In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, a member of the House of Representatives during the second republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, talks about President Muhammadu Buhari’s health, 2019 presidential election and other national issues
Buhari has refused to address Nigerians concerning his state of health. Do you think that he should have done that before travelling out of the country again for medical treatment?
Ideally, I think he should have done so even though there is no law which requires him to do so. It would have been better for him to calm the nerves and the psyche of the nation because of the uncertainty which has bedevilled the country (because of issues surrounding his poor health). There are a lot of rumours and occasionally, some opportunistic and reckless statements emanate from some characters who are active players in the political circle, including non-politicians. I wouldn’t want to hold that against him because before he left, there was no indication that he was going to leave in a hurry. Being a professional in that field (health care), when a patient leaves in a hurry because the doctors handling his case insist that he should leave in a hurry, we must not make an issue out of that.
It is important that he travels to take care of his health. I am glad that for the second time he has left the country to seek medical attention, he has the presence of mind to send the requisite letter to the National Assembly – apart from the hiccup caused by somebody who smuggled in some irresponsible and reckless expression into the letter. This is somebody close to the President; the person was so lousy to input certain motives into the letter – thank God the constitution and reason prevailed.
As a medical doctor, what do you think is the true state of health of the President? What do you think he is suffering from?
As a medical doctor, I have no right to comment on the issue when he is not my patient. Secondly, whatever I know about his health is privileged information and it will be unethical on my part to discuss specifics in public. Thirdly, a lot of the confusion arising from the misinformation and deliberate attempts to mislead the people of Nigeria arose because non-medical persons took over the responsibility of managing information (concerning Buhari’s health). They wanted to use it for propaganda and present the President for what he is not. They want to present him as a superman, who cannot be sick, and when he is sick they treat it like he is just having a cold. As far as I am concerned, the best thing that could have happened was that it behoves the personal physician to the president in addition to the doctors who are managing President Buhari’s health to come forth and tell Nigerians what is wrong with the president. They cannot do that without clearance from Buhari. This is what applies to doctor-patient confidentiality.
In the situation we have found ourselves, Buhari is a public property. He is the president of Nigeria. People are concerned about the well-being and state of health of the President of close to 200 million people. This is a President that was freely and creditably elected; they are worried about what is being said concerning the state of being of the President they freely elected – the situation needs to be properly managed. You don’t leave the management of such information to the hands of two small boys who don’t even know the formulae for water to start talking about important medical issues. From the way the President looks, talks and walks, clearly the man is not in good health.
It is not proper to start making a noise and blaming people. They should come out and tell us the basic facts. And if the President does not want to come out and tell us the basic facts, it will be known. I don’t think the President is the kind of person that would not want to talk about his health. He is the one to decide (whether to reveal his health status or not). He is to decide on what could be divulged; it is within his powers. He is a patient and every patient has certain rights within the medical profession. I am not going to tell you what is wrong with the President because whatever I say will be a conjecture. We don’t do that kind of thing – I am not about to break my Hippocratic Oath because I am granting you an interview.
In view of Buhari’s ill-health that has kept him away for weeks, do you think he should resign?
The constitution of Nigeria provides that if the president is either sick or otherwise incapacitated physically or mentally, there are certain steps to be taken. But I don’t believe we are there yet. My concern is not about whether the President is sick or not, but the way the sickness is being treated. From the day Buhari came back into Nigeria, it was clear that he had been ‘hijacked’ – the Presidency has been held captive by a cabal, as we know them. Now, whether the cabal has the right to do that is another matter because the constitution does not provide for any group of people – whether they are personal blood relations or friends of the President or his cronies. They have no right to deny Nigerians access to the President. But if doctors decide not to allow him see some people, that should be stated in statements which are coherent and medically knowledge-based. But what we have been seeing is abracadabra, with everybody telling his own lie by saying that the President is either praying or going to the office or to the mosque.
These do not allay fears. Our concern is: What is the state of health of our President? If we know this and have it on good authority, tempers will not flare. I noticed from the last time he came back to the time he went back, there have been a group of people making very irresponsible statements. They are saying that some people are planning confusion. Someone claimed that he cried because Buhari was unable to attend the wedding of his (Buhari’s) grandson – certainly, that old man was lying. We’ve seen all sorts of people who are now bringing up all sorts of animosity within the ruling party that some people are responsible for some people not being given appointments or denied the opportunity to be picked as vice president. These are very dangerous gimmicks. Dangerous, because there is a problem of sensibilities; those of us who have opposed zoning and rotation since the 1970’s have continued to say that this is not a very healthy situation and it is not in the interest of the country.
