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Rumors about the state of health of the Nigerian president are well under way in the country. Muhammadu Buhari is currently being treated in a London hospital, without knowing more about the nature of his illness. Nigeria fears that a possible death of its president, elected in 2015, will revive ethnic tensions in the country.
President’s health. Nigerians have only these words in their mouths. Baba (father, surname of the head of state) died? The crazy rumor is running on social networks. The prolonged stay of Muhammadu Buhari in London gives rise to all speculation and debates. The press in Lagos is also passionate about the issue.
“Informed people” advise their friends to limit the outings in the hot districts. The brutal announcement of the death of the head of state could, according to them, “provoke riots”. But as the Guardian of Lagos points out, it is important to take a step back. “To announce the death of the president well before the hour, Nigerians are accustomed to do it,” said the daily newspaper.
A lack of medical infrastructure
In 2007, when President Umaru Yar Adua had gone to Germany for medical care, the rumor had quickly run that he was dead. The same went for President Ibrahim Babangida during his medical stays abroad. In Nigeria, the rich and the powerful have become used to being treated outside the country, especially in Europe.
Muhammadu Buhari promised to end this “medical tourism,” but he had to face the obvious. His country does not yet have quality hospital infrastructures. With a population of 188 million, Nigeria (the continent’s largest economic power with South Africa), for example, does not have a cancer treatment center.
Thus, Professor Wolé Soyinka (Nobel Prize winner of literature), who suffered from this disease, had to be treated abroad. The 82-year-old writer denounced the fact that “the poor and the middle classes were condemned in Nigeria to die from this disease.” In 2016, life expectancy has decreased in the country: it is now 53 years.
Aged 74, Buhari, who spent a prison term in 1985, has a reputation for being a fragile constitution. Rumors about his health can be spread by his rivals wanting to accredit the idea that this would prevent him from running for the 2019 presidential election. But beyond the petty calculations politicians, the vacancy of power worries to the point Nigeria.
In the event of the death or incapacity of the Head of State, the Constitution provides that the Vice-President succeeds, in this case Yemi Osinbajo. This scenario has already happened: again for the benefit of a Southerner. When Umaru Yar Adua passed away in May 2010, he was replaced by his vice-president Goodluck Jonathan. But are the northerners ready to let the power escape them again, a year and a half after the election of Buhari? Nothing is less sure.
Increasing ethnic tensions
According to the Nigerian press, governors of the North have put pressure on Yemi Osinbajo to force him to resign. They would like to be replaced by one of their own or their protégés. But Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos and the political godfather of Osinbajo do not hear it in this way.
The death of Buhari could provoke a major confrontation between the Hausa (ethnic group dominating the North) and the Yoruba (southwestern Nigeria) for the control of the federal power. Powerful Yoruba politicians, such as Bola Tinubu, played a major role in the election of Buhari. They have put at their disposal their financial resources and their political networks to support it.
They were waiting for a “liftback” to match their investment, but they had the impression that Buhari trusted only his own – the elites of the North – and that he was dismissing the Yoruba as decision-makers. They felt cheated and did not hide it. Buhari, for his part, snubbed the South. Since his election in April 2015, he has never been to Lagos. He and his relatives renamed the economic capital of Nigeria, “Sin city”, the city of sin. The Nigerian president also did not go to Port-Harcourt, the oil capital of the Federation.
Saving a major crisis to their country
For their part, the northerners want to keep political power at all costs. They are based on the principle of “geographical alternation”, an unwritten rule of Nigerian political life. Goodluck Jonathan (in power until May 2015) was originally from the South. For them, it is therefore normal that a northerner now occupies power. The northerners recall at will that as economic wealth is in the South (notably oil), political power should go to the North. An argument which hardly convinced the Southerners that it has always been concentrated in the hands of the northerners since independence. They are calling for a more equitable sharing of power. We see all the ingredients are gathered for a rise in ethnic tensions.
Added to this is the fact that law professor Yemi Osinbajo is also a pastor. A profile that goes badly in the Muslim north. So, aware of the risks involved – whether Christian or Muslim – many Nigerians pray for the Head of State. They want him to live as long as possible in order to spare a major political crisis to their country.
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