Questions are being raised about the ability of Nigeria’s president to rule after his decision to cancel Wednesday’s cabinet meeting — the first since he returned from a long overseas medical absence.
An announcement Tuesday that President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, will work from home following more than 100 days of medical treatment in London because of a rodent infestation in his official office had already raised doubts about his health.
Amaka Anku, an analyst at Eurasia Group consulting, said ahead of Buhari’s return at the weekend that he “remains quite ill and is unlikely to resume full presidential responsibilities”.
“He will allow (the vice president) to continue to handle day-to-day governance tasks,” she wrote.
In a televised address on Monday, Buhari looked thin but sounded stronger than in his last broadcast back in June. He did not mention his illness or long absence, instead appealing for national unity and renewed energy for the fight against jihadists, separatists and kidnappers.
He left Nigeria on May 7 for his second round of treatment in Britain this year for an unspecified medical condition, having already spent two months in the British capital for healthcare reasons.
– Deeply divided country –
Buhari, a retired general elected in 2015, temporarily handed power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to allay fears of a leadership vacuum in a country deeply divided along ethnic and religious fault lines.
The easy transfer of authority to and from Osinbajo, who is seen as fiercely loyal to the president, was notable in a country that has a history of coups and political instability.
But despite Buhari’s return to Nigeria, he has so far appeared unable or unready to resume frontline political work.
Political analysts warned that the cancellation of Wednesday’s meeting could mean that Buhari has not fully recovered.
“What the latest cancellation of the meeting means is that Buhari does not have the full capacity, in terms of his health, to function,” Chris Ngwodo, a political consultant, told AFP.
“I see a picture of somebody who does not have 100 percent fitness. That explains why he’s not been able to function properly.”
Ngwodo added that the day-to-day running of Nigeria could suffer as a result of Buhari’s condition.
– ‘No second fiddle’ –
“I see a slowdown in governance in Nigeria. This will not augur well for the country — especially at this crucial time,” he said.
Buhari’s prolonged absence caused tensions at home where calls grew for him to either return or resign, and the prospect of a power vacuum now he is back is unlikely to calm the situation.
The question of who leads Nigeria is a crucial one as the country grapples with a range of pressing security and economic crises.
And despite the insistence of a senior presidency official that “President Buhari is very much in charge”, the challenges facing government forces are growing.
They include a jihadist insurgency in the northeast, recurrent clashes between farmers and herdsman in the centre of the country, and kidnappings and separatism in the south.
The west African powerhouse is also in the grip of a second year of recession, triggered by lower oil prices which have slashed government revenues, weakened the local currency and caused a shortage of US dollars.
“It is a matter of administrative style that (Buhari) delegates some functions to the vice president from time to time. For instance, the vice president is the head of the economic management team,” said the presidency source.
But Anku, the Eurasia Group analyst, said that while Osinbajo had the powers of the head of state while Buhari was away and some economic clout with him back in the country, “he was careful to obtain the president’s approval for all major policies”.
She added that Buhari’s aides will likely seek to reassert themselves now that the president is back, meaning that even if Buhari is unable to govern, those around him could seek to do so in his name.
The president’s defenders insist that Buhari is still firmly in control, despite appearances.
“The fact that he has been working from home and has called off a cabinet meeting does not mean that he cannot perform and that he is abdicating his responsibility,” said Dapo Thomas, a lecturer at Lagos University.
“Buhari is not the kind of man that would play second fiddle.”
“Let no one be in doubt as to who is in charge,” added the presidency source.