The decision by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to extend his stay in London, where he went for medical treatment nearly three weeks ago, is fueling rumors and concern back in his home country.
The 74-year-old president left Nigeria on January 19 to get treatment for an undisclosed issue. Officials insist that it is much ado about nothing, but have not offered specifics.
Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, said Wednesday that the president is not in the hospital.
“I can assure that Mr. President is well and he is absolutely in no danger,” he told reporters in Abuja.
The remarks echoed those on Monday from vice president and acting president Yemi Osinbajo, who told reporters he had just spoken to the president and described him as “hale and hearty.”
But the statement have not quashed worry among Nigerians. This is the second time during Buhari’s tenure as president that he has sought medical treatment abroad.
Osahon Enabulele, former president of the Nigerian Medical Association and vice president of the Commonwealth Medical Association, said that the mystery surrounding the president’s illness creates uncertainty that Nigerians do not need at this moment.
“It begins to create some level of suspicion, some doubt in the minds of the people,” he told VOA.
In 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua, went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment without disclosing his grave health condition and without transferring power to his then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan.
During his extended absence, Nigerians went months without hearing the voice or seeing a picture of Yar’Adua. Nigeria’s senate eventually voted to make Jonathan acting president and he assumed the role permanently when Yar’Adua died.
“We don’t have to repeat that kind of historical experience,” Enabulele said of the confusion before and after Yar’Adua’s death. “Don’t forget that Nigerians are going through extreme hardship on our current unfortunate economic [situation] which has plunged the generality of the people into a miasma of hopelessness.”
Nigerians took to the streets on Monday demanding transparency and calling for better economic conditions.
The oil-dependent country has been hit hard by lower crude oil prices, according to the International Monetary Fund. It is also facing a persistent and deadly insurgency from Islamist radical group Boko Haram.
After Buhari’s departure, the Nigerian presidency released photos of the president on January 22 and January 28, both showing him sitting on a couch. There have also been a few statements from Buhari’s Twitter account, the most recent coming on January 31.
So far this month, there have been no photos, audio or tweets, leaving Nigerians wondering when their president will return.