Before Buhari becomes absentee president

A storm still raging over President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent trips abroad is understandable given that reasons for the trips are most times hazy and the presidency seems unable to understand the power of full disclosure about a leader’s movements in and out of the country. Besides, the president’s men and official reputation managers  need to deepen their understanding that as long as they continue to claim that the president’s regular trips to the United Kingdom are private, they will continue to get citizen’s questions on the curious trips at this time. Yes, the times that the country is in dire straits on all fronts, the president ought to be on his seat to work on the critical challenges.

People are quite concerned about the wobbly economy, social disharmony, insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. People are struggling with failed critical infrastructure, notably dilapidated roads all over the vast country and energy crisis. There are other critical challenges plaguing the country that need urgent attention of the president. These problems cannot be tackled by an absentee president.

Strangely, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who should act while the President is away, seems to be floating with no authority to do anything other than ceremonial representations. Buhari did not hand over power to him temporarily as his deputy. And there has been time-wasting debate about the legality of that action since the trip to the United Kingdom this time will be less than 21 days. Yet the combined effects of the official trip to Saudi Arabia where he travelled to the UK will be more than 21. Is the issue more legal than moral at this time?

The debate now should be about the country that is left in a pitiful state. The age-long over-concentration of power in the president in our curious unitary system means that nothing works in his absence.

How long is Nigeria going to remain in limbo, without direction with nobody in-charge? Buhari’s latest trip purportedly on a “private” visit to the UK without disclosing the purpose has further elicited this distracting controversy. The President has been in the habit of jetting out at will and leaving Nigerians in the dark especially about his health condition.

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Anyone can take ill but it sparks off a furious debacle anytime the president travels for undisclosed reasons. The suspicion that Buhari has gone for yet another medical treatment is unwarranted. The President would not have been travelling abroad for routine medicare if Nigeria’s healthcare system were developed as those in other developed countries he visits. Ours is an embarrassing situation that demands urgent attention.

The origin of this controversy: The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in a statement, said President Buhari would on Saturday November 2, 2019, proceed to the United Kingdom on a private visit and expected to return on November 17, 2019. That is 15 days out of the country. Meanwhile, the president left the country on another official trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to attend the Economic Forum of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. On the sidelines of the event, Buhari was billed to hold talks with His Majesty King Salman and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Since he assumed power on May 29, 2015, the President has been mired in controversies over his frequent trips that often lump official trips with vacation and private visits that turned out to be medical treatment without full disclosures.

For instance, on June 6, 2016, Buhari left Nigeria for his first medical vacation. He took a 10-day trip to London and extended the mission by three days for “more rest” and returned on June 19, 2016.

Again on January 19, 2017, Buhari travelled to the UK on medical leave and returned March 10, after spending 51 days out of the country. Forty days after May 8, Buhari travelled to the UK yet again for medical attention and remained there till August 19, 2017. Of recent, Buhari has demonstrated, through his ceaseless foreign trips that he is more comfortable abroad than staying at home to face the crisis of governance.

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Short of governing Nigeria from abroad, as the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole justified that he could do, Buhari has reportedly spent no fewer than 404 days outside the country since he was elected as the President of Nigeria in 2015. This amounts to one full year and 39 days in 33 countries according to reports.

Over 240 of these days were spent in the United Kingdom while the rest were spent in Saudi Arabia and other countries. Specifically, Buhari has visited the United States for a total of 41 days. He also attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 70th, 71st, 72ndand 73rdsessions in New York. The globetrotting has taken Buhari to Chad, France, Turkey, China, Poland, India, Jordan, South Africa, Malta, United Arab Emirates, Ghana and Morocco. Others are the Gambia, Niger Republic, Qatar, Sudan, Togo, Ivory Coast, Germany, Senegal, Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya just in first three years as president.

At this rate, by May 29, 2023, when Buhari’s term would end, he would have visited over half the countries of the world for no solid economic development reasons for the country.

When does Buhari have the time to do the job he is elected to do? Of what benefits are these trips to Nigeria? How many times has the U.S. President Donald Trump or any other leader from the developed world travelled out of their countries? It could be said that even the little time Buhari spends in the country is used in planning for the next trip rather than focusing on governance. That explains why the country is in a sordid state.

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It is unfortunate that Adams Oshiomhole is defending the indefensible by arguing that Buhari could govern the country from anywhere. That is a fallacy. The constitution is clear on what the president should do when he travels.

Using Obasanjo’s immodest conduct as a model for Buhari or any other president is disingenuous. As a former Labour leader, Oshiomhole should show patriotism by encouraging the president to limit his trips instead of insulting the people.

He should be in the forefront of pushing for the establishment of state-of-the-art medical facilities in the country to curb medical tourism that costs huge foreign exchange.

We are talking of cutting the cost of governance. How can that be achieved when our leaders have refused to do the needful at home by equipping our decrepit health facilities? A combination of factors interplay to force people to seek medical attention abroad. Among them are epileptic power supply, poor attitude to work by the medical personnel, leading, sometimes to negligence, wrong diagnosis, lack of critical equipment, out-of-stock syndrome of prescribed medication, poorly motivated medical personnel, frequent strikes by different healthcare groups, etc.

Consequently, a lot of medical cases have been mismanaged due to one problem or the other. Once the hospitals are equipped, at least one reason for seeking medical treatment abroad would have been closed for good. It is not a good commentary on Buhari’s presidency that he will end his tenure in 2023 without handing over some good hospitals to his successor. In the main, our president should listen to the people and stay at home to do the job the people elected him to do.

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