Death Of Our Big Men

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

Yesterday, I had an argument with my little sister. I call her little because when we were kids, nobody had any idea she would be this orobo as a grown person. Even her present employers cannot fathom how the tiny weenie lass they employed several years ago just became this ‘Phat’. She told me that her employer accosted her recently, took one long look at her and said: ‘whatever happened to you? Are you sure you are ok?’ Her job as a liaison officer for this multinational company takes her across the labyrinths and thoroughfares of the Abuja metropolis, and even though she works late and on weekends, my little sister has not shed any weight. Because I love my little sister dearly, I have in my own little ways tried to get my once-slim sister to exercise. No way. I have lectured, talked, and cajoled but no deal. Most of what I tell her is that cholesterol clogs the heart could prevent you from climbing an ordinary flight of steps. I tell her that a slim trim figure makes you look young, pauses the metabolic processes that age one and sets one off on a path of semi-immortality. I ask her to exercise, exercise and exercise. But no way, she just is not interested.

My sister does not believe that exercise or lack of it has anything to do with your mental or physical makeup. She believes that God has a longevity plan for us all to live up to 90 or 100 whether we exercise or not. ‘It is those who sin the most these days that die the most’, she declared, laughing at my astonishment.

Well, I wish she were correct concerning the sinners-are-the-ones-dying-the-most assertion. Unfortunately, for both of us we do not tow that same line even though we share similar Judeo-Christiane beliefs. For me, what she expressed up there pretty much orchestrates the mindset of most people that suddenly or painstakingly found themselves in one comfort zone or the other. Take the case of an average Nigerian politician or anyone seen by society to have ‘made it’. They live a sedentary life – waking up in the morning after sleeping in an air-conditioned room, he employs several people to take care of his needs. Thereafter, he jumps in his air-conditioned car, drives [or is driven] to the office and settles comfortably in an air-conditioned office for as long as he wants. Probably for lunch and dinner, he visits a fast food restaurant, gobbles a huge plate of fried rice and chicken, and washes his palate down with either a bottle of soft drink or a beer. All of these comforts, foods and drinks present a rich array of ‘big man diseases’ that include diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension. I cannot say with all certainty that only the rich and powerful are as reckless as this with their lifestyle. We are all involved. In fact, in our Nigeria, people see you as ‘enjoying’ if you are obese. However, what makes the case for the ruling elite sorry is that most of them are above 40, and when you are above 40, you can no longer eat and drink the kind of things that people in their 20s and 30s eat and drink. Others [mostly the military politicians] are smarter than the rest of us. They eat and drink all of that heavy stuff and shed them by rigorous exercise. In the end, you see some of them looking ten or twenty years younger than their ages. However, the tragedy for most of our civilians who are politicians and big men in positions of political authority is that they cannot even exercise even after consuming these foods and drinks. They are holed up in the comforts of their homes, probably afraid that someone may kidnap them or their children. Nevertheless, if you observe politicians in the civilized world like Bill Clinton, David Cameron and Barack Obama prior to their elections, they endeared themselves to their people by jogging around with as few security aids as possible. In fact, jogging around is as much a publicity gimmick as well as a testament to the fitness of the candidate for public office. The point I am trying to make is that about 90 percent of those who rule us or are in positions of authority live a lifestyle that constantly puts the rest of us at risk. Hamid Balogun, Chairman of the Nigerian Society of Endocrinology, recently put the prevalence rate of diabetes in Nigerians at eight percent. According to him, this disease of ‘enjoyment’ could also lead to complications like stroke, blindness, heart attack, renal failure and glycaemia.

I am saying this because in recent times Nigerians suddenly woke up to the news of the sudden deaths of certain prominent leaders. First, the senators – Tawar Wada and Kawu Dukku – died at ages 53 and 52 respectively. At these ages, they cannot be said to be very old or that they are the ‘sinners’ that my baby sister was referring to. I am not too sure too that they could be considered terminally ill. So how did they just drop dead just like that? Just as we were thinking about these deaths, Abubakar Rimi, another Nigerian leader dropped dead on us. According to police reports, his supposed assailants did not as much as touch him before this distinguished Nigerian died suddenly of hypertension. However, the most famous of the deaths was that of Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s late president who was very hated because an illness prevented him from handing over power to his deputy before his medical treatment abroad. Before he became president, Yar’Adua was allegedly a chain-smoker like American president, Barack Obama. While Obama is a keen basketball player, our late president was equally said to be a strong squash player who challenged critics to a game as evidence that he was fit to rule. At the end, he too succumbed to this ill health occasioned from a questionable lifestyle.

Nigerian leaders and big men dying on us is no news. In the days of the second republic, many governors affected by the Muhammadu Buhari putsch lost their lives just before or after their prison experiences. The most memorable of them was Ambrose Alli, a professor of morbid anatomy and governor of the defunct Bendel State, who died on his birthday after his release from prison. But that they are now dying because of their ill health is becoming a trend that should interest the SSS. Recently, a retired American general had cause to alert his people that young and obese Americans constitute a security threat because they were getting too fat and are not enlisting in the army. It is already happening here. But the curious thing is that rather than our leaders provide the kind of environment where our young people could grow fat on, these leaders and big men are the ones growing too fat on ‘enjoyment’ and dying on us. Therefore, I submit that these people have no right to die on us just like that. They must take good care of their lives, and live long enough, if not for anything, but for us to use them as reference points to the epochs of leadership failure and decay that this country has witnessed – IBB is there, Yakubu Gowon is alive and Shehu Shagari is still kicking.

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