Letter from Africa: Should Nigerians be worried about President Buhari's health?

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Nigeria"s President Muhammadu Buhari signs the instrument of ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change in Abuja, Nigeria March 28, 2017.Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Muhamadu Buhari only returned to work in March after getting medical treatment in the UK

In our series of letters from African journalists, the editor-in-chief of Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper, Mannir Dan Ali, writes that President Muhamadu Buhari has been accused of being as secretive about his health as his US counterpart Donald Trump has been about his tax returns.

Nigerians are increasingly worried about Mr Buhari's health, hoping that he does not die in office like President Umaru Yar'Adua did in 2010, after a lengthy illness which saw him fly to Germany and Saudi Arabia for treatment.

The latest concerns have been fuelled by the fact that Mr Buhari, 74, missed the last two cabinet meetings and failed to attend Friday's Muslim prayers, even though the mosque is about a minute's walk from his office and residence.

The government has shared little information about his health, and a journalist with a leading newspaper was thrown out of State House by the president's chief security officer after he reported on the latest concerns.

Mr Buhari's media aides distanced themselves from the officer's actions, and got a more senior security officer to overturn the ban on the reporter attending State House press conferences and other events.

Mannir Dan Ali:

Image source, Mannir Dan Ali

"The president has cut down on his official engagements and no longer ventures out of State House"

The incident showed that the president's aides are finding it difficult to deal with questions about the health of the former military ruler. Unfortunately for them, the issue is not about to go away.

After returning from a seven-week medical trip to the UK in early March, Mr Buhari said he had never been "so sick" in his life and hinted, without giving details, that he had had a blood transfusion.

Since then, there have been credible reports that his UK doctors have been to Nigeria to treat him, although these have not been confirmed.

The president has also cut down on his official engagements and no longer ventures out of State House.

Buhari's unhealthy start to 2017

19 January: Leaves for UK on "medical vacation"

5 February: Asks parliament to extend medical leave

10 March: Returns home but does not resume work immediately

26 April: Misses cabinet meeting and is "working from home"

28 April: Misses Friday prayers

He used to chair the weekly cabinet meetings and attend Friday prayers - an opportunity for his close allies to shake hands with him.

But after failing to attend Wednesday's cabinet meeting, Information minister Lai Mohammed told reporters that on the advice of his doctors, Mr Buhari would spend the day working from home and asked for all files requiring his attention to be sent to his official residence.

While many Nigerians are heeding the minister's appeal to pray for the president's speedy recovery, some, like Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka, are asking the president to give more details about his health.

"Guarding your state of health like Donald Trump is guarding his tax returns is not what we expect from a Nigerian president," he said in a statement.

It is unclear whether Mr Buhari will be more transparent about his health, but people are hoping that the president, who is halfway into his term, gets better soon so that he can devote himself to tackling the tough challenges facing Nigeria, including the biggest economic downturn since the end of military rule in 1999.

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