The zoning in the Peoples Democratic Party has not worked. Now it is trending in the All Progressives Congress. It is either we fix it or ship it out altogether. If that is not done, then you have to go back and redress it by saying that in the course of zoning and rotation, (Umaru) Yar’Adua died in office. The years he ought to have spent in office were not compensated for. Those who are claiming that Yar’Adua was theirs or that he came from their region did not get the compensation that was due to them. We are now having a situation whereby Buhari is sick – whether he resigns or God forbid, something else happens, we are going to have the balance of Buhari’s years taken over by someone else from outside the zone Buhari comes from. What are we going to do? Are we going to say okay, nothing has happened, let’s carry on? They invoked the so-called Doctrine of Necessity and carried on. Whereas you can ignore agitations from people who didn’t win an election, you cannot ignore agitations from people who won an election. I have no doubt in my mind that Buhari won an election. What he has done with the mandate is another matter and I have been very critical about what has been happening. But the fact of the matter is, those who see Buhari as their representative and are not being treated justly are going to claim their own rights and the only way you are going to resolve the issue is that after Buhari’s administration, you have it zoned to a certain part of the country for eight to 10 years. Whether this makes sense in a democracy or not is beside the point, because I don’t support zoning and rotation. You should ask those who support it and see whether they can continue with the system.
Because clearly, there are so many unforeseen circumstances that can come up in the process of zoning and rotation for which there is no remedy. And, if we don’t have a remedy for it, it may lead to the breakup of the country. We should be very careful. It cannot be the kind of thing which happened under Yar’Adua whether you call it divine intervention or Doctrine of Necessity. This time around, the concept has to be revisited and those who have lost out twice have to be compensated. Otherwise, there may not be much of Nigeria to think or talk about and our democracy will be gone.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu issued a statement recently, saying Nigerians should not politicise the Buhari’s health. A former National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, expressed concern over the president’s health. Do you think both men are sincere with their comments?
They are far from being sincere. Both of them are playing politics and they are blaming other people of playing politics. Clearly, (Bola) Tinubu had the ambition to be vice president of Nigeria. He is blaming certain people for denying him the opportunity of becoming the vice president and eventually the president. Clearly, (Bisi) Akande was being alarmist when he said some people are creating confusion. He should tell us who are those people creating confusion? I believe he and Tinubu are the people throwing stones and blaming other people for not being patriotic. They imagine that they can win sympathy so that when the time comes for a transition, it will be easy for them and they can justify the eventuality of Buhari’s inability to continue. So that they can manipulate their way to take over completely in 2019; one thing I know is that, if Vice President (Yemi) Osinbajo becomes the president from whatever date to 2019, he cannot contest that position again. This was the understanding that was reached with Jonathan Goodluck (with the PDP) and he reneged on it and nearly threw the country into a civil war. This time around, those, whether from the North, South-South, South-West or South-East, who sign agreements with whomever, must make such public. They should also state the time when this agreement will come into force. We cannot now avoid the constitution. If there is the need to follow the constitution we must follow the letter and spirit of the constitution – that is up till 2019. Beyond that, power should come back to where Buhari comes from and remain there for a solid eight to 10 years – unless in running for a second term the person loses re-election. There is nothing one can do about that.
Expectedly, the Arewa Consultative Forum and other northern groups seem to find nothing wrong with the way the President is hiding information about his health. Do you think this is nepotism?
I wouldn’t call it nepotism even though I am not an admirer of the Arewa Consultative Forum. I have never been a member of the group and I will never be a member till I die. They are trying to play ethnic or regional politics. But they are doing it in a very crude manner. One: none of them is a specialist in information management. Two: none of them knows enough about the President’s state of health; none of them is close enough to know the actual facts. It is only when you know the facts that you can determine how such information should be dished out to the public. As far as I am concerned they are just crying foul. But if they insist that before power is shifted from Buhari whether alive or dead, certain things must be done, I will be with the ACF every step of the way. I don’t believe in any kind of pressure group which is ethnically or religiously inclined – that applies to Ohanaeze, South-South Peoples Assembly, Oodua People’ s Congress or whatever they call themselves. As far I am concerned, these groups are a drag to our national development and are always looking for cheap ways to circumvent democratic norms and principles; that is why we have not made any meaningful progress from 1999 to date.
