By Oseloka H. Obaze
Analyzing Nigeria is arduous if you seek to speak truth to power. Many Nigerians, mostly the leaders and elite, make speeches unceasingly. Such conventional speeches tend to be largely rhetorical. And together, the analysts, the religious, the political leaders and the disenfranchised populace have all become “miserable comforters” of a nation in distress. As asked in the Holy Book: “Will your long–winded speeches never end?”
Nigeria remains the classical outlier nation state. Thus in resignation, many Nigerians have thrown in the towel. Some have fled, finding refuge and succour in foreign lands. Yet, many remain, having no option; and some remain to capitalize on the leadership and general disorder in the commonwealth. The latter seek to foster legality from illegalities with the intent to benefit from it.
But there remains one constant. Like Fela Anikulakpo Kuti averred presciently, the state of the nation is nothing but “Confusion” as “Everything Scatter.” As another contemporary musician, Eedris Abdulkareem, put it: everything in Nigeria is “Jaga Jaga.” And this brings me to how those charged with minding President Muhammadu Buhari are managing his well-being or as some say, his health issues.
First, President Buhari is not a private citizen. While he is entitled to some privacy, Nigerians who elected him have the right to know of his well-being and the state of his health. He is the CEO of corporate Nigeria, and his well-being affects our stocks and holdings. Nigerians are not interested in his minders, including the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and media advisers telling us that the president is “fit”, “alright” and “that there is no cause for alarm”. The president did the right thing in devolving power to his deputy. That is constitutional. But Nigerians behold a deja vu moment. If they are doubtful, they have good reasons. Nigeria needs to hear directly from her leader, President Buhari, in accordance with the oath of office he took.
My friend, Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser on Media has characterized the present reality as “imperfect” but conditioned on “exigencies of the moment”. He is doing his best in an awkward circumstance. Well, we recall the uncertainties and unpleasantness that led to the “doctrine of necessity” and do not want to revisit that episode under any pretext. Perhaps, Mr. Adesina should have a chat with his professional colleague, Segun Adeniyi on this and related matters. Nigerians don’t want to be fooled. If President Buhari could speak to President Donald Trump, he can speak to Nigerians. The facilities exist. FaceTime, Skype and direct interview with a credible news medium will do. After all, President Obasanjo called President Umaru Yar’Adua on live television to ask him if he was alive, just as provenance. Nigerians along with the rest of the world, still remember how it was FaceTime that saved Turkey. President Tayep Erdogan spoke from a remote secure base to his nation in a moment of high national crisis. Why can’t Buhari do the same?
History is replete with proper managing of health crises of world leaders; Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Ariel Sharon, etc. When at the close of 2016, Queen Elizabeth took ill, thus missing Christmas service for the first time since 1988; her media handlers in the palace did the needful, in issuing a statement that ran thus: “The Queen does not yet feel ready to attend church as she is still recuperating from a heavy cold.” The world knew the ailment and the condition of the monarch.
In President Buhari’s case, Nigerians know not what ails him. And we deserve to know since every diagnosed ailment has a name. Simply put, we just need to get things right. Are Nigerians skeptical? Yes. Do they have the right to be? Certainly, President Buhari not speaking to Nigeria is not being stoic. It smacks of indifference, despite his right to privacy. Buhari’s health can be considered a national security question, but does not qualify by any means, as a top national secret.
Political folklore recalls how a man who ran down the street of Moscow shouting “Brezhnev is a fool!” “Brezhnev is a fool!!” was promptly arrested and jailed for revealing a national secret. By analogy, if man ran down the streets of Abuja, screaming, “Buhari is sick! Buhari is sick!!” or “Buhari is dying! Buhari is dying!!” will he not be arrested likewise and charged with spreading false rumour or revealing a national secret? Yet such utterances will tally with sketchy information emanating from the Presidency. The point is that those around the president who shield him and keep the exact state of his well-being away from Nigerians are responsible for his present miasma. They are responsible for the increasing complications and confusion. As a mortal septuagenarian, albeit an ex-soldier, the president is humanly capable of being indisposed. After the wear and tear of sixteen years of politicking to be president, the burdens may be showing. So long as he is not mentally incapacitated, and not certifiable, he remains our elected president. He also deserves our empathy.
Certainly, Nigerians are praying for Mr. President. Thankfully, he has a very competent, hands-on deputy as we are witnessing. Yet, the present state of confusion need not be, even as it tallies with the way we do things in Nigeria — creating crisis out of nothing. The temptation is rife to speak to the fact that his being attended to by foreign doctors and in a foreign country does our image no good. I thought we foreswore medical tourism for public officials. Where, by the way is his personal physician? He is responsible for the President’s well-being, and as a medical professional, we would rather hear directly from him than from non-medical aides of the president.
There are clearly missed opportunities in the way the president’s vacation-turned-medical checkup has been handled. Yet it’s not too late for the presidential aides to change their modus operandi. Their cause and job is also not being helped by leading politicians rushing off to London to visit the president, as if he is on a “death bed”. Emanating pictures from such visits are presently insufficient to curb or ebb our collective concerns. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself here. We already have sufficient lessons from the mishandling of Yar’Adua’s illness. We need not go that route again. Meanwhile, we pray for our president, wish him well and quick convalescence and expect him home soon. God bless you, PMB!
Obaze is MD of Selonnes Consult Ltd.