There was wild jubilation in Abuja and other places around the country on Saturday as President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country from London, United Kingdom where he had been for medical treatment since May 7. Probably caught unawares, security operatives had a hectic time controlling the crowd as the President’s long motorcade moved from the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to the Presidential Villa.
Since assuming office, President Buhari has been plagued by ill health which may or may or may not have been ailing him prior to he becoming president. The President, who assumed office on May 29, 2015, barely nine months in power, had embarked on a six-day vacation in the United Kingdom between February 5 and 10, 2016. Four months later, on June 6, 2016, he embarked on another 10-day vacation to attend to what the Presidency described as “persistent ear infection.”
Presidency sources said at the time that although Buhari was examined and treated by his personal physician and a specialist in Abuja, the doctors advised him to go for further evaluation as a precaution. Public information at the time stated that the President would therefore use the 10-day break to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in London. Buhari returned to Nigeria on June 19, 2016 after spending 14 days in London, instead of the scheduled ten.
Upon his return, during a short interaction at the airport, Buhari jocularly challenged one of the State House correspondents who asked him about his state of health to a wrestling contest. “You know I am taller than you. Do you want to wrestle me?” the President had said in Hausa language.
Still challenged, the 74-year-old Nigerian leader again left the country on January 19, 2017, for another medical vacation. When the trip was prolonged, his aides announced that the President would be staying back in London to enable him to get the results of some medical tests he had conducted. He was to later return to the country on March 10 after a 49-day medical sojourn. In a rare moment of candor, he disclosed that he had never been that sick in his life.
Thus after consistent absence from some public events, including three consecutive weekly Federal Executive Council meetings, the president on May 7 returned to London for medical consultation, making it the second time he proceeded on medical leave this year. This time, he did not mention how long he will stay as he was to reveal during the course of his stay in Abuja House that he will only return following his doctors’ orders.
However, on Saturday Buhari landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, at 4.35pm to the excitement of all those present. On hand to receive him were top government officials led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. He did not inspect the guard of honour before proceeding to acknowledge cheers from well-wishers and the dancers.
The airport was at a standstill as workers made frantic efforts to get a glimpse of him. Having been rumoured to have died or permanently incapacitated, the throng of people numbering in their thousands, including hundreds of workers, travellers and other airport users were stranded at the airport following the closure of roads in the area. Despite the temporary delays and closure of roads at the airport, many of them were excited to see the President back in the country.
There were other excited Nigerians who moved closer to the car the President was riding in, screaming, “Sai Baba!” as they danced, following the slowly moving convoy of Buhari. Earlier, there was commotion at the commercial wing of the NAIA as air passengers and workers rushed out in excitement to see Buhari immediately his aircraft touched down.
In the end there is work to be done. The president’s seeming recovery and return should fast track government activities. There are many nation building matters that can no longer wait. Buhari must move swiftly to shake up his government. He should also reorganise his security apparatchik, among others. The return of Boko Haram is ominous thus requires new thinking. The Vice/Acting president Yemi Osinbajo has held forth admirably together with the leadership of the National Assembly. The seamless transfer of power by the president to his deputy while away shows that our democracy is maturing.