COVID-19 is one of the biggest threats to Nigeria’s senior politicians. After decimating a number of key players in 2020, the current re-emergence of the second wave is putting many under pressure just when they were planning to establish the election campaigning machinery to drive their ambitions to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Many senior political leaders are of an age that is highly susceptible to the disease. Given the deaths of Buhari’s powerful Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and others in his inner circle last year, they therefore need to be extra-careful.
Last week rumours emerged that Bola Ahmed Tinubu — the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) national leader and probable frontrunner to succeed Buhari in 2023 — is ill and was flown to London or Paris for treatment. His spokesman, Tunde Rahman, quickly issued a 4 January statement denying that Tinubu was sick but admitted that he was in London to ‘rest’ after a few hectic weeks. This raised questions about why he would travel to London where the COVID-19 rates are much higher than in Nigeria and because the UK is currently in a strict lockdown. The 68-year-old Tinubu is either seriously ill or he travelled to be vaccinated in London before returning home although he would have to be tested and proved that he does not have COVID-19 before being allowed to enter Nigeria.
Tinubu is not the only senior politician seeking protection from COVID-19. On 7 January, pictures emerged in the media showing Abubakar Atiku — the 1999-2007 vice president; 2019 presidential candidate for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and its likely 2023 candidate — being vaccinated in Dubai where he now mainly lives. It is unsurprising that the 74-year-old Atiku has taken advantage of his stay in Dubai to get the vaccine which is currently unavailable in Nigeria. There are already rumours that many leading Nigerians are considering travelling to places like Dubai to get the vaccination because that cannot get it locally.
Meanwhile Femi Odekunle — the 76-year-old member of Buhari’s anti-corruption advisory committee — died of COVID-19 on 30 December after the Nigerian hospital where he was being treated ran out of oxygen. Two other former University of Lagos professors have subsequently died of the illness. These deaths have sent shockwaves through the country’s political class who are now being forced to curtail their movements to avoid contracting COVID-19.