Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When Buhari Shamed His Megaphones

By Mike Ozehkome
It  was Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683), an English writer, who once said: “Look to your health: And if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy.”
Health, it is said, is wealth. And anyone who has been ill from mere headache can relate to the travails of Mr. President in recent weeks.
When the president transmitted his letter to the Senate for vacation to the United Kingdom, little did we know that the subsequent events to follow would raise much ruckus and fuss within the polity.  However, for a minute, let us all sheath our ideological swords and thank God Almighty for the president, his family and Nigerians at large, for  making it possible for the president to return alive; for it could have been, indeed,  worse.  God forbid!
Nigeria is sui generis-on a class of its own. There is hardly any country in the world that is akin to Nigeria. Our ideologies, credos, languages are multifaceted and multidimensional. Truth be told, it would be a Herculean task for any leader to placate the various interests and tendencies of this nation in one breath. This has been the major challenges of previous leaders in this nation, whether military or civilian, including Abacha, Gowon, Murtala, Shagari, Shonekan, Abdulsalam, Yardua, GEJ, OBJ, IBB, et al, however well-intentioned they might have been.
What makes a Southerner happy to be a Nigerian is quite different from what makes a Northerner happy to be a Nigerian. Sometimes, this is caused by ignorance, sometimes by the weakness of the human mind, which loves to categorise. Other times, because of the various vested interests by different groups. One fact is indisputable; uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, particularly in Nigeria, a country with about 388 ethnic groups that speak over 350 languages (Onign Otite); some say over 500.
Sometimes, we forget that our leaders are also human, with their weaknesses, foibles, strengths, fears and anxieties. It would be unfair to gloss over some great things that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has done for Nigeria. His has been that of service to his nation, since his youth, when he was born of a Fulani family on 17th December, 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to his father, Adamu, and mother, Zulaihat. He is the twenty-third child of his father. Buhari was raised by his mother, after his father died when he was about four years old.
At over 74, Buhari is not a youth. Indeed, one of the first regrets he expressed upon becoming president was that he wished he were younger. Even if he were younger, with the luggage that is Nigerian governance, he, or any one, could fall ill. So, why did his minders make a big issue of his ill-health? Why did they turn Abuja House, London, into a Mecca of some sort, giving a babel, a cacophony of PMB’s state of health? To be sure, Buhari lost his privacy, anonymity and individuality the day he became president. Even as a private citizen, making my modest contributions to national risorgimento, from my own little corner, Nigerians from all works of life rose up for me when I was kidnapped in 2013. I discovered to my eternal  gratitude, that I was no longer anonymous.  How much more a whole president
No one should blame Nigerians who voted for Buhari for inquiring into his state of health. Except for the unseen and invisible social media activists that Wole Soyinka derogatorily and painfully called “Slugs”, “Millipedes”, “Imbecile”, “barbarians”, and “blabbermouth”, in his “Wolexit” threat frustration, I do not know of any responsible Nigerian patriot, who wished Buhari dead. But, his minders and visitors complicated matters. They engaged in phone calls; reported he was either on vacation, to “do routine   medical check-up”; or that when they visited him, he was “hale and hearty”, “cracking jokes”; “very witty”; “in his elements”.
No one believed them, not even the Muslim Rights concern (MURIC), which, through its Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, rejected government’s opaqueness, saying “we refuse to accept the Federal Government’s claim that the president is hale and hearty. That sounds more like tales from moonlight”. PMB has now shamed his image makers, who cried more than the bereaved. In a no-holds-barred interview, he told a bewildered nation:
“I have rested as much as humanly possible; I have received I think the best of treatment I could receive. I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs. I found out that technology is going so fast that if you have a lot of confidence you better keep it because you need it. Blood transfusions, going to the laboratories, and so on and so forth…
“I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion, I couldn’t recall honestly I can say in my 70 years. I couldn’t remember this drug that Nigerians take so much, very common, I think one of our terrible things is self drug administration. We have to trust our doctors more and trust ourselves more, the places I visited they only take drugs when it is absolutely necessary. They don’t just swallow everything.”
Thus, in one fell swoop, Buhari accepted being critically ill; received blood transfusion; and warned against self-medication. That was highly presidential, honest and commendable.
Ruben Abati narrated his personal experience when former President Goodluck Jonathan had a stomach upset in London and had to be rushed to a hospital. GEJ had quarreled with Abati’s innocuous statement to the media, to the effect that GEJ was indisposed, but that it was nothing to worry about. GEJ felt he should have disclosed the exact nature of his illness. This was how Abati recalled GEJ as putting it:
“This press release does not disclose that I am here just because of a stomach upset. You have to tell the people what the exact ailment is to prevent any speculation. If you don’t state it as it is, you will allow people to start guessing.
“Anytime I am ill, just tell Nigerians what exactly is wrong with me. That is why I sent for you. Nobody knows tomorrow, but whatever is related to my health as president, you must inform Nigerians fully.”
Gbaam! That is the stuff presidents are made of: PMB and GEJ’s openness with Nigerians. I hope the Goebbels are hearing.

*Chief Ozehkome is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)

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