With campaigning underway for Nigeria’s 2023 election, the ruling APC is fending off questions over the health of its presidential candidate, former Lagos governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who has been out of the country.
The health of candidates is sensitive in Nigeria, especially after President Muhammadu Buhari himself spent months away for treatment in his first term, and in 2010, President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office after a long illness.
Nicknamed the “Godfather of Lagos” for his political clout, Tinubu is in a tight race against three major rivals to succeed Buhari, who steps down after two terms governing Africa’s most populous state.
Conspicuously absent for the signing of a symbolic peace agreement with other candidates last week, Tinubu’s health has come under scrutiny with some asking why he was away.
The 70-year-old candidate sought to reassure Nigerians on Sunday, with a video of himself on an exercise bike with Afrobeats music playing.
“Many have said I have died; others claim I have withdrawn from the presidential campaign. Well… Nope. This is the reality: I am strong, I am healthy,” the Twitter message reads with a seven-second video.
APC leaders also appeared on talk shows to dispel rumours of ill health, saying Tinubu was in London to rest because he was unable to do so in Lagos or the capital Abuja.
“The man needed a few days off, because the pressure on him is a bit too much,” APC campaign official Ayo Oyalowo told Channels Televison.
“The man is healthy. They said he is in the hospital; some even said he died. All manner of nonsense has been said about him.”
With Nigeria’s economy flagging, oil production at historic lows, and insecurity a major issue, the next president faces a host of urgent problems.
“No way should anyone be signing a peace accord on behalf of anyone!” well-known activist Aisha Yesufu wrote on Twitter. “Bola Ahmed Tinubu has to sign for himself.”
The hashtag #WhereisTinubu trended on Twitter, with some questioning whether the Tinubu video was new.
“The more Tinubu goes missing, I think the more likely it is going to be a potentially dispositive issue in the campaign,” said Chidi Odinkalu, a Nigerian academic at Tufts University.
The five-month campaign for the February 25 vote began last week, but the APC delayed its official start to sort out disagreements among party stakeholders.
Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, part of APC’s campaign team, said the programme was being put together and dismissed concerns.
“We have how many months to the election and how many months to campaign. The first to start does not translate to first to finish,” he told Arise TV. “Not to worry at all.”
Tinubu, whose unofficial campaign slogan is “It’s my turn”, touts his experience as Lagos governor. The APC has s nationwide structure and state governorships to help mobilise voters.
But analysts say Tinubu must also manage discontent over APC’s perceived economic mismanagement, as Nigerians struggle with 20 percent inflation.
Main opposition Peoples Democratic Party candidate Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, says his experience and business acumen can “rescue” Nigeria.
On his fifth run at the presidency, the 75-year-old also appeared to try to show his own vitality in a video this week of himself dancing.
“Nigeria is in crisis, but we have a five-star recovery plan,” a message says as the candidate sways.
In a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30, Abubakar and Tinubu are seen by some younger Nigerians as old-guard politicians offering little new, analysts say. That leaves room for Labour Party’s Peter Obi, 61, to challenge the long dominance of the APC and PDP.
The PDP was in power from 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule until it was ousted by APC in 2015.
In his first term, Buhari spent months in London getting treated for an undisclosed ailment in 2017, one of several medical trips overseas.
Then president Yar’dua’s long absence in 2010 caused a crisis over a power vacuum. He even gave the BBC an interview from his Saudi hospital to prove he wasn’t dead. He died after he returned from treatment.