The Politics Of President Buhari’s Health

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The Politics Of President Buhari’s Health

The politics of President Buhari’s health – Niyi Akinnaso

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The secrecy surrounding an individual’s health condition is a pervasive cultural practice in most African societies, no matter how public a figure the individual is. Such secrecy is exemplified by the illness and death of monarchs, which are typically wrapped in secrecy until appropriate rituals of purification had been performed. Even then, the monarch’s subjects are never told about the ailment to which their monarch succumbed.

This piece was written by Niyi Akinnaso. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

In the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, however, such secrecy has attracted much controversy for various reasons, including (1) the lingering controversies about his health status, even during the 2015 presidential election; (2) the two previous medical vacations he had taken since assuming office; (3) the mishandling of information regarding his present medical vacation; (4) the double elongation of the present vacation, the second time indefinitely; and, finally, (5) the bitter experience with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, whose ailment was kept secret until he was believed to have died in a foreign hospital.

What blew open the cloak of secrecy around Buhari’s health is a shift in cultural practice, beginning with the adoption of Western democracy. In this new political culture, the government’s business is the people’s business. Even more importantly, secrecy is abhorred, having given way to “transparency” and “accountability” as guiding principles of information management. These principles are further enhanced by the constitution and the Freedom of Information Act, which empowers the people to know what is going on not only with the government’s business but also with the business managers, including the President.

Now that no other interpretation could be given to President Buhari’s prolonged absence from duty than temporary incapacitation, it is safe to conclude that the President is, indeed, ill, despite all the statements to the contrary, including “hale and hearty” and “all is well”. What remains to be disclosed is the nature of the President’s illness. That’s why the present focus of attention is speculation about the exact nature of the President’s illness.

It all began with a clinical diagnosis of President Buhari’s health by Prof. Femi Williams, a certified physician in anatomic pathology, using a recently published photograph of the President. After arriving at some negative and positive findings, Williams concluded: “The summary of these positive findings suggest that if the clubbing of the fingers is not congenital, the President may have a disease associated with finger clubbing, some of which are not serious and some of which are serious and cannot be speculated upon. The most serious of these is cancer somewhere … The significance of his past history of an ear infection is worthy of further investigation as head and neck cancers may masquerade in a number of ways”.

There are those who disagree with Williams, arguing that pictorial judgement is insufficient for proper diagnosis and that, in any case, the President’s problem may be geriatric. But then, the President is only about 75, and there are many famous Nigerians we know, including a number of living past Presidents, who are in their eighties and nineties, but don’t manifest the same type of geriatric problems.

More recently, an online news medium provides another perspective: “Our sources revealed that President Buhari is afflicted with internal organ disorders that have caused him to lose weight and wrecked his appetite” (Sahara Reporters, March 4, 2017). The source goes further to name “prostate-related ailment as well as Crohn’s disease”.

These disclosures recall the speculative diagnoses characteristic of the Yar’Adua experience. Such speculations will never end until the truth is revealed about Buhari’s health condition. And only Buhari himself can tell us the truth since none of his spokespersons and surrogates is believable any more on this particular matter.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the Buhari health controversy is the readiness with which Nigerians seem to have moved past it. In no time, pundits began to focus on the political climate since Buhari went on vacation, after properly handing over power to his deputy, namely, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Their contrastive governance styles and the focus and outcomes of their domestic trips have been the high points of various analyses in recent weeks.

The most balanced and nuanced of the analyses was offered last Friday by a professional colleague and fellow columnist for The PUNCH, Prof. Ayo Olukotun, who not only gave Buhari and Osinbajo their due but also broadened the template of the comparisons (see “Buhari/Osinbajo: The performance debate”, The PUNCH, March 3, 2017).

Nevertheless, there is nothing in the foregoing that fully explains the real political motive behind the concealment of Buhari’s health condition. Here, I must hasten to add that many other national leaders, even in the West, have concealed their health conditions, although today’s 24-hour news cycle, social media, and WikiLeaks make such concealment very risky.

In the Nigerian case, we must look to the regional, ethnic, and religious content of national politics for the concealment of the President’s health condition. The pressure on Buhari to preserve the northern orientation of the Presidency is enormous due to the it-is-our-turn-to-chop mentality of presidential politics, particularly associated with the North. True, Buhari has met this pressure by tilting various sensitive appointments to the North, but nothing could please the North than the continuation of his Presidency.

Besides, any direct indication of Buhari’s inability to continue in office would lead to serious jostling for power among various power brokers from the North, including some Buhari loyalists. Even without revealing details of his medical vacation, there were early rumours about the demand for Vice President Osinbajo to resign so that a Northerner could fill Buhari’s shoes.

There is no reason to believe, however, that such jostling for power is not already going on. It at least coloured the perception of some reporters, who turned the never-say-never political statement by the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, into speculations about a 2019 presidential run, complete with speculations about possible Vice Presidential picks.

This leads to a major issue: The longer Buhari remains in London, the wider and wilder the speculations will become. Clearly, the Presidency is aware of this situation, which explains the eagerness with which it reports now and again that Buhari spoke with this and that Head of State. However, even such reports have become subjects of speculation. That’s why it has been suggested that Buhari should either speak with Nigerians on a live TV or speak with the Acting President via a live video chat.

The above notwithstanding, my heart still goes to President Buhari, being in the same age bracket with him and having gone through my own health battles. Without any reservation whatsoever, I wish him well.

This piece was written by Niyi Akinnaso. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

Datboyjerry

Datboyjerry

I am but your herald boy in the art of the pen.. An eccentric Environmental Biologist smouldered in the glorious epiphany of online journalism.If you ever find my article unduly insipid, sue me and i’ll refund you...

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