PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari is celebrating his 76th birthday and goodwill messages have been coming from across the the country for a man who has had the opportunity to preside over the affairs of Nigeria in two different periods in the country’s history.
Only one other Nigerian – Olusegun Obasanjo – has matched that achievement of being a military Head of State and a civilian president. But Buhari has an edge over Obasanjo because the former was a military governor and later a minister.
Encomiums were not in short supply on Monday as many Nigerians, regardless of party, ethnic or religious divides, updated their social media statuses with happy birthday messages for the president.
However, there were those who still raised the controversial issue of Buhari’s ‘true age’ and whether he should still be running for the post of the president at his age.
A short video of Buhari inspecting giant, hand-crafted birthday greeting cards and cakes has been posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmed, the President’s Personal Assistant on New Media, as well as a video of a special parade by the soldiers working at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
— Bashir Ahmad (@BashirAhmaad) December 17, 2018
One of Buhari’s loyal supporter on the social media, Akinsola, described him as “a man who has been exemplary in life and his commitment to Nigeria, a man who has a great sense of humour, and a man who genuinely loves the Nigerian people”.
Another one described the president as “hated by few… loved by most…(and) respected by all for his integrity”.
There were also messages from neutral individuals who have no affiliation with any political party, as well as from supporters of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) posted words of prayers and goodwill for him, albeit with sneer.
For instance, this tweet by one handle with the username ‘Ade of Nigeria’ which read: “You may not like him. He may not be the best Nigeria has to offer, as the President. Today, however, he’s our leader and sure deserves our prayer. Happy Birthday, Mohammed Buhari.”
And this tweet by one Chidi Okereke, “Today is President Buhari’s birthday and all I want to do is wish him good health and more years. Hopefully he celebrates the next one as an elder statesman.”
Even Buhari’s main opponent for the presidential election, Abubakar Atiku, also posted his own birthday message, praying for God to give the president long life and good health “to witness how we get Nigeria Working Again”.
Then, there were posts suggesting that Buhari could be older than 76. This belief is widely expressed but there has been no evidence. Like this tweet by one ‘ClintonViceB’ which read: “Who else thinks 76 is just Buhari’s football age and that he is well over 76 years of age?” In Nigeria, footballers are believed to quote age figures lower than their real age, hence the term ‘football age’ to connote someone who says he is younger than his real age.
This controversy over President Buhari’s age was heightened in 2017 during his 75th birthday when he said he thought he was 74 but was told he was 75.
Also, there is the question of whether Buhari, at 76, is still strong enough to handle the rigours and stress that come with being in charge of the largest economy in Africa.
Buhari had once admitted in 2015 that at 72, there was a limit to what he could do. “I wish I became Head of State when I was a Governor, just a few years as a young man. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do,” he said at the time.
If Buhari wins the presidential election in 2019, he would be 80 years old by the time his second tenure comes to an end.