It’s unfortunate that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been unwell and that on numerous occasions he couldn’t attend to serious matters affecting ordinary citizens. In March, he returned from London where he spent seven weeks undergoing medical tests.
In late April he missed his second cabinet meeting in a row amid speculation about the state of his health. Nigerians understand the repercussions of losing a sitting president perhaps better than anyone else. The unexpected death of President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010 sparked political infighting before the swearing-in of President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari’s predecessor.
Buhari (74) has been in power for only two years. His achievements in that very short time speak for themselves. He has fought against and successfully weakened the Boko Haram insurgency, something that Jonathan failed to do. Buhari, a former military ruler, also intensified a fight against corruption. He empowered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which went on to fearlessly investigate and arrest former untouchable senior politicians.
Buhari’s election win in March 2015 against then incumbent President Jonathan surprised many Africans. It marked the first time in the history of Nigeria that a sitting president lost to an opposition candidate in a general election. It also raised hopes for many Africans that, finally on the continent, power can be attained without a bloodbath.
In many parts of Africa, the opposition parties are too weak to unseat the incumbents through democratic and transparent electoral processes. Authoritarian leaders have steadily weakened the opposition and dissenting voices by means of political repression, while using state resources to allow patronage.
Buhari’s win has fortified many in West Africa. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo Ado, a former opposition figure, successfully unseated John Mahama in the December 2016 general elections. Mahama became the first elected Ghanaian president to lose an election after only one term in office.
In Sao Tome and Príncipe, Evaristo Carvalho defeated President Manuel Pinto da Costa, who had served as president from 1975–1991 and 2011–2016.
However, one of the most notable results for years came from The Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a coup 22 years ago, was defeated by the opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh – now in exile – at first appeared to swallow the defeat but later he failed to digest it. He made a dramatic U-turn, only to have political and military pressure exerted on him by Buhari and members of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). These political gains, at least in West Africa, should be consolidated and protected.
Buhari’s sickness is still being treated as a private matter even though he holds the highest public office. Some people suspect he came to power knowing full well that he was not fit enough to do the job. The lack of a culture of questioning African leaders undermines the few gains Africans have made. The health of public figures, like Buhari, is a matter of public concern and it should be scrutinised closely.
Today, in the 21st century, no leader should govern from a wheelchair or a sickbed. President Buhari has earned himself respect for his achievements in the shortest time possible. What he needs now is to take care of himself and leave public matters in the hands of his compatriots. I’m sure that God has reserved many healthy, incorrupt and charismatic leaders to take over from him. It’s in the interest of Nigerians for President Buhari to step down.