Buhari’s Ill-Health Heating Up Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after his return from medical leave in London in March
President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after his return from medical leave in London in March

A former staff of the U.S. State Department in Africa, Helima Croft, has said that the ill-health of Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, and his constant medical emergencies, could further heat up political tensions in the country.

Croft’s comments was contained in a report published by Barron’s.com a US financial website on Thursday.

Now in the private sector as the head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, Croft says Nigeria’s “Christian-Muslim divide could be laid bare in a presidential succession” following recent developments in the country.

She said: “With Nigeria’s ailing President Muhammadu Buhari seeking emergency medical treatment outside the country for a second time, the prospect of a ‘polarizing political transition’ is real.

“A polarizing political transition could exacerbate regional and sectarian divisions as well as have implications for oil output.

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“This marks the second time this year that the 74-year-old Buhari, a northern ex-general, has sought medical assistance in London for an undisclosed ailment … (and) in his absence, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the former Lagos State attorney general and Christian Pastor, will run the day-today affairs of the country.”

Croft noted that though “Osinbajo received considerable praise for past performance in the presidential seat, a permanent elevation could cause considerable discontent in the mostly Muslim north.”

“Such an elevation would once again upend the informal regional power rotation agreement that helped end military rule in 1999 and would deny the north a full eight years of the presidency,” she said.

“Hence, northern power brokers would likely move to block such a transition.”

“Though there could be considerable hard feelings in Nigeria’s northern region, an elevation of Osinbajo would likely be well received in the Niger Delta region,” Croft says further.

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“His visits to the embattled oil region and his pledge to address the core grievances of these communities have been well received by local leaders.

“President Buhari to date has yet to visit the Niger Delta and he ended the large-scale payments to former Niger Delta militant leaders, which helped ensure the relative peace in the oil region from 2009 to 2015,” she said.

Already, there appear to be some controversies trailing the President’s departure for London on medical leave, especially with regards to the letter he wrote to the Senate informing them of his trip.

Buhari had said in the letter that in his absence, the Vice President will “coordinate the affairs of government”, but this does not sit well with some political watchers who say the letter did not confer on Osinbajo the powers of Acting President.

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But such worries have been cleared by the Vice President himself as well as the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed.

They said that the President’s letter had referred to section 145 of the constitution which automatically confers the powers of the President to the Vice immediately the former informs the Senate in writing that “he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.”

On Thursday, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, issued a statement in Kano warning those plotting to take advantage of Buhari’s ill health and absence from the country to desist.

The group said  it had remained silent in order not to heat up the polity.