We are today at a loss to define the state of the presidency. But more worrying, we are in a fog on the state of the president’s health. Is he asleep, is someone administering an injection, what sort of chemical, blue, red, green, thick, light, aphrodisiac, soporific, analgesic? Or is he asleep buried in a soft, seductive row of pillows, or is he buried in a pile of files?
It is now a presidency that tasks the imagination. We cannot see him. We, therefore, imagine him. We imagine him in his sitting room, on a sofa. Is he having breakfast or lunch, is he able to eat like other people? Does he remember or has he obliterated “the other room?”
Is he agile? Does he have a regime of sturdy exercises? Is he more fragile than we think, his breath raspy to the ear? Is it all just a joke? Is the president all in fine fiddle while all of us fiddle with ideas that don’t exist? Our imagination is in a state of flux. The president is giddy in our minds. He is well, standing, eating, dizzy, laughing, squinting, in pain, growling, without appetite, gormandizing, helped to stand, showering without aid. A surreal presidency that inflicts our imagination with phantasmagoria.
It is sad that we as citizens cannot vouch for the state of the man who presides over our lives? Is he fit to decide where the army should go or whether there is an army? Is he strong enough to determine whether he is strong enough?
All we know is that the president does not attend Federal Executive Council (FEC), does not have to see his cabinet. That means the minister of labour can do his thing and the minister of agriculture can decide to abolish the plough.
So, we have a president who is essentially home alone, if his office will now be in glorified vacancy, the seat permitted to spin in a cobweb, if the cleaner decides to stay home like the boss. What we have is, therefore, the making of a domiciliary president.
It is instructive that the president has a few images in public. The most potent we have seen of late are pious. He appeared in the last two Fridays but one. He was clad for God, erect for God, smiling with diminutive Kaduna State Governor El-Rufai for God. Of course, we see him follow the rites of worship. I was about to characterise him as His Worshipful Excellency, an homage to T. M. Aluko’s novel, His Worshipful Majesty. But last Friday, the mosque did not see his holy shadow. So, he is more domiciliary than worshipful.
But we saw false spiritual haloes around him when Lai Mohammed alleged that he skipped the FEC meeting because of Easter. But all of us did not show any rabbinical contempt for our work. So, we looked forward to the next meeting. But, then, he was not only absent, he offered to do the domestic. He said all the files should come to his home. That’s how we know a domiciliary president.
Many leaders want to hide their illnesses. They do so not because it humanises them. Rather it makes them less so. While the farmer sweats away over his hoe, the seamstress sows a design into life and a computer whizz-kid whirs with new software, he is frail beside a healer in white frock and stethoscope, his heart hoarse.
Much has been said about those past leaders who hid their afflictions. George Washington with his skin problem, Woodrow Wilson’s heart problem, and the heart attacks of William Harding and Dwight Eisenhower. Reagan could not work for more than an hour a day after his near fatal wound from the assassination. FDR was always on wheelchair but no television to expose the polio-ridden, handicapped man who led the world against Hitler. Perhaps the most charismatic of the 20th century American presidents had quite of few ailments. No one knew John F. Kennedy lived with Addison’s disease. The media knew of some of these presidential weaknesses but caved in to a deeper cultural affinity with secrecy.
But the case with President Buhari causes us to worry. He left this country on the grounds of vacation and handed over to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. He arrived London and a vacation became a medical test, and then medical treatments and rest. We were not treated with facts but obfuscation.
We were getting used to his resting abroad, only to hear him clatter into Abuja in a chopper. He had come to work. We thought the rest was over, but he said it was not over. He was not going to work at the normal rate and rhythm. In a nutshell, President Buhari admits he is not well but he will not let go. So, what is the nature of this illness? We don’t know.
We are living with a president who embraces the good of democracy but not its demands of transparency. He is a democrat when he wins election, a feudal lord when it is time to give account. It has always been the problem with our democracy. We are not ready for the challenges of an open system. We have a fraudocracy. They are not only false to us. They lie when they call themselves patriots. What is sick is not that the president is sick but that the presidency wants to conceal it.
His wife said he was captive to a cabal of power grabbers around him. Now, he is hostage to a fragility of health. This is a new definition of presidential double jeopardy. Poor health and power grabbers holding on to a septuagenarian clutching at presidential straws. The cabal did the same during the Yar’Adua months. They held on to him until one jeopardy cancelled another jeopardy and cancelled the cabal.
Perhaps that is why the president wants to stay at home. This cabal rejects the prospect of not having Buhari see the files. They want him there to sign the files. He probably did not do that when he was out of the loop in Nigeria House in London. They shed some tears over that.
But how long will he conceal his condition? The United States leaders concealed before the communication age. No leader can do that now. So, it pays this country if the president either works or resigns. He cannot be at once homey and home alone.