Buhari’s illness: The need to know
The time has indeed come for the people of Nigeria, employers of President Muhammadu Buhari, to know the nature of the illness that has kept him in the United Kingdom for most of 2017. Certainly, the rumour surrounding the true nature of the illness has grown from anxiety to fear in the country. And the dark clouds over the exact nature of what has been wrong with Nigeria’s president have led to another past time: trips by the Acting President, the President’s wife, political party chieftains and some governors to the UK, all in a bid to manage the huge public relations crisis that has dogged the absence of the president. The several missions to the UK have however done little to assuage the people’s anxiety.
The huge cost of those missions to the UK, as important as that is, of course, is not the main issue. It is the secrecy surrounding the nature of the first citizen’s illness and the disservice to the nation it constitutes. At the incipient stage, the need to know might not have been that important since it was touted to be a mere medical checkup and follow-up. But the way unresolved questions and issues have been piling up for the commander-in-chief, beyond the powers of the acting president, has of necessity triggered another rumour mill on the nature of the ailment that has kept the president away from his office and the country.
There is a time for everything. The time to address that thorny question is now. State and public information officials have even lost credibility over this mystery. So, the president will do well to address the nation directly.
On May 7, 2017, Buhari, for the second time, left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, for a follow-up treatment on his health. The president had earlier spent about 50 days during his first medical vacation. Till now, his media team has continued to evade details that can advertise the credibility of the president and enhance his stature. Let it be said that the team is, indeed, not reputed for speaking the truth and this is sad. It was once quoted as saying that, “the president was hale and hearty” when this was not the case. The team has constantly woven webs of lies that do the president little or no good. Contrary to the presidency’s claims, the president came back from the first trip and revealed that he even had blood transfusion in the hospital in the course of his treatment, leading Nigerians to ask: what purposes were the lies meant to achieve?
It is, however, instructive that Nigerians do not ask their leaders too many questions. The government then kept whatever ailed the president a closely guarded secret up to the time he travelled again on May 7 this year. The reasons that have been adduced for secrecy range from security concerns to the no-brainer that he has a right to some level of privacy, which a section of the Nigerian Medical Association has appropriately declared a fallacy when it comes to presidential ailments.
Hence medical professional bodies have been involved in the curiosities over Buhari’s health. Following President Buhari’s letter to the Senate for the subsisting extended medical vacation, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) both asked the Presidency to address the country on the state of President Buhari’s health.
The physicians insisted that the president does not have doctor-patient confidentiality, and so as a leader, Nigerians deserve to know what he has been battling with. Specifically, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) demanded that the president should address the nation to allay fears on his health.
It is, indeed, remarkable that the professional physicians noted, in this regard that, “…we should rally round and pray for the quick recovery of the President, rather than make a jest of the situation. He needs our support, our prayers and everything we can do as citizens to support him …”
However, if the health sector had been given all the necessary and adequate attention it deserved, they observed, Nigerians, including President Buhari, seeking medical attention would not be travelling overseas for this purpose.
This, it must be said, is the most important message to Nigerian leaders at all levels at this juncture. They should swallow their pride or vanity and build modern and well-equipped hospitals in the country where citizens and leaders too can enjoy health care. The fact that Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation has had its leader on medical vacation in the United Kingdom for so long is a tragic reproach that should be not be allowed to continue.
As far as transparency goes and given Nigerians’ love for and patience with their leader, the people cannot accept the rationalisation by the president’s spokespersons that the President’s wellbeing is his private matter. This is unacceptable in a democratic society, especially now that the attention of the commander-in-chief and chief executive of the federation is direly needed.
There are too many urgent reasons Nigerians need to be told what the health issues affecting their president are. But one of the most important is that he was elected to work for Nigerians in Nigeria. Whatever has kept him for this long in another country should be disclosed to his employers, the people.
Besides, the Muhammadu Buhari-administration has been in the forefront of fighting corruption, and has continued to stress the need for transparency as well as accountability in every sphere of governance.
It would not be out of place, therefore, for the government to lead by example by being open, transparent about all happenings, including the president’s ailment.
Olusegun Obasanjo, who was first to reign as President in this fourth republic criticised his successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s management of his health crisis, accusing him, Yar’Adua, of deceiving Nigerians by keeping details of his illness secret.
Obasanjo correctly described the manner in which Yar’Adua and his administration’s officials handled the situation as “shoddy, tardy, unpatriotic, selfish, and reckless.” The former president’s conclusion on the management of the then president’s condition is even more appropriate for these times: “No nation should be left hanging in such a manner.”
The attitude of the president’s men, in this regard, has been consistently wrong and unacceptable. President Buhari would not be the first President in the world to have health challenges in office. In other climes, the whole world was kept abreast of these leaders’ health conditions even as peaceful succession plans were on-going. Nigeria’ case should not be different. Nigerians deserve to know the state of health of their leader.