Friday, February 24, 2017

Shifting Narratives Over Buhari’s Health

By Robert Obioha
Since President Buhari left Nigeria for London on medical leave, over a month ago, Nigerians have been fed with differing and sometimes conflicting statements over the health status of the number one citizen. And because Buhari’s media handlers dish uncoordinated tales, which most Nigerians now take with a pinch of salt, the rumour mills are agog with scary tales, especially the uncontrolled social media, which the All Progressives Congress (APC) used to its advantage to come to power in 2015.
The hapless citizens, after waiting anxiously for Buhari’s return, which has no fixed date, have tended to believe information emanating from the rumour mills. They no longer believe their government and its numerous spokespersons because their chaotic tales sound like fiction to majority of Nigerians. Rumour thrives in an atmosphere where facts are hoarded; where there is attempt to misinform the people; and where truth is deliberately hidden or utterly distorted. This is basically the corner the APC government has literally boxed itself now.
When the president failed to return after the expiration of the 10-day’ vacation, Nigerians were told that he needs to do more medical tests as advised by his doctors. While this drama was still unfolding, the presidency insisted that the first citizen is ‘hale and hearty’, a phrase that is fast losing its intended meaning in Nigeria’s peculiar case. They even said that the president was not in any London hospital, that is to say that he was not hospitalized but having a good rest at Nigeria’s House in London.
When the president reportedly transmitted another letter to the National Assembly asking for more time for another round of medical tests without stating exactly when his leave will be over, the anxiety over his health status heightened and Nigerians started asking questions which Aso Villa handlers were unable to provide credible responses. Perhaps, they do not have adequate information on the president’s illness or they are just hoarding it from Nigerians or saying what they are asked to tell worried Nigerians.
Nigerians are more worried not because a president cannot be sick or seek for better medical treatment abroad considering our comatose healthcare system; they are worried because they have travelled this ugly path before when former president Umaru Yar’Adua was sick and the details were hidden from Nigerians. Incidentally, Buhari hails from the same Katsina State with Yar’Adua, although from Daura axis. During the Yar’Adua episode, those in information apparatus of APC now then demanded for a daily update on Yar’Adua’s illness, which is legitimate.
That is exactly what Nigerians expect from them now because it is the right thing to do in a time like this when the rumour mills are having the upper hand. When what government refers as ‘fake’ news is consistently dished to the public and they appear believable than the discordant official narratives, the government should humbly swallow its pride and courageously accept blame. Buhari has reportedly spoken with acting President Yemi Osinbajo, United States’ President Donald Trump and recently Kano State governor, Abdulahi Umar Ganduje.
Some APC chieftains have reportedly visited him in London and the pictures were splashed in major Nigerian newspapers. Yet he has refused to speak with Nigerians or Nigerian journalists. One Nigerian journalist has reportedly relocated to Nigerian House in London to at least speak with the President or his close relations. Before this, Nigerians in UK had besieged the Nigerian House to have audience with the President yet, nothing fruitful came out of all of them. The hide and seek game over Buhari’s illness is unnecessary.
Now we have been told that the hale and hearty president needs some rest in London before he could return. The more tales Nigerians are inundated with, the more confused they become and the more the tales appear unconvincing and unbelievable. Buhari has reportedly spoken with mostly APC members. And those that have visited him in London are mostly his party members. Granted that he came to power on the platform of APC, he is the president of all Nigerians.
Those praying for his recovery cut across religious, ethnic and political lines. Let the president speak with the opposition. That will be more convincing to Nigerians. Let him speak with some Nigerian journalists. Let him speak to Nigerians through a national television. Nigerians respect their leaders and revere old age and that is why they have been praying in churches and mosques for his recovery. Nigerians deserve to know the true position of Buhari’s health status.
They have the right to such information because Buhari by virtue of being voted as the president of Nigeria belongs to them. It is their property. Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa, should lead in transparent governance. Transparency in government involves telling the citizenry the truth always about everything in the polity, including the health of their president.
When former US president George Bush Sr. and wife were hospitalized prior to Trump’s inauguration, it was shown on CNN. Americans were daily told how they were faring. When asked by a CNN reporter how his parents were doing at the venue of Trump’s inauguration, ex-President George Bush Jr. retorted that they were doing well. Nigeria should emulate America in this regard.
We should not be gloating that we are running a semblance of the US presidential system and yet refuse to copy its enduring tenets. Democracy is about openness. We should not pretend to be running a democracy when most of our official actions are shrouded in secrecy. We have heard of cabals and cabals and even the demons of Aso Rock. It is time to dismantle these obstacles and set our country on the path of progress.
We should exorcise the polity of all spirits of bondage. Nigerians need not travel to London to see the president. They should stay here and pray for him because there is no boundary in spiritual realm. Our legislators, governors and political appointees that are planning a jamboree visit over the president’s sickness should perish that thought. They should deploy their energies to put our healthcare system in good stead. Buhari travelled to London to seek for better medical attention simply because ours is comatose with obsolete medical equipments.
Let’s change our healthcare system by upgrading the facilities in our so-called medical centres of excellence. We should stop exposing our leaders to medical tourism and its risks. The government information system should be more coordinated and forthright. Those handling it should be ahead of the social media and the rumour mills.
They should have the capacity to manage the so-called fake news, which Nigerians unfortunately believe. Those in government should always bear in mind that government exists only for the people. They should carry the people along in whatever they do, including information dissemination. Their information should be clear, concise, and definite.
*Obioha is a commentator on public issues (

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