And the nation fell sick

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (C) sitting among the 82 rescued Chibok girls during a reception ceremony at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, on May 7, 2017. PHOTO: TWITTER/BASHIR AHMAD

Watching the last public appearance of Mr President on television before he travelled to United Kingdom  nearly broke my heart. It was at Aso Rock. He was welcoming and rejoicing with the 82 Chibok girls whose release was secured by the government during the past one week.

Before that event, the story of the sickness of the President had become the hottest news in town. It had been feasted upon by those whose soul appears sold to subterfuge and prejudice; those whose business it is to read politics into everything in life including that of sunrise and sunset.

Like the incident of the kidnap of the Chibok girls, this group of Nigerians considered the sickness of the President as politics through other means. While majority of citizens of this country are genuinely concerned and praying for Mr President, this group viewed the sickness of the President, and what heinous view that is, as evidence that he is unsuitable for the exalted office of the President. It does not matter to members of this group that in ‘advanced’ democracy across the world particularly that of America, the more powerful the President is the more human he becomes. Perhaps this explains why American history continued its march to glory even when five among its presidents fell sick while in office. This is true of Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke that left him incapacitated throughout his presidency. Yet he remained in office till the end of his term in 1921.

Diagnosed with polio in 1921 at the age of thirty-nine, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) still served for twelve years at a time he could neither stand nor walk without support. Using a wheelchair in private, he never disclosed the full extent of his health condition.

Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) suffered heart attack in 1955 as a result of which he was hospitalized for several weeks. He also did a surgery some months later to treat Crohn’s disease and in late 1957 suffered another stroke that made him temporarily unable to speak. Yet he went ahead to win a second term after that incident.

President John F Kennedy (1961 – 1963) had a chronic bone disease and was hospitalized nine times in his short two and a half year presidency but this was never revealed to the American public. President George Bush (1989 – 1993) once vomited and fainted in front of cameras in 1992 while on a visit in Japan. He neither handed power over to his deputy nor did Americans call off their frenetic pursuit of ‘freedom’ from fear as a result of the incident.

The point at issue, dear reader, is this- in “advanced” countries of the world, to be president is not to lose one’s humanity or to become an angel divested of fancies and foibles. Presidents remain president simply because they are humans- they eat and drink, they cry and laugh and, they fall sick and become healthy thereafter.

They become presidents simply because as humans they are capable of living and dying. Thus to have a President in Muhammad Buhari whose destiny it is now to go through pain and sickness should provide us all with the opportunity to discharge our duties to this nation in every possible and lawful way. It is to remember President Muhammad everyday and pray for him and for this nation that the Almighty should “let this cup pass us by”. As I mentioned in another forum, this nation is in dire need of prayers and hard workers.

It is a nation which is ironically poor amidst plenty; it is a nation which is poor not only of bread, water and light, it is equally in huge deficit of divine ministrations.

Thus when I contemplated the face of Mr President before he travelled out this week, I could feel the pain in his pain; the pain of a nation in sickness; the pain of being afflicted at this important moment in his life. But I asked myself- exactly which moment can we excise from President Muhammad Buhari’s life for lacking in rigour and action.

I contemplated his face then I began to imagine how it would feel for someone who never experienced such illness in his life before, even as a military officer, to now become subject of so many medical inquiries and para-media and paramedical disquisitions.

Nothing in life could be more challenging than to be confronted with questions for which there are no answers.In other words, when I saw the frail image of Mr President on television, when I addressed myself to the fact that he was actually standing in the most powerful place and space in Nigeria, in the locale of freedom, when I meshed that with the other fact that his sick body has become like a prison to him, the lesson struck me in more solemn ways than I could describe that there is no fortress against the wind of destiny. The category of sickness, just like that of madness in Mitchell Foucault’s realm, quickly became a space of knowledge; it furnishes knowledge of the known, the unknown and the unknowable.

Still contemplating the nation in its president, I suddenly experienced not the feeling of foreboding and melancholy anymore but that of happiness. I became happy to behold much bliss and contentment in the his persona- bliss in the certainty of divine intervention and contentment of the believer in whatever plans the Almighty has for His servant.

It was instructive for me to note that despite the intrusion of the illness into his body, the President still stood tall above the situation and the tribulation. I took solace in the knowledge that as a Muslim, President Buhari should and would know that no affliction befalls a Muslim except that the latter is written for the afflicted as an expiation of an infraction and redemption from greater affliction. Remember Prophet’s counseling: “Whatever befalls a Muslim of exhaustion, illness, worry, grief, nuisance or trouble, even though it may be no more than a prick of a thorn, earns him forgiveness by the Almighty of some of his sins.”

We are even told that on the day of resurrection, when people who have suffered affliction are given their reward, those who are healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world” so that they would enjoy of the bliss and blessing that have been given to those who have gone earthly tribulation and trials.Again, another tradition reported by Ka’ab goes thus: “The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant – the wind bends it sometimes and some other time, the wind makes it straight; and the example of a hypocrite is that of a pine tree which keeps straight till once it is uprooted suddenly.”

Brethren, the other day I pondered the above traditions, I came to the conclusion that when properly understood, nothing is in pain but pleasures; that whenever the Almighty, the Exalted prevents His believing servant from something of this worldly life, He will bestow upon him something which is better and more useful to him. It should be noted that this is only granted to the believers.

I thought I needed to make more sense of this sense. I therefore asked Jalal-Din al-Rumi, the popular mystic what his perspective on pain and on earthly tribulations would be. He says: “pain is a treasure, for it contains mercies…; If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
Still not done, I asked Imām Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzi what his perspective on pain would be. What a beautiful point he makes. He says: “Whenever the Almighty wants good for a person, He will give him a drink of medicine in the form of tests and trials, causing such a person to vomit out dangerous illnesses that were within him, until he is shaped, cleansed and purified, thus qualifying him for the highest grades in this world in the worship of the Almighty and the highest rewards in the Hereafter; direct appropriation of Almighty and His closeness”.

Thus shall it be told to Mr President to be the commander-in-chief of the situation; to remember the tradition of our Prophet- “How amazing is the case of the believer; there is good for him in everything, and this is only so for the believer. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across adversity, he is patient, and that is good for him.”

[Muslim]

Viewed from another plane, I found Mr President an ideal metaphor for the present situation of this nation; a metaphor for you and me. Thus I say unto you and mine- do not hate all roses if you get hurt by one thorn; do not lose faith in the Almighty if one prayer request is not answered. Do not give up all your dreams if one has not come true. Know that every NO is for a better YES. Just like the mystics and those imbued with discernment would counsel, never query the Almighty by saying “Why me?”. Rather confront your calamities in the best ways. According to Umar b. Al-Khattāb, be happy that the calamity has not taken away your faith in the Almighty; that even in adversity your spirituality is not affected; that the present condition is not worse than what it is for it could be worse; and that ultimately yours shall be reward of the patient with their Creator. May the Almighty complete His favours on Mr President and on us and on ours too. Amin.
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Chibok Girls


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