This is an interesting time in Nigeria. The most trending news in the country since January 19, 2017 has been that of the purported medical vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari in the United Kingdom which his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said would also entail routine medical checkup for the President. The 10-day vacation was to be from Monday, January 23 to February 5. It will be recalled that President Buhari, in June 2016, had similarly gone to the UK to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for a nagging ear infection. No sooner had the President left for the current holiday than the rumour mill agog with the news of his alleged death while some unconfirmed news sources said he was terminally ill and on admission in a London hospital. Expectedly, his media team rose in stout defence, debunking the news of his death or ill-health. Pictures of his meeting with Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, as well as another one in which he and his wife were relaxing were leaked to and published in the media.
That temporarily doused the mounting tension about the President’s state of health. However, when on Sunday, February 5, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, issued another press release stating that his principal would no longer be coming home to resume work as scheduled based on medical advice by his doctors to wait for the results of several medical tests he did, many Nigerians started to insinuate that there was more to the President’s health than the public was being informed. I was on two media platforms last Monday namely, WE 106.3 FM and Silverbird Television, to discuss the implications of the emerging conundrum concerning the President.
I am of the opinion that there are good and bad sides to the issue at hand. The good thing is that unlike what happened in 2009/2010 when former President Umaru Yar’Adua went on medical vacation to Saudi Arabia without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly empowering his then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to act as President while he was away attending to his debilitating health, this time round, President Buhari duly observed the provision of Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by transmitting a letter to the National Assembly empowering Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President. This ensures that there is no vacuum in governance and therefore no need for another invocation of a Doctrine of Necessity as it happened in 2010.
On the flip side however, whether the President has gone on normal vacation or medical tourism, it leaves a sore taste in the mouth that a government that recently launched a “Change Begins with Me” campaign with fanfare and with a strong advocacy around the need for Nigerians to patronise locally made goods and services will gleefully announce to the world its President’s penchant and preference for foreign vacation spots and medicare. I quite agree that it is the prerogative of the President to determine where to spend his annual vacation, however, I am one of those who strongly believe that the President should have shown exemplary conduct by identifying with our tourism potential by spending his annual vacation at any of the numerous tourist sites that dot Nigeria’s landscape. That would have been a big boost to the “Buy Made in Nigeria” campaign.
Even in terms of medicare, the same applies. Billions of naira are being voted to equip and run the State House Clinic in Aso Rock yearly, yet news reports have it that what was earmarked for the clinic in 2016 and 2017 budget cycles are more than what was voted for all the teaching hospitals in the country put together. I should think that the State House Clinic should have been able to handle a “routine medical checkup” of the President. He should have done the needful to ensure that the requisite equipment that can take care of his medical history are procured to prevent his frequent medical trips abroad. It is an indictment on the Federal Government that none of our teaching hospitals is good enough to take care of the health needs of our President and other high and big political office holders.
Need I remind Nigeria’s “constituted authorities” that Ariel Sharon, a former Prime Minister of Israel, and Fidel Castro, the late president of Cuba, while alive with terminal sicknesses, were never flown out of their respective countries for medicare. Their countries’ doctors managed their health challenges successfully for many years before they eventually died. In our own case, we have had a former president and ex-first lady die at different foreign hospitals only to be flown back home for burial. Is Nigeria a cemetery?
As I write this, the rumour mill is on a rebound as video clip of our president being in intensive care unit of a hospital in the UK is gaining traction. It is right and just to know the health status of President Buhari. It has been demanded that he should a grant press interview to any media outlet of his choice or address Nigerians from his holiday spot in UK via Skype if indeed he is “hale and hearty” as the Acting President declared him on Monday.
Meanwhile, the biting economic recession faced by Nigerians has made thousands of people to protest in many states of the federation including the UK. The protesters under the auspices of “Enough is Enough” and #IStandwithNigeria justifiably demanded good governance and higher standard of living. The protests which were supposed to coincide with President Buhari’s resumption of office however could not make the maximum expected impact due to the postponement of the resumption date of the President. However, despite the many controversies that trailed the protest particularly as the mastermind of the plot and celebrated pop star, Innocent Idibia, better known as Tuface, backed out due to security concerns, the symbolic act of the several thousands that took to the street to protest the grinding poverty, unemployed and maladministration should not be lost on the government at all levels. Something urgently needs to be done to prevent a Nigerian Spring reminiscent of the Arab Spring anytime soon. A word is enough for the wise.
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