Just how okay is Mr. President?

by Joel Nwokeoma

FOR the umpteenth

time, Nigeria

was last week gripped with the confusing puzzle over the state of health of

President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua. The palpable confusion over the Mr. President’s

health was widely reported by the media, especially the national newspaper on

Tuesday, April

15, a story which overshadowed, in significance, the 2008 Appropriation Bill that

was finally signed into law, after many months of roforofo fight between the

National Assembly and the Executive.

The most disturbing of the stories was that of The Punch with an alarming

banner headline: “Yar’Adua

ill, flown abroad”! The Guardian, on the other hand, was a bit mild, and

deliberately downplayed it, seemingly, with just a rider: ‘President off to Germany for

“medical review”.

According to the latter’s version, on its front page, however,

“immediately after he signed the document, the President left for Germany to keep

a date with his personal physician”, for what Presidential Spokesperson,

Segun Adeniyi called, a “medical review”.

In the words of Adeniyi, the president’s sickness is due to “an

allergic reaction”. Whatever intention The Guardian had in making it look

as though the impromptu departure of Mr. President was prearranged was negated

when it went ahead to report on the same front page that “Yar’Adua,

who was earlier billed to travel to Dakar, Senegal for the New Partnership for

African Development (NEPAD) heads of state meeting yesterday afternoon had to

travel to Germany for health reasons.” Meaning, the President had to

cancel a state function to attend to a health emergency overseas.

The pervading confusion was exacerbated further by the President’s

spokesperson, who with a straight face, informed the nation, while addressing

journalists after the budget signing ceremony, that “meanwhile, the

President will leave for Wiesbaden, Germany… to see his personal physicians

for a medical review of an indisposition believed to be due to an allergic

reaction”. Pray, what is “medical review” of an

“indisposition”? A case of deliberate misinformation, you will say,

because if we comprehend the word “meanwhile” as used in that context

very well, it is taken that the President’s health state, which we understood

nothing about from Segun Adeniyi’s linguistic jingoism, is just an aside. A

“meanwhile” thing, if you ask me.

As if he read the mood of the nation correctly thereafter, a nation left

both apprehensive and confused over their president’s health, the selfsame

President’s spokesperson was reported the very next day by the media as

clarifying that “Yar’ Adua is okay” (see ThisDay, April 16).

Quoting the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, the

papers widely reported Adeniyi affirming that the President is okay and will be

keeping his appointment at the hospital this afternoon having arrived here last

night”. This leaves one, unfortunately, with a thousand and one questions

begging for answers.

One, what is not okay with the President’s health which the nation he leads

does still not know, but really deserves to, which took him, and takes, him to

Germany, “to be keeping his appointment at the hospital? Two, if the

President “will be keeping his appointment”, as declared by Adeniyi,

who then certified him “okay”? And, okay on what? Three, what is this

“indisposition” and “allergic reaction” of Mr. President

that cannot be treated in all the specialist and teaching hospitals in the

country he happily presides over, except in Germany? Four, does the nation

deserve to know the mental, emotional, psychic and physical state of health of

its leaders? One often wonders why.

If Yar’Adua

blazed the trail to declare his physical assets not long after his assumption

of office, to the acclamation of all and sundry, is it not expected that his

“health wealth”, a different kind of asset, should be declared to the

nation so we can take note of it also, and act accordingly? Or, what is wrong

in knowing that Mr. President is suffering from headache, for instance, so as

to pray for his recovery? Or better still, is it treasonable, if you remember,

to know the state of health of a leader in a democracy

instead of the subsisting confusion and speculation? It is a sad commentary

that the state of health of Mr. President has been left to fester, like an

irritating sore for so long.

You may recall that his health condition came to the public domain in March

2007 during the run-in to the last presidential elections

in the country (In fact, it became a campaign issue of sorts). Yar’Adua,

who then was the governor of Katsina State and presidential candidate of the Peoples

Democratic Party (PDP) was

reportedly rushed to Germany at the heat of the campaigns when he was expected

at a Presidential Campaign rally of the PDP at the MKO

Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta in Ogun State with the former President Olusegun

Obasanjo treating the nation then with his now famous “Umoru, are you

dead?” live telephone conversation via a loud speaker at the stadium with

then PDP

candidate, who was rumoured dead. But while reacting then to speculations about

his health, Yar’Adua

famously replied: “For those who want me dead, I have disappointed them. I

am alive, strong and unstoppable”.

On his sudden dash to Germany

then, he further explained thus: “After visiting my doctor in Abuja, I took the view that I should not risk the future

of Nigeria and therefore

decided to come to Germany

to have my long overdue medical attention. I have just had a session with the

doctor who has declared me fit for the challenges ahead… (see ThisDay, March

8 2007). To most Nigerians, Mr. President might be “alive” but his

regular visit to Germany

for a “medical review” is an unwanted distraction that can

“stop” whatever good intentions he has for the nation. Also, whether

the recent event has proved his “fitness” is a matter of conjecture.

Much as no one can be permitted to assume that Mr. President is a celestial

being that cannot be sick, it does not speak well for the President’s men to

deceive the nation that all is okay with his health when events regularly point

to the contrary.

Why serve the nation with tissues of equivocation and ambiguities about such

an important matter? It sure beggars belief that those who profess certain

virtues do not embody and personify such. This administration has consistently

made a meat of being transparent, but what is, if one may ask, is so

transparent about a state of affairs where the state of health of a President

is smoldered in half truths? One question we all must ask the president’s

spokesperson is: Just how okay is your boss for the challenges of running a

complex, complicated and malgoverned nation like ours? And, what is riskier

than having someone with an uncertain health state run the show?


This article was first

published in The Guardian newspaper, Monday April 21, 2008. It is reproduced

here, after a little editing, because of the pertinent issues it addressed

which essentially are still relevant against the backdrop of current related

developments in the Nigerian polity

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