By Ehichioya Ezomon
President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu flew out of Nigeria on March 21, and 27 days after, there’s no word as to where he’s resident and what he’s doing outside the country.
No one has seen, or heard from him except, perhaps, his close family members and aides who would rather other issues in the polity engage nosey Nigerians.
Following initial concerns about the manner of Tinubu’s departure, and where he’s headed, his media aide, Tunde Rahman, said he’s on a short rest in Europe, to plan for his new government, and also observe the Lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
Rahman’s explanation didn’t douse public scepticism, more so as it wasn’t the first time Tinubu would “sneak out” of Nigeria, and thus offer tale bearers a platter to spin all manner of innuendos to fill the void.
Recall that early in the 2023 poll cycle, Tinubu had vanished from Nigeria, and it took quite a while to locate him in London, where he’d a knee surgery that speculators said would hinder his presidential run.
During the primary process to pick the candidates of the 18 parties that contested in the February 25 poll, Tinubu’s off, unannounced, to London.
His long stay prompted rumours of serious ailment, with some vowing he’s dead. A video and photos showing Tinubu doing a workout, and meeting associates and his grandchildren were labelled by doubters as photoshops to deceive Nigerians.
But Tinubu returned, hail and hearty, to face gruelling primary and general election campaigns he’s predicted not physically prepared for nor would win. Yet, he won both polls, and is primed to assume power on May 29, as President Muhammadu Buhari bows out after eight years in office.
Tinubu’s “disappearing act” – and its associated allegations of undisclosed ill-heath – brings to memory similar history of ailments that affected former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Buhari.
Yar’Adua’s sickness was public before former President Olusegun Obasanjo drafted him into the contest, and was hospitalised abroad almost the duration of campaigns on his behalf by Obasanjo.
At one of the campaign stops in the North, a report filtered in that Yar’Adua had died. Obasanjo said he’d spoken to him before the rally.
He put a call to Yar’Adua (the phone on speaker) and said: “Umaru, are you dead? They said you are dead.” To which Yar’Adua answered, “No, I’m not dead. I’m alive.”
Yar’Adua won the election, and ruled from 2007 to 2010, even as he alternated between Nigeria and overseas for medical care. He died abroad, and his remains brought into the country at mid night.
Buhari’s unknown ailment(s) wasn’t public knowledge, or a hindrance during his long years of struggles to be President in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, respectively.
But the sickness assumed public concerns because of frequency of its bouts, and the duration of his medical trips to London.
At such visits, stories swirled about Buhari’s incapacitatation, being vegetative or dead, putting his aides, and media handlers at odds with the true picture, as they’re kept in the dark about Buhari’s real sickness, and medical conditions during those times.
A video of Buhari seeing off visitors to the front courtyard, or photos of him signing documents were dissed by Nigerians, who wanted him to address them directly.
The rumour mill even purveyed that Buhari was (or is) a “cloned Jubrin from Sudan” – a falsehood he said was one of the things that pained him, as Nigerians denigrated him.
That Buhari’s ailment affected his governance was attested to lately by his staunch ally and Media Adviser to the President, Mr Femi Adesina.
On Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ on April 10, Adesina was asked if Buhari’s sickness was a setback to his administration, and he said:
“It should be because when he fell sick in 2017, he came back in March (and) and went again in April and didn’t come back until August 19.
“About all, eight months. The sickness took eight months of his time in the office. Of course, nobody would like that. But what we are glad about is that he came whole, sound and better than he went.”
Given Yar’Adua and Buhari’s long illnesses and their effects on governance – and unaccounted-for financial burden on Nigeria – some Nigerians warn that a President Tinubu will travel the same route for frequent medical tourism.
Most concerning to Nigerians is not knowing Tinubu’s whereabouts since March 21. Only two photos and a video about him have graced the press: Tinubu among faithful in a prayer session at Hajj in Saudi Arabia; Tinubu and wife, Oluremi, in an affectionate pose; and Tinubu and family circle at an Iftar.
These images have been dismissed as archivals circulated to keep alive the hopes of APC members and Tinubu’s supporters.
As in previous occasions of his sudden travels overseas, Tinubu’s aides and APC officials have tried to sidetrack media queries about his itinerary, and state of health.
The confusion in their rank was apparent in the explanation given by the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr Felix Morka.
Fielding questions on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme on April 14, Morka wasn’t sure if Tinubu’s in Europe, although he insisted he’s taking a rest after the elections, and planning for his government.
“He (Tinubu) is probably in Europe. He’s fine. After the elections and all of the energy expended, he just decided to take a moment of rest,” Morka said.
“Once he returns and is inaugurated on May 29, there will be no dulling. He’ll be saddled with the responsibility of running a country as massive and complex as Nigeria. I know he’ll be back in the country very shortly.”
Morka noted that Tinubu’s reaching out to Heads of Government and other levels of leadership of other countries “that are vital to the agenda he’s bringing in his new government.”
“So, he’s not sleeping in his bed; he’s also in meetings regularly with all kinds of people who are travelling from other countries to see him preparatory to his inauguration. So, it’s a working visit,” Morka added.
Various reasons have been adduced for Tinubu temporarily shifting base abroad. It’s a given that he’ll use the moment to undergo medical checkup, yet he wants to avoid distractions from unwanted visitors – many of them lobbying for positions in the next government – to his Defence House, Abuja, holdout till May 29.
In so doing, only a few Nigerians – who are very close, and on invite – can reach him where he’s honkered down to plan for his government.
Security is also a concern. Being a typical Nigerian savouring a hard-earned victory at the poll, it might be difficult for Security operatives at the Defence House to keep at bay the hordes of visitors, some of whom may pose security risks to the President-elect.
Importantly, Tinubu reportedly wants to give President Buhari wide berths to finish strong, so “he’ll not be perceived or fingered by detractors as competing with the President in running the administration that’s barely one month and half to go,” as confided by a top APC official last week.
The official said the President-elect discussed his movements outside Nigeria with President Buhari, and he’s sure “Tinubu converses with Buhari daily” while he’s away.
“And that’s why the concerns and anxiety by Nigerians over Tinubu’s whereabouts don’t seem to bother the government, and the hierarchy of the APC,” the official said.
The posers: Where’s President-elect Tinubu? When is he showing up, and addressing Nigerians in real time, so they know he’s alive, and a ‘Kanuri’, not another cloned Jubrin from Sudan?
Afterall, there’s scarcity of “Bla bla blu” to entertain his haters, and “agbado” to feed his enthusiasts. So, 42 days to inauguration, Nigerians on both sides of the divide wait for Tinubu’s return!
*_Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria_ .