President Buhari returned to Nigeria on August 19 after over one-hundred days of medical leave in London. Various dignitaries gathered to greet him upon his arrival. The public aspect of President Buhari’s return was particularly important because it differed from that of an earlier predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua. President Yar’Adua also underwent medical treatment abroad, in Saudi Arabia in 2009. Following more than three months of hospitalization, he returned to Abuja in relative secret and made no public appearances. Moreover, unlike Buhari, President Yar’Ardua had not delegated executive power to his vice president at the time of his hospitalization, as provided for by the constitution. On its own authority, the National Assembly placed interim power in the hands of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, who formally succeeded to the presidency upon Yar’Ardua’s death in 2010.
Two days after his arrival, President Buhari gave a televised address to the nation. In it, he reiterated his commitment to preserving the unity of Nigeria: “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble.” This would appear to be a reference to ongoing agitation for the revival of a movement for an independent state of Biafra in the south and the ongoing Islamist Boko Haram insurrection in the north. The nature of his illness has yet to be made public, and he did not offer any comment about it in his television address. The lack of transparency about his health has fueled much speculation and as his stay in London wore on, there were Nigerian calls for him either to return or to resign.
It is too early to tell whether President Buhari will be able to take up his official functions immediately, or whether his convalescence will continue. On television he appeared thin, but he was able to walk unaided at the ceremony welcoming him home. Whatever the state of his health, his return has been an important boost to Nigerian national morale.