Abuja, Nigeria | AFP | Nigerian officials on Wednesday played down fears about the health of President Muhammadu Buhari, despite his third consecutive absence from cabinet and assurances from his wife there was no cause for concern.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo chaired the meeting instead of the 74-year-old Buhari, who has made few public appearances since he returned from medical treatment in London in early March.
The devout Muslim was also absent from Friday prayers last week and failed to attend his grandson’s wedding on Saturday.
His spokesman said he had undergone “a long period of treatment” for an undisclosed illness in London earlier this year and needed rest. He was said to be working from his private residence.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said after the meeting at the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja, that Buhari was following medical advice.
Buhari worked from his office on Tuesday, he told reporters, adding: “Mr President will stick to his doctor’s advice so that he can recover much more quickly.”
The head of state and his entourage have been under growing pressure to disclose his true health condition since he returned from the British capital after nearly two months away.
Prominent Nigerians and civil society activists have advised him to take medical leave.
Local media reported on Wednesday that former president Olusegun Obasanjo met other ex-military rulers Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar to discuss the situation.
Mohammed said the suggestion “shows how concerned Nigerians are about the health of the president. All their suggestions are being taken on board”.
– ‘Untrue he’s being fed’ –
But he rejected reports in recent days that the former army general was unable to eat or drink and was being fed intravenously.
“It’s absolutely untrue that he’s being fed,” the minister said of the report on the online news site Sahara Reporters, calling Buhari’s absence “not any strange development”.
“It’s exactly what he said, that he has been advised to take it easy by his doctor and that he will soon also go back (to London) for further treatment.”
Buhari’s wife, Aisha said her husband’s health was “not as bad as it’s being perceived”, again without specifying the nature of his illness.
“He continues to carry out his responsibilities during this period,” she wrote on her Twitter account on Tuesday evening.
The health of Nigeria’s president has been a sensitive issue since the death in office in 2010 of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, which sparked months of political turmoil and uncertainty.
During the 2015 election campaign, Buhari rejected opposition claims that he was seriously ill with prostate cancer and said they were a smear to show him as unfit for office.
But presidential aides have sent out mixed messages since January, first saying his trip to London was for “routine medical check-ups” and maintaining Buhari was “hale and hearty”.
He was forced to extend his stay on the eve of his expected return on February 5.
Language shifted after Buhari himself said he “couldn’t recall being so sick” and revealed he had undergone blood transfusions and other medical tests.
He had previously travelled to London in June last year for treatment to what aides said was a persistent inner ear infection.