John Alechenu, John Ameh, Olusola Fabiyi, Olalekan Adetayo, Leke Baiyewu and Tony Okafor
President Muhammadu Buhari is sick, but not terminally ill, The PUNCH gathered on Sunday.
A top government official, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said this shortly after the Presidency announced Buhari’s decision to extend his two-week vacation.
Before now, the Presidency had insisted that the President was not sick, saying he would only use the opportunity of his short vacation to undergo check-ups.
But the government official admitted on Sunday that Buhari was sick.
He, however, insisted that the President was not ill.
“The President is sick. But it will not be correct to say he is terminally ill. Illness has more to do with terminal disease. The President is only under the weather; he is not terminally ill,” he explained.
Before the announcement, however, arrangements were on to receive Buhari in Abuja, on Sunday, in preparation for his resumption on Monday.
Officials were put on the alert pending the confirmation from the Protocol Unit on the time the President would arrive.
The National Youth Council of Nigeria had also said it had mobilised 15,000 youths across the country to join in receiving Buhari at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
As of the time the statement on the extension was released, State House correspondents were on standby to join the delegation that would receive the President.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, had, penultimate week, in an interview withCNBC Africa, monitored in Abuja insisted that Buhari was not ill.
Adesina had insisted that Buhari was only in London for vacation and was not in any hospital.
He had said, “The President is in London on vacation. He is not in any hospital and he is not ill.
“When he was travelling last week, the statement we put out was that he was going on vacation and during the vacation, he would do routine medical check-up and nothing has changed from what we pushed out last week.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Presidency had announced that Buhari’s 10-day vacation to the UK had been extended.
The extension was contained in a three-paragraph statement made available to journalists by Adesina.
Adesina said the extension was necessary to allow the President complete a series of tests recommended by his doctors and get the results.
Although he said Buhari had already dispatched a letter to the National Assembly on the extension, he did not specify the duration of the extension.
The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has written to the National Assembly, today, February 5, 2017, informing it of his desire to extend his leave in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors.
“The President had planned to return to Abuja this (Sunday) evening, but was advised to complete the test cycle before returning. The notice has since been dispatched to the Senate President, and Speaker, House of Representatives.
“Mr. President expresses his sincere gratitude to Nigerians for their concern, prayers and kind wishes.”
Shortly after Buhari left Nigeria penultimate Thursday for London, there were reports that he had passed on in a London hospital.
The Presidency had since denied the reports.
‘Senate has received Buhari’s letter’
When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, confirmed the transmission of the letter from the Presidency to the leadership of the National Assembly.
He however declined to disclose the content of the letter.
“I can confirm to you that a letter has been transmitted from the Presidency to the Senate,” he said.
However, a source at the Office of the President of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the letter was meant to be announced to lawmakers on the floor of the Senate during plenary, said Saraki had yet to receive the letter in person.
He said, “I’ve been able to confirm that the letter had been transmitted to the Senate. Saraki has been informed about it but he has not collected it, maybe because he is currently out of town.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, when asked if the lawmakers would suspend their current recess to consider Buhari’s letter, said he was somewhere in his constituency (Niger North Senatorial District) and would not speak on the matter without having all the details.
Also, the Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, told The PUNCH, on Sunday, that there was no need to reconvene the House for the purpose of considering Buhari’s letter.
Gbajabiamila, a lawyer, explained that the President had already done the most important thing by triggering off the constitutional process to avoid a vacuum and to ensure that there was no crisis.
He advised Nigerians to stop spreading rumours as Buhari clearly gave the reason he would not return to the country for now.
Part of an electronic mail he sent to The PUNCH, read, “I do not believe there is a need to reconvene for purposes of considering the letter. As you know, a President can go on leave and also extend same if there is a need to.
“The important thing is there is no power vacuum for as long as a President or Governor is absent.
“The constitutional safeguard has been triggered off and there is no constitutional crisis.
“The President did give the reason for the extension. The reason is not unusual and we should not give in to speculation and unfounded rumours.”
I didn’t speak on Buhari’s return –Mohammed
Meanwhile, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has denied speaking on the return of Buhari.
While the nation awaits Buhari’s return, Mohammed said in a statement, on Sunday, that the reports attributed to him, claiming that the President wouldn’t return because of faulty aircraft, was false.
The minister, in a statement by his aide, Mr. Segun Adeyemi, said he did not speak with anyone.
The statement added, “The minister has not spoken to anyone on the issue of the President’s return, hence this report is another from the stable of the purveyors of fake news and should be disregarded.”
PDP, APC clash over President’s health status
Meanwhile, the National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party called on Buhari to tell Nigerians the true state of his health.
The main opposition party was reacting to the inability of the President to return to Nigeria from the UK, where he had been on holiday for more than 10 days.
The PDP said it was wrong for the President to also send letter to the National Assembly, extending his leave, without telling Nigerians when he would resume.
Spokesperson for the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye, stated this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents.
But the ruling All Progressives Congress berated the PDP, saying the opposition party should pray for the President instead of spreading rumours.
The PDP spokesman, who was a former Minister of State for Works, however, said it was wrong for the President and his handlers to be trivialising the health of the President.
He said the President had chosen a wrong approach to address the issue of his health since he assumed office.
He said, “The President should know he is not a private citizen.
“He should know that Nigerians are the ones paying his health bills and therefore, he should tell them the true state of his health.
“He should not treat Nigerians with levity and he should also know what is obtainable in civilised countries. Nigeria is not a jungle.
“Imagine the President talking about a leave extension but not saying when he would resume?”
Adeyeye stated that there was no way the President could claim to be awaiting the outcome of medical tests without definite dates.
“Medical tests have dates of collection of results. It can’t be open-ended without dates,” he said.
But the APC urged the PDP to join other well-meaning Nigerians to pray for the President instead of sensing an opportunity to get even.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday.
Abdullahi stated, “This is the President of the country. The elections are over; he is our President, he is the President of Nigeria not that of the APC or the PDP. If the President has told us that he needs to stay back to do some other medical things, it behoves us, as responsible citizens, to pray for him and stop sensing an opportunity to retaliate.
“Does the PDP know more than what we have been told? What we know is what we have been told.
“We believe that the President has demonstrated an acute sense of responsibility. We are all living witnesses to our recent history where a President travelled and did not even communicate to the National Assembly the appropriate document to make the then Vice-President act in his stead.
“But this is a President that, on every occasion that he has to travel, he not only communicate to the National Assembly, but creates the enabling environment and the space for the Vice-President to act as President in his absence.
“I don’t know why people will start going green in the eyes as if we are actually hoping that tragedy befalls this country.
“The PDP should not behave in a way that will make Nigerians begin to think that it is actually spreading the rumour that the President is dead.”
Also, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese in Anambra State, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, on Sunday, asked Buhari to show himself to Nigerians to douse the tension in the land.
Ezeokafor, who spoke to journalists at the annual meeting with the Religious Council in the diocese at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka, said it was normal that people asked questions about the health of their President as he was not a private citizen.
The cleric added, “We pray that he comes back in good health, those asking about his state of health have the right to know where their President is and how he is doing.
“It is normal to be sick because he is a human being like any other person.
“The interest in Buhari’s state of health is like the way people, all over the world, were worried when the late Pope John Paul 11 and Nelson Mandela were sick in hospital.
“It is high time he said something so that the suspicion and guessing will die down.”