An Eid-el-Fitr message from ailing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, congratulating Muslims for ending the annual Ramadan fasting ritual, has turned into controversy and created more concern about his health.
The one-minute audio message was reportedly arranged by aides to debunk social media rumors that Buhari, who is in London for receiving medical treatment for an unspecified illness, has suffered a speech impairment.
Instead, the president's quiet, shaky and frail voice has heightened Nigerians' fears that the president is not getting better.
The message lacked Buhari’s usual brash and authoritative tone.
"I thank you very much for including me in your prayers during the blessed month," he said, before asking God to give Nigeria a good harvest and "peaceful co-existence."
Hassan Maina Kaina, a reporter for VOA's Hausa Service in Abuja, reports that many Nigerians do not even believe that the voice belongs to Buhari. Some are now demanding photos and videos of the president to assure the country that he is alive.
However, Baba Abba, a former state governor who worked with Buhari in the 1980s, confirmed that the voice was indeed the president’s.
Aside from his illness, Buhari's choice to speak in Hausa is kicking up controversy. Many non-Hausa speakers, particularly those in the Igbo-speaking southeast and Yoruba-speaking southwest, are upset that the president did not speak in English, the country’s official lingua franca.
Buhari’s media aide Garba Shehu was reported to have said that Buhari spoke in Hausa because he was interviewed by the BBC Hausa Service, a claim the BBC denied.
Later, Nigerian media organizations reported that the audio was recorded, edited and distributed to selected friendly media organizations in the North.
A former member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Junaid Mohammed, said he wondered what the president and his aides hoped to achieve by releasing the audio clip.
Buhari, 74, has been in London for medical treatment since May 7, after a seven-week stay there earlier this year. Officials have refused to disclosed the nature of his illness or say where he is hospitalized.
Despite assurances by his wife, Aisha Buhari, that he was gaining strength and “would soon return," Nigerians have remained largely skeptical. Buhari has looked gaunt in his occasional photos and public appearances, and has done little official business, letting his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, handle business as acting president.