The President's Ailment: What the Heck is Going On?
The President As Public Property
In a normal situation, that is, as economists would say, "all things being equal," the president of a country's in-and-out-of-office activities should be an open book to anyone of his citizens, anywhere, and any time, to read, see, and hear. This would include the totality of his or her travels - the purpose, the extent, and the duration of the travel. The same would be true of the illnesses of the president – the nature (the diagnoses) and the prognoses of such ailments. If the president is still breathing, to alleviate the fear of the people, he or she would occasionally speak to the nation, show his or her face, even on the sick bed. This is because, as the Yoruba often say, "Those who would clad one, it's sheer stupidity to hide one's nakedness from them." After all, these are the people who put the president in office and the president must let them know that he is also with them. Besides, he or she belongs to the public. S/he has no life of his or her own – pure and simple! For some purporting to be "privileged" few dolling out a few lines and putting snippets of their own encounters with the president and dropping few lines by saying things like, "I spoke to the president overnight, and he said . . ." I saw the president and he is . . ." and blah blah blah is all arrant nonsense - sentimentally self-serving and politically juvenile.
It seems the situation in Nigeria has defied the rule of normalcy, meaning all things are no longer being equal. The critical question is, don't Nigerians have the constitutional right and entitlement to know what is going on with their own elected president? It is highly lamenting that the president's hiatus from the public eye has remained a mystery, the unraveling of which no one seems to be able to do, not even the high ranking members in the nation's governance. That baffles human curiosity and tests logic. Questions one should ask include, what is our nation's policy on public disclosure? What is the role of the legislative wing of the government? What is even the role of the judiciary? What is the role of the press? What is the role of the presidential aides? Are they all highly paid to provide services of docility and cult-like secrecy? This is incompetence of the highest order.
The president is sick. That, we know. He is somewhere in London. That, too, is clear. But questions abound that require clarification: Is our president in a hospital? Is he in a hospice (God forbid)? Is he in a private home recuperating? What is the diagnosis? What is the prognosis? As his subjects, don't we have the right to know? Let's step back to the corridor of modern history and see how some heads of government with similar – not necessarily identical, situations were treated and how they responded to something of this nature. When Ronald Reagan was shot and admitted to the George Washington University Hospital, the whole world followed the culminating events – it saw his doctors – knew them by their names, saw various stages of his operations, heard his humors, even those stitches administered to his lacerations were seen by the whole world. Before him was the mortal wounds inflicted on John F. Kennedy. At the Parkland Memorial Hospital, everyone saw the open wounds of the president. In fact, the public saw his heart and other internal organs as treatments were going on to save his life. The last president of the United States, President Obama, faced similar situation. When he had a mere sore throat, and the president was whisked to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, it was an open book – the whole world knew about it, nothing concealed, nothing withheld.
Thank God the situation with President Buhari was nothing in the magnitudes of the cases of Kennedy and Reagan. In fact, the president may just be experiencing an ailment of which the world would hear and say, "big deal; is that it?" It seems in his own case, the therapy outweighs the diagnosis, akin to the proverbial loss of a mere needle that triggered the whole community bringing down the fury of the gods! If it is true, and we have no definitive proof yet, thanks in part to the incompetence of the political apparatus of the nation, that this whole brouhaha of the president's sickness is wholly or partially due to a prostrate cancer, not lung cancer, not AIDS, not Ebola, then what the heck are we talking about? What the heck!
First of all, according to NewsRescue, an on-line news source, of February 8, the president is suffering from prostate cancer and the cancer may have reached the stage of metastasis, and would need up to six months of chemo for the treatment. That is the first reason for my anger. Whoever is in the medical team of the president should not only be fired but made to face criminal prosecution. I am not a physician but you don't have to be one to know that prostrate cancer is among the easiest to treat in the hands of competent physicians. Since the president moved to Aso Rock, and the nation is spending billions of Naira every year to keep a presidential clinic there, why on earth had the medical team not have some gut feeling basic enough to prompt the knowledge that a black man in excess of forty years of age needs regular prostrate cancer check-ups on routine basis? President Buhari has been in government for more than two years now, right? The fact that some professional physician, not even an oncologist, has not had the gumption to have him go through this screening procedure defies every rule of conventional wisdom! It is criminally offensive and demeaning of the nation!
Secondly, if chemotherapy is all that the president needs right now, why does he have to do this in London? What about all those teaching hospitals in the country? Now, granted that the same government has not thought it fit to equip them, what about the hospital (clinic) in Aso Rock? Again, to have to step out of the nation for chemotherapy regimen is an assault on (and to) the nation's integrity, and an unparalleled embarrassment to the medical community of Nigeria. Seriously, we should all be ashamed! Look at the ripple effect: Speculations are spreading like wildfire. All kinds of news and fake news are coming left, right and center. Some say the president is dying; more audacious and ridiculous ones even say the president is dead. Now, to exasperate the situation, the VP has been made to assume the presidency. If Mr. President has been in Aso Rock, he would not need to relinquish presidency to his VP. He could do daily briefings right from his hospital bed. The transfer of power to the VP gives a bad smell in the nostrils of the populace. Yet, this doesn't have to be.
The president seems to be okay. He is most likely dealing with the expected, which out of carelessness has been made protracted. The president is neither dying nor dead. Everyone is going to die of something someday, but he does not seem likely to die because of his present condition. O, let this be clear: The nation is not readying itself for a "Sacrament of extreme unction" as done in the Catholic faith when someone is at the last verge of the earthly sojourn. Let's stop the inhuman speculations of this man's death. It is simply not fair. Imagine the number of people who announced the death of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in those days long before the legend died. In fact, many of such naysayers were known to eventually precede him in death, as Papa Zik lived to a ripe old age of 92! The point is this: President Buhari may have many more years ahead of him. And even if it pleases nature to have the president answer the ultimate call of nature, this person could not be referred to as an "Abiku" (Ogbanje) any longer. When children and grandchildren live to see old man bow out, it's celebration galore. Yet, the fact remains that the nation needs its president and there is nothing being done for him, to him, or with him somewhere in London that could not be done for him, to him, or with him somewhere in Abuja, inside Aso Rock, in Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Benin, Enugu, Ibadan or anywhere there is a viable hospital in the country minimally staffed with a team of competent physicians and nurses.
Let us face it: There is so much going on right now in the country that could use the presence of the nation's chief executive. Take for example, the Biafran demand for its nationhood is not a threat; it is a serious determination that cannot and should not be swept under the rug. The Niger Delta intense demand is of grave concern; it needs to be resolved. The religious violence, especially between the Muslim and Christian population in the north is critical; it needs resolution. The Fulani Herdsmen imbroglio is no joke; it must be addressed with the seriousness that it demands. The Boko Haram's long-drawn-out and endemic insurgency is not disappearing any time soon, and who could take action on this than a president like Mr. Buhari? The free fall of the nation's currency is scary; wouldn't the absence of the president jitter the finance market and exasperate the situation? The well-publicized xenophobia directed at the Nigerian youth population in South Africa should give any leadership a sleepless night, to the extent that it should provoke a stern action from the president. All these and many more are reasons why Nigeria needs its president. The physical presence should alley the people's fear and like a missing commander suddenly appearing at the heat of warfare, this could change the trajectory of our downward spiral and boost our collective psyche.
May wisdom guide and guard us . . .
Michael O. Afolayan
From Outside Looking In