Making Sense of Adegboruwa’s ‘Buhari is Sick’ Statement
A statement asserting that the president of Nigeria is so sick as for his job to have been taken over by a cabal is bound to be a stress baggage in a conflicted Nigeria. In a cultural cum religious set up which likens being confirmed to have an affliction to a scandal, Ebun Adegboruwa, the Lagos lawyer’s statement yesterday to that effect regarding President Buhari is a certain invitation to controversy. Two, if late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness and death is anything to go by, then it could be another chaos in the horizon because Nigeria works on differential menu in protocols of managing the modern government. Three, the moral problem of a cabal exercising power has its own legitimacy baggage that would make the issue stressful for the polity. Lastly, the issue at stake is controversy itself, especially in a country in which every other issue turns into a controversy.
The issue at stake is not whether the president is sick or not. Very few persons are medically intact at the age of 70 plus. Most presidents and people in power successfully keep their health problems away from the public. The substantive issue is being sick to the point that a cabal has taken over his job. The knotty issue here is how a cabalistic seizure of power might be proved? How would incapacitation be proved as long as the president shows up, still manages to receive visitors and travels, no matter how infrequently? The constitutional processes for establishing incapacitation are vested in the National Assembly. Can and would the National Assembly as presently constituted embark on that process? So, from whichever angle this is looked at, it could be chaos on the horizon.
But, whether Nigeria manages this well or badly, the point in that statement is the anti-climax it represents. For someone who cried for Nigeria in 2011, thereby suggesting that Nigeria and Nigerians do not want a good leader, that statement is an anti-climax. In other words, that statement is much less about Buhari’s actual or perceived sickness but a continuation of the criticism and opposition of the Buhari paradigm of power.
Buhari has been criticised from many angles since May 2015 when he took over. An analysis claiming a critical berth may summarise these criticism as follows. One is the crisis of clarity. Buhari has been inferred to be the Awolowo of the North – tough, rigid but systematic. Hence, the shocker it was for Buhari to get another opportunity to rule but without arriving Abuja waving any strategy document that sets out in an unambiguous manner what he seeks to achieve and how he would do that. There was nothing more than a checklist of security, economy and corruption. By the time he eventually appeared to regain his balance by making a much more fundamental statement when he told Aljazeera that there was nothing wrong in going against the IMF, he was already implementing electricity tariff hike of 45% at a go and later on, removed fuel subsidy at a percentage never attempted in Nigeria. Critics took this as showing most clearly a crisis of clarity in development strategy. Not surprisingly, he ended joining some of his critics in reducing the Nigerian economic crisis to a matter of foreign exchange management whereas the crisis is a much deeper one, some aspects of which he confronted in 1983. This is what many would consider the first and the core tragedy because it explains all others. Imagine today that the Buhari regime were doing anything similar to what President Lula was doing in Brazil a decade ago, would any claim about his being sick rouse anyone?
Second is his war against corruption that is obviously popular across social classes but whose dialectic has stalled it right under the very eyes and ears of the president. The claim that such are manifestations of ‘corruption fighting back’ has now turned the question to that of which corruption? Is it corruption within or without the Presidency? The argument is that anybody who understands the political economy of corruption would know that unless it was anchored on an elite pact on fighting corruption or on popular action of some sort, a war on corruption in Nigeria would be deadlocked. Tragically, Buhari came into the war with just moral indignation. Some people say it is the sickness of Messianism while others argue that it is politics of enemy targeting. If the charge of Messianism and/or enemy targeting holds, then lack of smartness is part of Buhari’s problems. In other words, attempting to fight corruption in a country in which corruption is as entrenched as Nigeria with no weapons beyond his own anger and moral indignation is considered lack of smartness. Now, he finds himself with the embarrassment of having to sack some of his immediate aides before the anti-corruption war could regain any credibility. Imagine that the president had a popularly understood development strategy into which recovered loots were channelled, would a statement talking about his incapacitation make any difference? Adegboruwa’s letter is not much different from Fayose’s advertorial that the president might die in office because he is sick. But the president still went on to win the election. Now, the meaning of a fairly similar assertion has changed.
