Nigeria’s ailing President Buhari misses third cabinet meeting

Aisha Buhari and Preseident Muhammadu Buhari at his inauguration

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has missed his third cabinet meeting in a row amid ongoing questions about the state of his health.

There are concerns about a leadership vacuum as one of Africa’s largest economies struggles to pulls itself out of recession, correspondents say.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said Mr Buhari “needed to rest”.

In March, Mr Buhari returned from seven weeks of sick leave in the UK where he was treated for an undisclosed illness.

When he returned home he said he had never been so ill in his life.

To calm fears, the president’s wife Aisha Buhari tweeted on Tuesday that her husband was not as sick as is being perceived.

But as he has not been seen in public for more than a week, Nigerians are continuing to discuss the issue.

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In her tweets, Mrs Buhari said that the president was continuing to “carry out his responsibilities” and has been meeting with ministers.

Buhari’s absence fuels speculation, Stephanie Hegarty, BBC Africa:

President Muhammadu BuhariImage copyrightAFP
Image captionPresident Muhammadu Buhari was in the UK for seven weeks for treatment

Mr Buhari has rarely been seen outside of his official residence in the eight weeks since he returned from the UK.

But the real controversy began when he stopped attending an important weekly cabinet meeting four weeks ago.

#WhereisBuhari started trending online and the writer Wole Soyinka, as well as prominent civil society activists, is calling on the president to release his medical records and to take official medical leave once again.

This is a crucial year for Nigeria and important decisions need to be made as the country struggles to get out of recession.

The presidency is keen to assure the public that Mr Buhari is still very much in charge because a power vacuum, or even the perception of it, could have very damaging effects.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who was the acting president while Mr Buhari was away in the UK, chaired the cabinet meeting in the capital, Abuja.

On Monday, a group of prominent Nigerians has called on Mr Buhari to take medical leave as concerns about his health grow.

They said in a statement that the president’s absence from the cabinet meetings, as well as the weekly Friday Muslim prayers, “has fuelled further speculation and rumours” about his medical condition.

The 13 said they felt “compelled” to ask Mr Buhari “to heed the advice of his personal physicians by taking a rest to attend to his health without any further delay”.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba KyariImage copyrightNOVO ISIORO
Image captionVice-President Yemi Osinbanjo (right) has stepped in to chair the cabinet meeting

Mr Buhari’s personal assistant Bashir Ahmed said the president had met Justice Minister Abubakar Malami and other officials at the presidential villa on Tuesday as part of his official duties.

Last week, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said Mr Buhari was “taking things slowly, as he fully recovers from the long period of treatment” in the UK.

Buhari’s unhealthy start to 2017

19 January: Leaves for UK on “medical vacation”

5 February: Asks parliament to extend medical leave

10 March: Returns home but does not resume work immediately

26 April: Misses second cabinet meeting and is “working from home”

28 April: Misses Friday prayers

3 May: Misses third cabinet meeting