By Ehichioya Ezomon
Unlike previous journeys earlier in the year that were few and far between, the deluge of visits within 38 days to the United Kingdom, to see ailing President Muhammadu Buhari, was enough telltale that he was actually “recovering fast,” and that his return to Nigeria was imminent.
There were seven of such visits between Tuesday, July 11 and Friday, August 18, with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo kicking off what polity watchers had termed the “Pilgrimages to London” or “Pilgrimages to Buhari.”
All the visits were sequel to the president’s reported expressed desire and longing “to return home but was constrained by his doctor’s advice… to stay back in London.”
“I’ve learnt to obey my doctor’s orders, rather than be the one issuing the orders. Here, the doctor is absolutely in charge,” Femi Adesina, Senior Adviser, Media and Publicity, quoted Buhari as saying.
Like in past meetings, the president was shown in group photographs with the visitors sitting either in the lounge, at the dinning table or standing discussing at the foyer.
But there were two noticeable exceptions: No pictures of Prof. Osinbajo’s visit, while Buhari was photographed and videoed on the lawns of the Abuja House in company with the Presidential Media aides at their turn of visiting.
Acting President Osinbajo
Prof. Osinbajo’s stopover at the Abuja House was a brief encounter at night, and “returning to Abuja immediately afterward,” according to his media spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, without further details.
But the next day, August 12, ahead of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the acting president told the press that he made the visit to ascertain the president’s wellness level, which he said had “improved significantly.”
His words: “I went to check on him (Buhari) and found out he was doing well. I had, of course, been speaking to him on the phone and I thought it would be a good thing to go and see him and also to brief him on developments back at home.
“We had a very good conversation on wide-ranging issues. He is in very good spirits and recuperating very quickly.”
It was the turn, on July 23, of the top shots of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), including its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna) and Yahaya Bello (Kogi), and Transportation Minister and former governor of Rivers State, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
In a telephone chat, Okorocha, who’s Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, said from their hour-long lunch with President Buhari, “he was very cheerful, had not lost any bit of his sense of humour,” and “it was very clear from the discussions that he followed developments at home very closely.”
Informing that the president was delighted to receive the delegation and asked each governor about affairs in his state, and Mr. Amaechi about the state of the railways, Okorocha said Buhari just laughed off “the cocktail of lies” written about him, and instead, sent his best wishes to Nigerians.
He added: “By our visit to London today (July 23), the merchants of lies have been put out of business and Nigerians will not buy the garbage they have been selling. All those who look up to fake news can find better use for their time.”
On July 26, Nigeria’s constitutionally-endorsed ‘Principle of Federal Character’ was on full display when the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, comprising of members of the APC, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), chose six among themselves, one from each of the geopolitical zones, to visit President Buhari.
A seventh governor, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State and Chair of the forum, led the delegation, with the rest as Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Kashim Shettima ((Borno), Dave Nweze Umahi (Ebonyi), Danjuma Ganduje (Kano) and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo State).
After the meeting, Governors Yari, Shettima, Umahi and Ganduje addressed the media from London.
Yari said: “Sincerely speaking, I am happy. All the governors that are here on behalf of the Governors’ Forum have seen for themselves. My advice to Nigerians, and those that are criticising President Buhari and banking on the president’s health and making noise, is that they should stop.”
Shettima said: “We met the president in very high spirit, cracking jokes. We are quite impressed. And this will finally lay to rest all those negative media speculations and innuendoes by people who ought to know better.
“He (Buhari) has made so much sacrifice for this nation. He deserves commendation, not condemnation. Nigerians are solidly with him; Nigerians are solidly behind him, and I believe personally that the prayers of Nigerians have been answered.”
Umahi, said: “It (Buhari’s renewed health) has reinforced my convictions and opinion about what kind of media we have. I think we are being fed with a lot of false information.
“We met Mr. President and the way we saw Mr. President is far from what has been circulating in the social media. We are so happy and grateful to God and to all Nigerians who have been praying for Mr. President. I am excited because this is a miracle I believe God did for the entire Nigerians.”
Ganduje said: “They say, ‘seeing is believing.’ We came, we saw, and found out that Mr. President has improved greatly. His health has improved.
“And we believe Mr. President will come back to Nigeria healthy and hearty and continue the good work that he was doing for our country.”
Next, President Buhari had in audience on August 4, a foreign dignitary and acclaimed close friend, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was the second time he would be visiting, the first being last March at the same Abuja House in London.
Buhari’s spokesman, Mr. Adesina, said the Archbishop and the president “share deep respect for each other.”
Summing up his visit, Welby expressed delight over the rapid recovery of Buhari, noting that it was “a testimony to the healing powers of God, and answer to prayers of millions of people round the world.”