What are your fears about Buhari’s health?
I do have fears about his health. But I am not about to share them with you. The only job I learnt in my life is medicine. Let’s leave it at that.
The current tenure of the Buhari presidency will end in 2019. What do you think will be the outcome of his government?
Only God can tell with unquestionable precision what will happen tomorrow. In life and in whatever capacity one finds himself, it doesn’t really matter how long one serves but how well he performs. If one talks of performance index, it will be difficult to rate Buhari very high. It is difficult to give a full assessment after just two years. What has happened within the last two years could send cold shivers to the spines of everybody including Buhari himself. If what he thinks he has achieved is enough to protect his legacy, let him go ahead and do the same for the remainder of his term. But I don’t believe it is enough. I have known him since he was a Second Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army. I believe he has the capacity to do better and I am looking forward to him doing better. However, there are areas you must give him credit for. You must give him credit for the way he has handled the Boko Haram insurgency. But that is not to say his noisemakers in the Presidency saying that the Boko Haram insurgents have been caged and defeated aren’t talking nonsense.
They want to give an impression that everything is okay, which is not true. If you look at what has been happening in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, you can see clearly that the insurgency is far from over. They are also saying because Boko Haram is no longer holding any territory it is all over – this too is sheer nonsense. That theory is not backed by military science. None of them knows what they are talking about. Even if you say they are not holding any territory again, you are not being truthful. There are certain areas in Borno State and parts of Yobe (State) where Boko Haram is holding territory, in addition to Niger Republic and parts of Chad and Cameroon. I wish they are no longer holding any territory because I want every Boko Haram presence to be destroyed. But that has not happened yet. A lot of achievements have been made in fighting them. I must give credit to the soldiers for the sacrifices they have made and are still making to deal with the situation.
We have to give him credit for the current management of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – for what the commission is doing. If, in the process, the EFCC have run afoul of the law, then they should be held accountable. I believe the problem between the Senate and the Presidency over the EFCC is man-made and I believe if Buhari was in good health and had better people advising him – unfortunately, he doesn’t have– things would be better. We now have a situation where the Senate rejected an appointee of the president twice and in one of the instances, the senators used communication from the Director General of the Department of State Services (against the EFCC chairman). That is a misnomer. I don’t know how a President can nominate somebody only to have an agency of government directly under the President writing a letter to undermine that person. There is something funny going on. We now have a situation where members of the cabal who are relations of Buhari are fighting one another. Under this kind of situation, you don’t know who to trust or who to believe. Who is the substantive EFCC chairman? Because the fight against corruption must proceed, Buhari has to take a stand.
The APC appears to be promising to deliver the Presidency to the Igbo. Do you think the Igbo will ever produce the country’s president?
I think the Igbo will someday produce a President for this country. There is nothing in the constitution or political facts that can deny them that opportunity. But the way and manner they are currently approaching the issue cannot lead them to the presidency. We want an Igbo president who will be president of all Nigerians. Obasanjo was a Yoruba, who was president of all Nigerians no matter what you say about him. The other people who were also presidents were not presidents because of their ethnic groups, zones or religions. They were presidents of all Nigerians. And anybody who thinks he can blackmail people because of his ethnicity is wasting his time. Those who imagine that they can agitate their way into Aso Rock are making a huge mistake.
The wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, has been silent about the cabal she claimed are running Buhari’s government. Do you think she’s been cowed into silence?
I think Aisha has come to realise that she is first a wife and a mother. So, when the head of the family is in this kind of dire straits, common sense demands that you should be more circumspect in making statements. I don’t believe she was cowed because I don’t see anybody cowing her. She is a woman who has seen power at a very close range. She has been with Buhari for almost 27 years and unlike other members of the cabal, she is sincerely in love with her husband. They can sometimes prevent her from seeing him, using his doctors. I believe she did what she did creditably and when history comes to be written it would do her more justice than Mamman Daura, Babachir Lawal or any of those characters around the President. I doff my hat for her.
What is your view about swapping Boko Haram commanders for the Chibok girls?
I think what happened should be applauded. If my daughter was to be in the situation the Chibok girls found themselves, whatever is done to bring her home, I will support. If money has been paid, I will support the payment of such. There is the issue of so-called commanders in Boko Haram who were said to have been released. If at all they are commanders, taking them away from the theatre of war for the last three years has rendered them useless even if they go back – because the operational theatre has changed.