LAGOS, Nigeria – Few people think it’s funny that Nigeria’s president is on extended medical leave in London for the second time this year. But Mike Asukwo sharpens his pencil as he plans his next political cartoon.
“Most of the cartoons I do have political themes and so they are strong commentaries on the affairs of the nation … some may say they are a bit caustic and some say it’s acerbic, you know,” he said in his studio in Lagos. “But of course the cartoons are humorous whichever way you look at it.”
Asukwo’s subjects vary from tributes to South Africa’s late Nelson Mandela to characterizations of other African and Nigerian leaders in different situations.
Now he’s tackling the issue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill health and his extended medical leave. Buhari, 74, has been in London for medical treatment for two months since May 7, raising fears of instability in Africa’s most populous nation which is grappling with an Islamic extremist insurgency in the northeast.
Buhari’s wife, Aisha, flew to London this week to see her ailing husband. This is Buhari’s second extended medical leave this year, as he spent seven weeks in London from January until March. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is acting president in his absence.
With his sketching pencil, Asukwo draws Buhari in the driver’s seat with the vice president shown driving from the passenger seat. In other interpretations, he has drawn an image of a sick map of Nigeria waiting endlessly for the attention of the doctor or of President Buhari.
“I think the basic fear is, the main fear is the fear of being misinterpreted,” he said. “No matter how hard or how bitter the issue might be, my major task will be finding a humorous way of presenting it to the audience. I know that once I’m able to push it out like that in humor, of course, it will be swallowed. Humor is actually the trick.”