Returning to Nigeria after a long sick leave in London last year, President Muhammadu Buhari was greeted with a bizarre conspiracy theory. He had died and been replaced by “Jubril from Sudan”, a body double who had undergone extensive plastic surgery, said the Biafran secessionist leader Nnamdi Kanu. In October, just before campaigning began for February’s presidential election, the rumour went viral. For weeks now, prospective voters have been squinting at before-and-after pictures of the president’s hands and ears, trying to spot the difference – so much so that the normally-tightlipped Buhari has felt the need to deny the rumours. “It’s the real me, I assure you,” he told an audience in Poland on Sunday, chuckling.
But truth is as curious as fiction in an election that pits the incumbent, Buhari, against a record 78 other candidates, including a former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, a former minister and Chibok girls activist, Oby Ezekwesili, and a former state governor, Donald Duke.
Buhari, a former military dictator with a reputation for hard discipline, swept to power in 2015 for the All Progressives Congress party on a wave of disgust at levels of corruption under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and fears about the growing power of the extremist group Boko Haram.
As his term reaches a close he stands accused of failing to effectively deal with either, squandering the goodwill he enjoyed at first by taking six months to appoint a cabinet and spending another five on medical leave for an unknown illness in London.