Finally, this! At the Arewa House Workshop on the ‘State of the Nation: The Way Forward’ in Kaduna in 1994, Buhari’s analysis of the crisis can be summarised by this quotation from his speech as the Chairman of the occasion. Recall that the workshop in question was where Obasanjo roasted Abacha in a speech that many said laid the foundation for his subsequent imprisonment. Buhari said then that “The unlimited capacity of the Nigerian to endure hardship, injustice, inept and corrupt leadership still held up to a point, when all values that were once safe, sane and sacred were destroyed. There was no moral authority and it seemed the centre could not hold. The country was faced with chaos and disintegration, not out of anything new but as an inevitable consequence of the destruction of major national institutions – military, political, traditional or religious. Yet, the government manipulated the situation and deliberately diverted the tension into regional, ethnic and religious fault lines”. This is a statement many would argue can also be made about the Buhari regime with some editing, particularly the first and the last lines.
Weakened by a combination of these three main crisis points and their consequences, especially as it relates to the degree of hardship, any stone thrown at the regime seems to carry weight. It is in this background that Adegboruwa’s assertion would find strength more than the president’s incapacitation and cabalistic entrapment. Cabals are the reality of (political) life. Some are sinister while some are not. It is difficult to prove cabalistic entrapment. In fact, according to the late Professor Sam Aluko, Abuja (by which he meant presidential power in Nigeria) works in terms of the ‘Government of the Day’ and the ‘Government of the Night’. He told journalists in Bayero University, Kano in 1995 that the ‘Government of the Night’ is always more powerful than the ‘Government of the Day’.
The ‘Government of the Night’ was his own conceptualisation of the informal processes through which influence, pressures and similar means are piled on power and how these informal processes do overwrite the formal processes regarding how power works. That is the formal processes as set out or as clearly defined in the relevant institutional documents to that effect. Because the sources from which these informal inputs come can only access the power holder informally, mostly at home after the office hours, it takes place mostly in the night when brothers, sisters, in-laws, old school mates and close friends converge. As these inputs cannot be scrutinised by bureaucratic staff but communicated directly to the power holder, the government of the night is feared although it is not necessarily sinister even as it is not free of that, particularly where mafia bosses are neck deep into power. Compared with the ‘Government of the Day’, it could be even more helpful in terms of sentiments from those who can never access power. But it can work both ways.
In a different newspaper interview, Professor Aluko spoke of how Abacha called him one day to laud his capacity for hard work and to announce his determination to create Ekiti State just because of him. When the Prof told Abacha not to create Ekiti because of him but give a thought to an older and a stronger case for a state in the South West, Abacha said he would not. According to Aluko, Abacha said NADECO could create that state whenever it came to power. Historians might be able to tell us someday about the most decisive factor in Ekiti State becoming a reality under Abacha.
However it goes and from whichever ideological tendency or political quarters it has come, Adegboruwa’s statement would haunt the president and determine the dynamics of the rest of his political career. Opposition will use it to ruin any Second term ambition were such to be in the pipeline. The assertion would be used as evidence of any and everything, from the president’s frequent cancellation of scheduled trips to how much time he gives to meetings to some of the unexplained actions of the government or the lethargy of making appointments and so on and so forth. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the author of the statement would not proceed from a general statement to the specifics of what might be ailing the president.
There is no question of proving Adegboruwa wrong. No one knows if he too hasn’t accessed the president’s medical records, however that is done. On the other hand, the Presidency risks overstretching the president by overloading his schedules just to prove that Adegboruwa is on a false flag mission. Either way, the statement that the president is sick embodies implications for the president’s psychology and, by implication, for his performance. And, therefore, for the nation! The intervention is bound to infuriate and unsettle the president and the presidency no end. But in a world in which full disclosure has gone full circle, there is very little the president can do about it. Perhaps, nothing more than a counter assertion that presidents are, indeed, human beings who also fall sick and die like any other persons.