Ordinarily, a state of ill health or death of any leader evokes sympathy from at the worst, a cross section of the followers, no matter how undeserving some of such may think of him or her. So is it understandable that the news that President Muhamadu Buhari (who ordinarily is a beloved Nigerian leader), was travelling to the United Kingdom last week Tuesday on his eighth foreign medical trip since the commencement of his tenure in 2015, should evoke pathos across the length and breadth of the country. However, that the present trip has left mixed feelings that would dilute whatever pathos many Nigerians had for him, should have induced the Presidency to exercise discretion in its timing at least. And there are several reasons for such a consideration. The President’s trip had been announced with such suddenness, as if it was an imperative that he just had to go abroad at this time, for him to get healed.
Meanwhile, fears over the President’s capability to run the country from a foreign hospital bed were ‘allayed’ by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, who had said that the President can run the country from anywhere, ostensibly including the moon! Little wonder that according to the same Garba Shehu, the President did not need to hand over and actually did not do so to his deputy, the Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo. Nevertheless, at least two factors vitiate the integrity of Shehu’s submission in the circumstances. Firstly is that while Shehu is disposed to downplay the geriatric conditions of his principal and present same as a superman even at the official age of 78, the fact remains that every illness – no matter how benign it may be, diminishes the capacity of the sick, and reduces the effectiveness of such a person. Secondly, given the incontestable novitiate status of Shehu in matters of medicine, it remains a disservice to Nigerians for him to be the voice on matters concerning the health of the President. But perhaps unbeknown to Shehu, Nigerians know better than him, about health status of the President, especially now that such matters have been swirling in the public domain, and remain laced with strands of conjecture.
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Another area of concern is the revelation by Shehu that Buhari’s trip was for routine medical check-up and not for any emergency. That means it was scheduled and fixed for when it was most convenient for him. By the same argument, all other matters of state including the impending strike action by doctors and the political inferno threatening the country, must have paled into secondary status, before the President’s handlers. The impression created is that the order of priority in the Presidency now is Buhari’s health and personal welfare first, before the state of the nation, no matter what is on the ground. This situation mimics the state of affairs in 17th and 18th centuries France under King Louis XIV whose maxim for governance was “Le’tat Cest moi” which translates literally to “I am the state”. While many may interpret the claim as a sign of arrogance from the monarch, there is also the other possibility where the claim captures a state of decadence in the polity whereby the occupants of the corridors of power simply predispose their principal to pliancy and work through him or her to feather their nests.
If the President’s handlers were led otherwise, his hospitalization should have been contrived in Nigeria even if it is only to demonstrate that his tenure has ushered in some improvement in the country’s health sector. However that was not to be as nothing significant had been recorded in the health sector under the Buhari administration, even with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In any case, the entire handling of the President’s last trip by his handlers clearly points to the fact that Nigerians should not believe all that the Presidency reels out to the public on him. It is recalled that during one of his previous foreign medical trips, his spokesmen reported that he was playing squash in London. This time Garba Shehu has said that the man is out on a routine medical check-up, just as some of us are waiting to hear that he will be playing a golf tournament in an upscale London golf course.
In the final analysis, the Presidential spokespersons may be seeing Nigerians as credulous enough to swallow any cock and bull story. Yet the citizens are more sophisticated than that. In the actual sense not a few Nigerians believe that the country’s development will remain arrested under the Buhari administration until it is weaned of a key reducing agent as the duplicitous posture of its spokespersons, whose clarifications on matters of governance are progressively losing attention and credibility in the public domain.
Meanwhile, let all Nigerians leave whatever untruths and political twists that have been bandied about the President’s health status, and simply pray for the quick return to good health of citizen Muhamadu Buhari. For one infallible truth is that while he may not be President of Nigeria forever, he will still be a fellow Nigerian who deserves our collective sympathy.
Get well quick Mr President please.