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THE BIG STORY: INSIDE PRESIDENT BUHARI’S RETURN SAGA – BY SIMON ATEBA

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By Simon Ateba/Lagos


At few minutes to 8 a.m. on March 10, 2017, an Air Force plane carrying President Muhammadu Buhari landed at the Air Force base in Kaduna, triggering series of events and gripping the attention of an entire nation like never before in recent times.

It was Mr. Buhari’s first trip to Nigeria since he left the country 50 days earlier on January 19 for what was described by his office as a “short vacation” that would also include a few routine medical checks.

The President’s plane landed in Kaduna because the Abuja airport in the Nigerian capital had been closed two days earlier on march 8 for repairs on the only runway it has.

Thousands of sympathisers had stormed the airport as earlier 3 a.m. to welcome back into the seat of power the 74 year old President from the northern Nigerian state of Katsina who vowed to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.

As the plane landed, “all hell almost broke loose”. Thousands ran towards it, praising Allah, dancing and jumping in a jubilation not seen since Mr. Buhari defeated Mr. Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.

In Bauchi state, a camel was sacrificed to welcome Mr. Buhari and send a warning to his enemies that they may die before him.

Nigerians celebrate President Buhari’s return in the northern state of Bauchi on 11 March 2017. They also sacrificed a camel for the occasion

President Buhari and Vice President Yemi osinbajo

Mr. Buhari left Nigeria on January 19, promising to return to work on February 6 after his “vacation” in the United Kingdom.

But on February 5, as rumours began to spread that he had either died or was in a terrible state of health, the President extended his vacation on the advice of his doctors – indefinitely.

In a letter to the Senate, the Nigerian leader promised to return when things are fine. He did not give a specific date. Rumours began to spread again that he might remain in London for many months and that his condition was degenerating by the day.

Some reports claimed the President could neither walk nor talk. But the Presidency reacted swiftly by providing pictures of Mr. Buhari meeting with Nigerian dignitaries at the Abuja House in London and a readout of a phone conversation he had with America’s unusual President Donald Trump.

But Mr. Buhari’s trip marked a dramatic turn of events in his presidency. He walked unaided from the Air Force plane to a helicopter nearby. He appeared weak but very bad.

At the Presidential palace, Mr. Buhari was welcomed by his wife, Aisha, and family members, as well as Vice President Yemi osinbajo and other politicians and friends.

In his speech read to politicians and security chief at the palace, Mr. Buhari expressed gratitude to Christians and Muslims alike who prayed for him.

He begged sycophants not to send “delegation upon delegation” to welcome him to Abuja but to pray for the unity, prosperity and progress of Nigeria.

Then, he warned that although he feels much better, there may, however, be need for some more follow ups within weeks.

Some reports later claimed that Mr. Buhari would return to London in two or three weeks, adding that he was forced to return to Nigeria to reclaim power as the profile of the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo began to rise astronomically.

Mr. Buhari said he would rest over the weekend and resume work on Monday.

But, many Nigerians from other parts of the country warned that Mr. Buhari was still too weak to run the country. Wale Olaleye, a Nigerian commentator asked Mr. Buhari to resign and attend to his health.

Buhari and Osinbajo this morning

“For me, true honour and integrity lie with the president resigning and retiring to a quiet life. Perhaps, some political horse-trading could precede this crucial and critical decision. But ultimately, he needs complete time off a job as debilitating as running a complex Nigeria,” he said.

Many would be waiting to see Mr. Buhari on Monday, hoping Nigeria would continue to build on the recent economic gains when Mr. Buhari was far away in London.

SIMON ATEBA is the publisher of SIMONATEBA.COM

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