The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has spent at least 225 days away from the country on medical trips since assuming office in 2015.
On February 5, 2016, eight months after assuming office, the President took his first medical trip to London, the United Kingdom, spending six days.
Buhari’s second medical trip would follow four months later on June 6, 2016. He spent 10 days treating an undisclosed ear infection after which he rested for three extra days before returning to Abuja on June 19, 2016.
On January 19, 2017, the President embarked on his second longest medical trip. Before leaving, however, he wrote to the Bukola Saraki-led Senate revealing his plan to travel to London on a 10-day vacation.
In the letter, the Nigerian leader said he would hand over to his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Though the medical holiday was due to commence on January 23, 2017, Buhari left Abuja the same day.
He returned to Abuja on March 10, 2017, spending 50 days away.
In May of the same year, barely two months after his last trip, the President departed for London for his longest medical pilgrimage lasting 104 days.
It is still unclear what ailment he was being treated for, but Nigerians were asked to “pray” for the President.
What followed were speculations and misinformation about his health status, with some presuming him dead and replaced with a body double.
The long treatment must have helped as the President would not visit London for another medical check-up until a year later in May 2018 when he spent four days on “medical review.”
In late March 2021, Buhari departed for London again for a “routine medical check-up” that lasted 15 days.
His trip came amid a labour crisis in the health sector, which saw members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors commencing an indefinite strike over unpaid allowances.
On March 6, 2022, the President jetted out to London for a medical trip, which lasted 12 days.
Earlier, Buhari was scheduled to visit London from Nairobi, Kenya, where he was attending the United Nations Environmental Programme at 50.
He, however, returned to Nigeria on Friday March 4, but departed for London on Sunday March 6.
Earlier, the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, had announced that Buhari would proceed to London from Kenya for “routine medical checks that will last for a maximum of two weeks.”
On October 31, 2022, the President departed Owerri, the Imo State capital, for London on another medical check-up lasting about two weeks. He returned to the country on November 13, 2022.
The President’s spokesman had, times without number, defended Buhari’s medical trips abroad saying he “has used the same medical team for about 40 years.”
Adesina also argued that it was advisable that the President stayed with the team that had his medical history.
Although it is not clear how much has been spent on the President’s medical check-ups, the Buhari regime has earmarked at least N33.3bn for the State House medical infrastructure in the past eight years.
This includes recurrent items such as the “purchase of health/medical equipment, drugs and medical supplies” and capital components such as the construction of the presidential wing of the State House Medical Centre scheduled for completion this month.
A breakdown of budget documents for the period under review revealed that general “medical expenses” gulped N308.26m; the State House Medical Centre took N8.35bn, while the presidential wing gulped N24.24bn.
The President had presented the 2023 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja on Friday, October 7, 2022, his last.
In 2016, the State House medical budget stood at N4.84bn. In 2017, N384.76m was allocated for medical expenses and operation of the facility.
A total of N1.08bn and N850.68m was allocated in 2018 and 2019, respectively. This dropped to N634.14m in 2020.
Buhari returns to Abuja from Imo
In the 2021, 2022 and 2023 budget proposals, N693.01m, N708.75m and N476.52m, respectively were allocated to the State House Medical Centre and medical expenses.
However, the document did not reveal how much the regime spent on the President and Vice-President’s medical treatments and check-ups in the past eight years.
But a closer examination of the appropriation bills revealed that the State House earmarked N744.85m for “drugs and medical supplies” alone within that period.
On the capital expenditure side, the Federal Government budgeted N723.72m for various phases of the “completion of dental wing extension in the SHMC and outstanding liabilities on reclamation and earth filling.”
Since 2019, successive appropriation bills also allocated a total of N24.24bn for the “construction of the presidential wing at the State House Medical Centre.”
The breakdown is as follows: N395,834,810 (2019), N416,668,220 (2020), N1,064,643,299 (2021), N21,974,763,310 (2022) and N393,661,239 (2023). The facility is due for completion in December 2022.
Meanwhile, the President has embarked on at least 84 trips visiting over 40 countries in the past seven years.
These include trips for medical check-ups, regional and global summits, high-level meetings, condolence and state visits, among others.
Within that period, the Presidency earmarked N50.75bn for the Presidential Air Fleet.
Our correspondent observed from past appropriation bills from 2016 that funds were budgeted for air navigational equipment, aircraft calibration equipment, purchase of Phase 7 Avionics for AW 139 helicopters, etc.
A closer look at the countries the President visited since assuming office in May 2015 revealed the United Kingdom to be his most frequented destination.
Although this could be attributed to the summits he attended in London, medical check-ups loomed large in the nine trips and over 200 days he has spent there.
Trailing the UK is the United States, where Buhari has visited seven times, mostly for the United Nations General Assembly held annually in September.
However, some had been state visits as in July 2015 and September 2016 when he met President Barack Obama and another state visit in April 2018 involving President Donald Trump.
A further breakdown showed that Buhari also visited Saudi Arabia, South Africa and France a record five times each.
Ethiopia recorded four visits, with three visits to the United Arab Emirates, Ghana and Senegal, respectively.
Countries he visited thrice and twice include Niger and China, Germany, Benin, The Gambia, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Mali, Chad and Germany, respectively.
The President also touched the ground once in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, India, Sudan, Spain, Iran, Malta, Rwanda, Qatar, Turkey, Scotland, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Belgium, South Korea, Liberia and Japan; totalling 40 countries and 84 trips.
In an earlier interview with our correspondent, Nigeria’s former envoy to Singapore, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said the trips were necessary as the President and Vice-President’s presence gave greater weight to the issues underlying such visits.
He explained, “In some critical situations, yes, such foreign visits are justified. A sovereign leader must undertake his diplomatic tours in order to lend the weight of his office to the issue at hand.
“For example, if there had been a state visit from a particular head of state or government to Nigeria, and diplomacy is a game of reciprocity, then in return, he (Nigerian President) should also undertake a visit to reciprocate whatever objective is to be achieved.
“You cannot say a head of state came here, then you send somebody of lesser stature in the administrative hierarchy to go back to that foreign capital. Also, there are certain critical issues that it is the presence of the sovereign that will carry the essential weight in underscoring the objective to be achieved.”
In a factsheet released on May 28, 2022, the Presidency argued that the trips had revived and strengthened fragile or broken relations with the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa and other neighbours such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
It also said Buhari’s visit to China in April 2016 unlocked billions of dollars in infrastructure funding for road, rail and port projects.
On the security front the Presidency said the government “has mobilised international support for the war against Boko Haram, forging strong partnerships with key countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, ECOWAS, the AU, UN and others. After years of stalemate, the United States finally agreed to sell – and is selling – weapons to Nigeria (fighter aircraft).”