THIS piece was triggered
by a tweet I stumbled on
recently. Emanating from the
tweeter handle of one George
Okusanya, it read, ‘Femi
Adesina: “The president is
not sick”. Lai Mohammed:
“The president is hale and
hearty”. GMB: “I couldn’t
recall ever being so sick”.’
Clearly, the tweet juxtaposes
the words of Femi Adesina,
the Special Adviser on Media
and Publicity to President
Muhammadu Buhari, and Lai
Mohammed, the President’s
Minister of Information and
Culture, on the one hand, and
those of the President on the
other hand.
By this contrasting
placement, the tweet seems to
provide proof of the allegation
that the president’s handlers
had misinformed Nigerians
about the state of his health
while he was in the UK on
medical leave, in consequence
of which they have drawn flak
from a legion of critics. I, for
one, had been taken aback by
the morbid interest shown by
some Nigerians in knowing the
exact state of the President’s
health while he was receiving
medical treatment abroad.
And this is why: I had thought
such people would be more
concerned about the resultant
indignity for our country that,
56 years after Independence,
our President, the president of
the country that prides itself as
the “Giant of Africa” and “the
most populous black nation
in the world”, still travels to
By Ikeogu Oke
By Emmanuel Unaegbu
a foreign country, the country
of our colonial masters, to
receive medical treatment for a
protracted period, during which
he might be splayed repeatedly
on an operating table,
anesthetized, and carved open
by foreign scalpels. Prseident
Muhammadu Buhari This image
and its situation should make
any Nigerian patriot shudder
with disgust. And, with the
image on our minds, I’m sure
we can understand why no
self-respecting leader of any
self-respecting nation goes to
a foreign country for medical
treatment. It is about national
pride and unrelated to the size
or population of the country.
Therefore big, small and
medium-sized countries like
the United States, Russia,
China, Cuba, North Korea and
South Africa have so developed
their health sectors that their
citizens can hardly imagine
their leaders going to another
country for medical treatment,
considering the national risk
– need I specify such? – and
humiliation involved. But not
us Nigerians: an assortment
of largely unreflective citizens
with practically no sense of
nationalism or national pride,
who emphasise their disunity
as though it were an asset.
We would rather concern
themselves with unnecessary
inquiries about the actual state
of the President’s health as if
a negative prognosis would
alleviate our suffering under
the current harsh economy. And
did we really expect to receive
such report from the President’s
handlers rather than his doctors
who are ethically forbidden from
making such disclosures?
I say the enquiries were
unnecessary not only because
of the ethical barrier of
confidentiality against divulging
the medical records of their
patients which doctors must
observe, but also because the
President already said he was
going on medical leave, with
the implication that he needed
to look after his health. Perhaps,
anyone who in spite of that
chose to indulge in the folly of
inquiring about the state of his
health deserves the answer that
he was “not sick” or “hale and
hearty”, as given by his handlers.
Besides, those who accuse the
president’s handlers of lying
about the state of his health show
lack of understanding that in
certain circumstances it is wiser
to speak with discretion than
tell the literal truth. Abraham
demonstrated this in the Bible
when, driven by the instinct
for self-preservation, told King
Abimelech that Sarah was not
his wife but his sister, with Sarah
concurring. Jesus did a similar
thing by giving that rather
evasive, famous answer – “Give
to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” –
to the scribes and chief priests
who sought to entrap him with
the question: “Is it lawful for us
to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Those who condemn the
president’s handlers having
literary given him a clean bill
of health in contrast with the
president’s words may also
not be familiar with what Plato
calls “the noble lie”, which
the great Greek philosopher
approves. Wikipedia defines
this, in relation to politics, as “a
myth or untruth …knowingly
propagated by elite to maintain
social harmony…” And, indeed,
negative information about a
president’s health can upset
social harmony – and even the
economy – in a state. This explains
why negative information about
the health of leaders of nations
is managed with utmost care,
with the tendency not to divulge
such except when it becomes
unavoidable, though such leaders
may choose to do so themselves
as in Buhari’s case.
The potential harm such a
revelation can cause becomes
easier to appreciate for a country
currently marked by social,
religious, ethnic and economic
volatility like ours. And if
President Buhari’s handlers had
this in mind while maintaining
that he was “not sick” or was
“hale and hearty” though he
was receiving medical attention,
then they acted patriotically.
Rather than criticise them, I think
we should concern ourselves
with stopping our country from
offshoring presidential sickness
– both the pathological and the
moral. For we should all feel
distressed by the moral disease
of being citizens of a country
that allocates billions yearly to
its health sector, yet its leader
cannot find a reliable hospital
within its borders to attend to his
medical needs at critical times.
Actually, Buhari’s trip to the
UK on medical leave implied
his having passed a vote of no
confidence on our health sector.
Former “military President”
Ibrahim Babangida did the
same thing by travelling to
France in 1985 to treat his
radiculopathy, spawning an
absurd media circus while
abroad. The late President
Umaru Yar’adua repeated
it by travelling to Saudi
Arabia to treat the sickness
from which, unfortunately,
he didn’t recover. In fact, our
leaders discourage us from
believing in our country by
acting in ways that suggest
their lack of faith in it, like
not trusting its medical
facilities.
Now, President Buhari
repeating the practice 32
years after Babangida’s case
also implies his admission
that our health sector has not
improved for presidential
reliance for that long. And
that we have not learnt
from Yar’adua’s case that
travelling abroad for medical
treatment may not guarantee
a cure for a leader who is
in a position to develop his
country’s health sector but
fails to do so. But, more
importantly, I believe he
would agree that a leader
in his position, a symbol
of change, having to travel
abroad for medical treatment
may be expedient but not
right. And if, considering this,
he sees to the improvement
of our health sector to stop
our embarrassing offshoring
of presidential sickness,
then the current negative
experience would have been
somewhat beneficial and not
lacking the proverbial silver
lining.
Oke is a public affairs
commentator

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