Nigeria 2023: Atiku & Tinubu show off their moves to counter ill health rumours

By Eniola Akinkuotu
Posted on Wednesday, 5 October 2022 17:48, updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:28

Screenshots of Bola Tinubu on a stationary bike and Atiku Abubakar dancing. (photo: TAR)

From riding exercise bikes to showing off dance moves on TikTok, Nigeria’s elderly presidential hopefuls are trying hard to gain the support of the youth, who make up a majority of voters. Despite these efforts, questions about their health status continue to dominate political discourse. 

Last week, all presidential hopefuls in Nigeria converged at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, to sign a peace accord and restate their commitment to peaceful elections. However, the 70-year-old candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, was conspicuously absent as he was said to be resting in London. His running mate, Kashim Shettima, therefore signed the accord on his behalf.  

However, this would not be the first time such a thing would be happening.

In August, the three main candidates were invited to a conference organised by the Nigerian Bar Association where they were expected to speak about their plans for the country. Again, while Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party were present, Tinubu was in London.  

With Nigeria’s vibrant media space awash with reports that he had been admitted to a hospital in London, Tinubu posted a short video on Twitter, showing him riding an exercise bike while the trending song ‘Organise’, by Afrobeats singer Asake, played in the background. 

The video was celebrated by his supporters and aides on social media and immediately triggered memes and trends, but it was not enough to clear doubts surrounding his health status.

On 4 October, a local media outlet, Vanguard News, reported that Tinubu had met with a philanthropist in London with speculation rife that it could be related to his campaign. Notably, around the same time last year, Tinubu was in London for a three-month medical visit.

Atiku dances 

As Tinubu’s health was still being debated on social media, another video dropped: That of 75-year-old former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. In the TikTok video, Atiku, who is wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans, grooves to the song ‘Stand Strong’ by superstar Davido. Within seconds, his clothes transform into a blue agbada, a loose-fitting traditional robe worn by men in Nigeria. 

Although this was well received by his supporters, many were not impressed as his long spells in Dubai have always elicited rumours that he gets his medical treatment abroad. 

Atiku’s spokesman Paul Ibe has, on many occasions, been forced to issue statements to reassure Nigerians about his boss’ health. 

Sick presidents 

This is not be the first election that candidates go all out to prove their stamina.

In 2007, the ruling party’s candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was absent from some presidential rallies and this triggered rumours that he had died at a German hospital. However, President Olusegun Obasanjo quickly called Yar’Adua on phone at a political rally and amplified the conversation using speakers. 

Anybody can ride a spinning bike. I’m not moved by people dancing or riding spinning bikes. They should release their health records…

Yar’Adua’s proclamation – “I am alive” – elicited cheers from the crowd. Even though he eventually won the election, he died in office about two years later after spending months on end at foreign hospitals, which pushed the country into a constitutional crisis. 

President Muhammadu Buhari who was elected to office in 2015 was also not without controversies. He also denied being sick during the electioneering. However, by 2016, he had become a frequent medical tourist in London. Between 2016 and 2018, he spent over 200 non-consecutive days in London while his aides tried to downplay the severity of his illness. 

On one occasion, when he returned from London looking emaciated in March 2017, he said: “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including in the military with its ups and downs.” 

Medical records 

Nigeria’s constitution says nothing about the physical fitness of anyone aspiring to run for the presidency. All it says is that such a person must not have been adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of an unsound mind. This has made it easy for candidates to escape scrutiny. 

Back in February, while responding to critics who said his shaky hands made him unqualified to hold office, Tinubu said: “I am not applying for the job of bricklaying or grave digging. I went to school to study accountancy and management. I am applying for a thinking job, and I will do it right.” 

His former associate, Abdulmumin Jibrin, also slammed critics at the time saying: “Let his hands be shaking, he remains our choice. You cannot suffocate our democratic space.” 

Nigeria must have spent a fortune on the health of Buhari and Yar’Adua.

Nevertheless, with Nigerians getting tired of sick presidents, many are of the view that anyone seeking to run for office should be bold enough to release their medical records. 

 “Anybody can ride a spinning bike. I’m not moved by people dancing or riding spinning bikes. They should release their health records, let us see. Nigerians have a right to know,” says Rufai Oseni, an anchor on Arise Television. 

Speaking with The Africa Report, presidential hopeful Omoyele Sowore says there needs to be a law mandating all candidates to release their medical reports from designated hospitals. 

Sowore says he is ready to release his own medical report and dared others to do the same. 

“If there is a call for it, I will release my last medical records. I don’t have any ailments and I am sure I am the only candidate that is as fit as a fiddle because I exercise more than all of them,” he says. 

… we are getting to a point where it needs to be a legal requirement

He says millions of dollars have been spent on the health of Nigerian presidents and it is time for this to stop. 

“Nigeria must have spent a fortune on the health of Buhari and Yar’Adua. I think there should be a law that mandates candidates to reveal their medical records, which must be approved by designated hospitals and not their personal doctors,” Sowore adds. 

Lanre Suraj, an activist who heads the non-profit Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), argues that any politician seeking to lead Nigeria must be honest enough to disclose his medical status. 

“I think it is morally required for anyone seeking office to do so and at this stage; we are getting to a point where it needs to be a legal requirement,” Suraj tells The Africa Report. 

He recalls that at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, many leaders willingly disclosed their status without any prodding. Suraj says this tradition should continue in the spirit of transparency. 

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options