The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has drawn the ire of Nigerians for saying that with President Muhammadu Buhari’s sickness, the nation and indeed all Nigerians are sick.
He said he and six of his colleagues that visited the ailing President in London last week advised the Nigerian leader not to be in a hurry to return to the country.
He said the governors told Buhari, who left the country on May 7, 2017, to stay back in the British capital until he was completely healed.
Ortom stated this on Thursday in an interview with State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, amid growing speculations that the President was due back in the country.
The governor was part of the delegation of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum that visited the President last week.
Others on the delegation were Abdullazeez Yari (Zamfara); Dave Umahi (Ebonyi); Umar Ganduje (Kano); Kashim Shettima (Borno); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom); and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo).
Ortom said Buhari was mentally alert throughout the period the governors spent with him, adding that their discussion centred on security and happenings in various states of the country.
He urged Nigerians to continue to pray for the Nigerian leader, saying, “Once the President is sick, the whole country is sick.”
He said, “I was the first person that initiated prayers and I shouted halleluyah when I saw him because God has answered my prayers. I urge both Christians and Muslims to pray for Mr. President because that is our duty.
“There is no power without God’s ordination. So those of us who are subjects should continue to pray. We should not be castigating Mr. President or wishing him evil.
“We should be praying for him. If Mr. President is sick, it means all of us are sick; the whole country is sick. It is our responsibility to pray that Mr. President get well so that our country too will be well.
“Mr. President is doing well. When we saw him, he was not in a wheelchair, he was not bedridden. He greeted us, we cracked jokes and he was mentally alert. We discussed about the security situation in the country and he asked us questions about what we are doing.
“Our prayer is that God will consummate his healing. We asked him not to hurry because there is no vacuum. The Acting President is holding forth for him and he is doing very well. By the grace of God, I believe that very soon, he will be with us.”
The governor also expressed surprise that a former Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav, has continued to make unfounded allegations against him.
He said Tsav had earlier apologised to him on the matter, but he told the former commissioner that he was not comfortable with a secret apology. He said the Tor Tiv, who was present during the discussion, asked Tsav to tender a public apology within two weeks so that he (Ortom) would withdraw the suit he instituted against Tsav.
He said, “The Tor Tiv gave him two weeks to tender a public apology, but he turned back to launch another attack.
“I want the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or any organisation that he has written petitions against me to investigate whether the allegations are true or not. That is why I decided to go to court since I am a law-abiding governor.”
However, Nigerians, including the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, berated the governor for his comment on Buhari’s health.
Afenifere and the Coalition of Northern Youths lampooned Ortom over his statement that Buhari’s illhealth had made the nation sick.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, described the comment as “the height of sycophancy by Ortom.”
He said if the governor’s comment was true, it meant the President surrounded himself with incompetent officials who could not steer the country along the right path without him.
“The President is the number one citizen, but if he is sick, that did not mean the nation is sick; he is not Nigeria. If he is sick and the country is sick, it means he surrounded himself with incompetents who cannot steer the ship of the nation without him. I think the comment by Ortom is the height of sycophancy,” Odumakin said.
The President of the Coalition of Northern Youths, Yerima Shettima, said Ortom’s statement was sad and unfortunate, noting that the nation was greater than an individual.
He said it was wrong for anyone to say Nigeria was sick because of Buhari’s illness, noting that the nation must forge ahead with or without the President.
Shettima argued that the country must build strong institutions, stressing that an individual alone could not make a country.
He said, “As much as we love him (Buhari), and we are worried about his health, we cannot say because he is sick, the entire country should fall apart. We pray for his quick recovery, but Nigeria must forge ahead.
“Nigeria must forge ahead, but we pray for him to come back in good health and discharge his duties and fulfil his obligation to the electorate. But for anybody to say without Buhari, there is no Nigeria or because he sick, the country is sick; it is not right.
“I am sure Buhari will not want Nigeria to go down, or for the country to be sick because he is sick. We need to be mindful of our words; the country is greater than any individual.”
Also, a civil-society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, said opinions of governors that visited President Muhammadu Buhari could not determine his stay in London, since they were not medical doctors.
SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumumi, said only the medical team with the President would determine his leaving.
He said, “When the President left for his first medical trip, he made it known that he would still go back for a checkup. The health of the president is very important, and he has a duty to take care of himself. The governors do not have to tell the President before he does that. They are not medical doctors.
“It is what the medical team in London tells him that will be done. Nigeria has existed before the President was born, and the country will continue to be whether he is well or not.”
A Second Republic lawmaker and northern elder statesman, Dr Junaid Mohammed, said the statement credited to Ortom was unfortunate, noting that the governor was trying to be “mischievous.”
Junaid said, “If that statement came out from Governor Ortom, then it is rather unfortunate. It further confirms the fears of Nigerians that there is no clear-cut definition on the president’s state of health. The statement is rather mischievous. It does not allay the worries of Nigerians.”