Nigeria adrift as leader in London for treatment
08 Jun 2017 - 1:12
Lagos: Nigeria, West Africa's economic and military powerhouse, is adrift as President Muhammadu Buhari (pictured) has been in London for medical treatment for a month as of yesterday, worrying many that his undisclosed health problems have left Africa's most populous country without strong direction.
The president's prolonged absence has created "a vacuum," said Dapo Alaba Sobowale, the head of a small IT company in Lagos' sprawling Computer Village, where small shops and vendors line the streets selling mobile phones and computer gadgets.
"A lot of people are relying on him," Sobowale said. He said he isn't bothered about who, exactly, is sitting in office. "I'm bothered about the person being there making the right choices," he said.
Buhari, 74, went on medical leave to the United Kingdom on May 7 for unspecified health problems. He had already been in London for nearly seven weeks earlier this year for treatment. He looked thin and frail when he returned to Nigeria, where he later missed three consecutive weekly Cabinet meetings. On his return, he said he'd never been as sick in his life.
Government officials and Buhari's family have sought to reassure Nigerians who have expressed their worry about his absence on social media under hashtags like #WhereIsBuhari and #MissingPresident.
On Tuesday, Aisha Buhari, the president's wife, said her husband is "recuperating fast" after she returned to Nigeria from visiting him in London. "He thanks Nigerians for their constant prayers for his health & steadfastness in the face of challenges," she tweeted.
Buhari's long absences this year have raised questions over whether the former military leader from northern Nigeria will be able to complete his four-year term that is up in 2019 and kicked off speculation over who might succeed him. This is especially important in Nigeria because an unwritten agreement maintains the presidency should alternate between the Muslim-majority north and Christian-dominated south. Nigeria's 170 million people are almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. Buhari was elected in 2015 after defeating incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, on campaign promises to battle corruption and crack down on Boko Haram extremists in the nation's northeast. Buhari's administration, which marked two years in office on May 29, has a mixed track record of fulfilling those promises, analysts say.
Although the military has dislodged Boko Haram from areas where it had declared a caliphate, Nigeria's homegrown extremists continue to carry out suicide bombings and attacks. A rail-thin Buhari welcomed 82 Chibok schoolgirls who were released by Boko Haram in May after three years in captivity and then he flew to London that night.
This is not the first time Nigeria has experienced an ailing, absent president. In 2010 President Umaru Yar'Adua died after being out of the country for medical treatment for several months.