodyguard of misrepresentation.
Underlying this approach to their management of the relationship between the president and the country was the philosophy, laid bare by Garba Shehu, speaking for the presidency in April 2019, that the president “can rule from anywhere in the world.” One decade earlier, in the middle of December 2009, then Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), first claimed this prerogative of a presidency-at-large on behalf of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, whom, we now know, was battling for his life at the time and probably lacked any awareness that his presidency was in the hands of unknown persons. It is entirely coincidental that Yar’Adua and Buhari come from the same Local Government Area in Katsina State.
In the period since Aondoakaa made that claim, Nigeria appears to have evolved a brew of sovereign mendacity in the service of state capture as a unique doctrine of state-craft.
In the week that Buhari was busy attending to his mandibles in London, his chosen successor was reportedly busy in Paris attracting foreign investors to Nigeria. In the period since the Professor of History at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the person he would prefer as Nigeria’s next president, the designated successor has mostly been overseas.
20 days after the announcement of the result of the presidential election, he flew out of Nigeria on 21 March, supposedly to perform the Lesser Hajj in the Muslim Holy Lands, returning 35 days later on 24 April. 16 days thereafter, on 10 May, he left again, this time it was said, to “woo investors” to Nigeria for ten days. It goes without saying that for many people, this claim tasked credulity. For every day he has spent in the country, since being announced as Nigeria’s next president, President Buhari’s chosen successor has spent at least one-and-a-half days outside.
Understandably, keen to inoculate his principal against what could be read as a familiar pattern of a ghost presidency, his spokesperson, Bayo Onanuga, explained that he traveled only to avoid pressure and distraction, reminding us, however, t
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