Saraki and Dogara
Two other appointments came in quick sequence on August 17 and 18 respectively, consisting of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara, and the Worldwide General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
These visits were symbolic. Dr. Saraki and Mr. Dogara are the Number 3 and 4, in that order, in the hierarchy of governance of the country, and heads of the two chambers of the legislative arm of the Government of Nigeria. Any wonder they discussed both national and international issues with the president!
Saraki, a medical doctor by training, stated his impressions of the Buhari health in tweets, thus: “We must give thanks to God for this highly welcomed recovery. It is clear that Mr. President’s insistence on following his doctors’ advice has yielded the desired result.
“Mr. President exhibited remarkable recovery and was very conversant with all the political happenings back at home and across the continent.
“In particular, we talked about the virement request by the Presidency, which is before the National Assembly… We then considered the steps to be taken in the preparation of the 2018 budget to ensure its early passage.”
Also in tweets, Mr. Dogara noted the president’s rate of recovery, saying: “Today, we visited His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari. I am glad that he is doing well.
“His health has improved tremendously. I urge all Nigerians to continue to pray and offer thanks to God for answered prayers and for the safe return of Mr. President.”
As for Pastor Adeboye, he was photographed during the visit sitting on a sofa beside President Buhari, who was perusing what looked like a scriptural book.
The words of Mr. Adesina captured the essence of the visit by the leader of millions of Christian faithful across the world.
“His (Adeboye’s) visit to Buhari is also significant because the man (Buhari) had been erroneously tagged a religious bigot. This visit shows Buhari’s acceptability across all faith,” Adesina said.
The eloquence of the visit was also not lost on the president who, later that day, tweeted: “I thank Pastor Adeboye for visiting today and for his prayers and good wishes. May God continue to bless him and his work.”
Interestingly, media reports at the weekend literally credited Pastor Adeboye as appearing at the Abuja House to pray for President Buhari, and prepare him, spiritually, as he was about embarking on his return journey to Nigeria after spending 103 days on his medical leave in the British capital.
Presidential Media team
Then, there was the visit of the Media aides to President Buhari on August 12, led by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed.
The delegation included Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina; Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu; Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa; and Senior Special Assistant on Social Media, Mrs. Lauretta Onochie.
This visit was unique in several respects, as the team did what other visitors did not do: Making the president to leave the cosy living room and venture into the grounds of the Abuja House. It was also the first time in months that he would be seen in print and on video of a few seconds playing time.
Out on the lawns of the expansive compound, the Media aides presented to Buhari a large “GET WELL SOON” greeting card that they ostensibly brought along from Nigeria.
You could see the “ear-to-ear” smile of Buhari, holding the card with both hands and reading the contents admiringly!
That President Buhari “public” appearance helped greatly to calm the rumour of his being incapacitated, vegetative, on a life-support or even dead.
Let’s not forget the surprising and thought-provoking proclamation of wife of the president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, on July 10.
Her statement served two purposes. First, it informed of the imminent home-coming of President Buhari; and second, it hinted of a possible shake-up to “flush out” those she described as “hyenas and jackals” in her husband’s administration.
Mrs. Buhari had been critical of a so-called “cabal” in the Presidency, which some alleged had prevented her from seeing her husband in London early on in the year.
A post on her Facebook page took a similar shape and tenor as the denouncement by Senator Shehu Sani, who referenced a rumoured power play in the government, while the “Lion King” (President Buhari) was ill in London.
Mrs. Buhari wrote: “God has answered the prayers of the weaker animals. The hyenas and the jackals will soon be sent out of the kingdom (the government or Nigeria, which critics have derisively described as “the Zoo”).
“We strongly believe in the prayers and support of the weaker animals. Long live the weaker animals, long live Nigeria.”
Well, the first arm of her proclamation has been fulfilled: President Buhari has returned to the country. Will the other notification – a possible rejigging in the government – come to pass?
Last line (Governor Fayose)
From the foregoing timelines of predictors of the return of President Buhari from London, all the visitors were happy with the state of his health, and prayed to God for its sustenance so that the president could arrive in Nigeria soon and safely.
However, one notable Nigerian was not happy about the “Pilgrimages to London,” to see Buhari, whom he had written off many times as incapacitated, on life-support or dead.
Fayose particularly took exception to the visit of Acting President Osinbajo, as there were no photographs of the meeting “to show that it actually took place.” As usual, he bared his mind through one of his spokespersons.
According to him: “It is, therefore, my position that Nigerians do not need this drama of Osinbajo’s behind-the-camera meeting with Buhari.
“Rather, what we want is that the president should speak to Nigerians publicly and disabuse the minds of the people, who are of the belief that he is already incapacitated and cannot continue as president.”
Given the finality of that statement, would any still or video pictures of Osinbajo’s meeting with Buhari have convinced Governor Fayose, and abridge his longstanding criticism of the president even on his sick bed? Previous images didn’t work the magic!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, contributed this piece from Lagos, Nigeria.