from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – ELECTION campaigns in Nigeria are never complete without the health card being played. The upcoming poll is no exception.
It is a long-running underhand tactic by rivals during polls since the advent of democracy in 1999 in Africa’s biggest country by population 218,5 million and the continent’s largest economy.
Previously, the main opposition leader has been on the receiving end but in this election campaign, the flag-bearer and the leader of the main opposition are both victims.
With polls that are set to be the tightest in the West African nation’s history on the horizon, the rumour mill is running full throttle.
The alleged ill-health of the leader of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, has dominated Nigeria’s increasingly toxic political terrain.
An overseas trip by the former Vice President, Abubakar, sparked speculation.
Femi Fani-Kayode, campaign publicist of the the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, led the claims regarding the health of Abubakar.
“Yet again Mr Privatise Everything (Abubakar) fell dangerously ill and ran to Dubai for a ‘stich it up, procedure. Watch how he walks and you will know what’s going on,” Fani-Kayode disparaged.
Abubakar is an advocate of privatisation.
He also described as “tomfoolery” that the presidential hopeful had been overseas before Christmas and was expected back in Nigeria this week.
“He (Abubakar) is either very sick or irresponsible or both. I pity his gullible supporters,” Fani-Kayode lampooned.
A former cabinet minister, Fani-Kayode is one of the most controversial figures in Nigerian politics.
He is a serial flip-flopper between the APC and PDP, the country’s two biggest parties.
PDP has allayed fears around the health of its candidate and lashed back at its former member, Fani-Kayode.
“Atiku is 100 percent fit and in super form healthwise,” said Dino Melaye, spokesperson of the PDP Presidential Campaign Management Committee.
He explained Abubakar had been in London at the invitation of the British government, as was Tinubu and the Labour Party’s Peter Obi earlier.
Melaye thus urged Nigerians to “disregard the lies of unrepentant liars.”
Tinubu has spent part of the campaign period assuring Nigerians of his fitness amid allegations of ill-health.
Late last year, rumours swirled he was receiving treatment, for an undisclosed ailment, in London.
A photo went viral online depicting a woman trying to help a man purported to be Tinubu get up from bed.
APC dismissed the picture as “handiwork of purveyors of deep fake.”
Former Lagos mayor, Abubakar, is 76. Tinubu is 70.
The health of the president is of enormous interest to Nigerians since the death of the then president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010, aged 58.
He succumbed to an ailment at the presidential villa. His death created a power vacuum.
Then, PDP was the ruling party.
Goodluck Jonathan, the deceased’s deputy, took over but lost the 2015 election to the ex-military dictator, Muhammadu Buhari in.
Buhari had a bumpy campaign period, with questions lingering over his health.
He reportedly collapsed at a rally in the southern city of Calabar but his office argued he tripped and quickly regained composure.
Leaked medical reports suggested Buhari had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014.
A year later, he conquered the odds and won the presidential election, the first time in the history of Nigeria that an opposition candidate defeated the incumbent.
Buhari spent weeks on “routine medical checkups” in the United Kingdom in 2017.
The initial medical vacation was 51 days and the longest 104 days.
Buhari (55,6 percent) secured a second term in 2019, defeating closest rival Abubakar (41,2 percent).
Bizarrely, there were claims Buhari had died and been replaced by a lookalike from Sudan.
The restive country of an estimated 219 million people is scheduled to hold presidential and national assembly elections on February 25 as well as governorship and state elections on March 11.
Former PDP governor and ex-defence minister, Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso (66), is the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). He is a former member of both APC and PDP.
Another erstwhile PDP governor, Peter Obi (61), is the other dark horse in the presidential poll.
Buhari is ineligible, having served the two terms allowed by the constitution.
Apathy was a concern in the 2019 poll. Only 34,7 percent of the 82,34 million registered voters cast their ballots then.
– CAJ News