On May 3, President Muhammadu Buhari missed his third consecutive weekly cabinet meeting. He was also absent from Friday prayers on April 28 and his grandson’s wedding on April 29. On May 1, he did not deliver the traditional Workers’ Day speech.
Al Jazeera reports that former president Olusegun Obasanjo has met with Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalami Abubakar (both ex-military chiefs of state) to discuss Buhari’s health. Nigerian civil leaders, including Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, have been urging President Buhari to take medical leave. Meanwhile, however, President Buhari’s wife, Aisha Buhari is quoted as saying that his health is “not as bad as it is being perceived.”
The president’s health is a sensitive political issue. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office in 2010 after a long illness in which he was isolated from his ministers by his wife and a few close associates. He never authorized his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, to act in his stead, causing uncertainty and confusion. During his successful 2015 campaign for the presidency opposition figures claimed Buhari was suffering from advanced prostate cancer and was therefore unfit for office. Buhari’s supporters characterized the claim as a smear. Unlike Yar’Adua, when Buhari was in London in February and March on medical leave, he formally handed over authority to his vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo chaired the recent cabinet meetings in Buhari’s absence. Lack of transparency over the health of a chief of state is the norm in sub-Saharan Africa.