Almost 100 days and Nigerians don’t have a right to shout out?
It is a few days short of 100 since President Muhammadu Buhari left the country on a medical vacation to London. To put it more aptly, it
is exactly two days to cap that number and anyone who tries to stop Nigerians from expressing themselves should be checked.
We seem to forget that we have also had an acting president for 98 days, doing the job of two men. And yes, he has been making mince meat of it if you ask me but I will revert to that subsequently.
The previous week was tainted with stories that are not good for the image of the country and for Nigerians as well. It was a week of protests from a group led by Charles Oputa (`Charley Boy’) who are
demanding the return or resignation of the president and a pro-Buhari group declaring support for the President.
To the president’s defense came all sorts of explanations and rationale but I was most struck by a particular line by one of the president’s
surrogates that at the moment President Buhari can be likened to a private citizen and should be left alone. In my line of work, I have heard all sorts of incredible defenses being put up by the president’s
men, but I just didn’t just see that coming. I didn’t even think that it was a conceivable statement.
“As we speak, President Buhari seems to be like a private citizen at the moment. We have no right and it is very disrespectful for anyone to ask for his health status. In the UK where I came from nobody would release anybody’s health record to another, not even the members of their family unless the person decides to approve.
“The prerogative to speak on his ailment lies only on President Buhari. If he chooses, it is a choice. It is very disrespectful and very intrusive. We are intruding into his private rights. He has rights too as a citizen of Nigeria. Anybody can get ill, it is not something planned,” Lauretta Onochie said on August 7 while speaking on Channels Television‘s Politics programme.
I deliberately included some of the quotes from the interview so that you can have a clear idea. I took the liberty of checking up the dictionary meaning of the word private citizen and it said “private
citizen – a citizen who does not hold any official or public position.” (Free dictionary by Farlex).
First and foremost, the President ceased to be a private person the day he took the oath of office and that means that everything about him also became public. I can agree that the President has a right to
his privacy but he is definitely not a private citizen. The President is no longer a private citizen. He is the father of the country and not just his children; he is simply the head of this beautifully complicated country called Nigeria and not just the head of his own family.
I think a private citizen is me, sitting in my house and not attempting to pick a nomination form to be a local government chairman let alone that of a president (I may state to consider that since I am
not too young to run). When I win, I forfeit the right to be this private person I have always been and open myself up for public scrutiny.
Make no mistakes, I am not joining the call for the President to resign or anything like that. I simply think if it were just a one week off trip perhaps Nigerians won’t bother too much. But 100 days,
more than a quarter of a year, is too much to leave Nigerians in the dark. We have gradually made it up the ladder and found our way to be the butt of some silly jokes now. Remember the recent CNN quiz asking which country’s President has not set foot in his country for two months?
I can imagine that some, maybe a few of those who call out the President do so with selfish interests but a vast majority of the Nigerian polity ask genuinely and deserve to know the truth. If you say the President is sick, it will be much easier to say this is the problem or don’t you think so? I stand on the side of the people but again some Nigerians will see that as a window to press him to resign, so I understand the reservation of his handlers too.
On Wednesday, when a group decided to take to the streets to protest the continued absence of the President from the country, the Nigerian
Police Force, true to its name, forcefully ended their match, brutalising them in the process including attacking journalists covering the protesters. In this age of freedom of speech and right to association, I thought it extreme that the police will have protesters beaten. Subsequently, a pro-Buhari group, with Police escort, took to the streets to march in support of the president and insist that the
President be allowed to fully recover and return to fight graft.
Since the Constitution is silent on the number of days the President should be away for I think the two factions were just expressing themselves and that too is constitutional. Like they say, people have
different thresholds for pain. With the situation in the country not being so palatable, some may choose to be silent while some decide to protest. Whatever anyone decides I think it is their right too.
Meanwhile, Osinbajo has been in acting position for 98 days. How time flies. I have been thinking about how he pulls this off without a Vice President as the country was structured to be run by a President and his deputy.
There are lots of questions that still need answering when it comes to him having the full powers to call the shots. Maybe next week we can look into some of them.
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