By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please allow me to say wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered these days the topic of discussion must, naturally, dovetail to our dear President’s state of health and the consequential suggestion that our country is ailing as a result. This controversy didn’t start today. I remember how Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose, the enfant terrible of Ekiti State, raised a horrific alarm, just before the 2015 election that eventually catapulted Major General Buhari back to power. He had screamed to the whole world, indeed to high heavens, that the then APC Presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, had suffered brain damage and that he had to be flown abroad in an air ambulance for treatment.
I was in London at that time and I remember making frantic calls to impeccable sources who I believe would know the truth. I was able to obtain pictures of visitors to the modest apartment General Buhari was staying at the time, which was somewhere in the high brow Mayfair. The visitors included Nasir El Rufai and Kayode Fayemi and they were able to dispel the ugly rumour even if some doubting Thomases still believed the worst had happened as Fayose continued to spur them on.
It is about two years since that happened and it doesn’t seem much has changed. The only difference is that Buhari is now the President of Africa’s biggest nation and any news about him would be of greater interest to Nigerians, wherever they may be, and indeed the rest of the world. Since assuming power as Executive President, whenever the President has travelled abroad on vacation, the rumour mill has gone into overdrive with all manner of people espousing their own theories as to what is wrong with the President and the sort of treatment he has gone to receive. This trip is no different.
It has been compounded by the fact that it was announced on this occasion that the President was going on a medical vacation as he would take the opportunity of his holiday to see his doctors. This is why I believe the President’s information managers should try harder to dispel the rumours. They left the door ajar with the small piece of information they provided. Mischief makers would make capital out of this once nothing more was said about the matter. There is no big deal telling us how the President is spending his holiday, where he is staying and so on. If indeed he is seeing doctors for a routine check up or worse still his health is failing like happens to all mortals, there is nothing to be ashamed of. We should be provided with the information and updated regularly with what is happening. If the President had routinely gone into hospital Nigerians should know the hospital as a matter of right what hospital he has gone to and if possible the doctors attending to him. The doctors should be allowed to inform the public as much as possible without jeopardising his right to the little privacy that he has left. The citizens of Nigeria and the rest of the world are anxious to know every little information about the President of the most populous black nation and they should be obliged.
What seems clear to me is that those in charge of disseminating information about the President do not seem to realise that once you become President of Nigeria, especially now in the era of social media, you become a gold fish with no hiding place. The President of Nigerian is no longer a private person upon assumption of office. His life belongs to Nigeria and Nigerians. That is the simple truth that the President and his publicists must realise and accept. It was in the dark ages when people think that they are protecting the President and Nigerians by not telling us about things happening to the President and around him.
If the President’s PR people are not obliging Nigerians then, the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo should take charge properly by addressing the public and allaying the fears of the people. He is a very cerebral person who must appreciate the debilitating effect that the kind of stories being peddled about is having on the polity and the economy. This has led to people even carrying some salacious tales that some infernal cabal have asked Professor Yemi Osinbajo to resign in order that a Northerner can act as President and to prevent a Yoruba man from becoming President in the event that the worst happens to the President. The reason that such fiction is able to thrive is because people feel that the Vice President has not come out powerfully enough to demonstrate that he is truly the Acting President. For many, his body language leaves too many questions unanswered. They claim that he either appears like someone in the dark about events around him or that he is just being too careful not to send wrong signals. The way we disseminate news still leaves much to be desired. We seem to treat power with too much trepidation and thus allow touts to take over and rule the airwaves and cause confusion all over the place. I know that is not the case because the Vice President is not that kind of person. He is a careful but deliberate man who brings his intelligence and experience to bear on all that he is doing. However, it is clear to me that he has not been faced with this kind of dilemma before. I am sure that the Vice President knows that neither the President nor himself have any real private life again. It is clear that President’s handlers do nt know this. I was surprised to hear what my brother, the Special Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, had to say about this matter suggesting that it was left to the President to tell us what he wished about himself, his vacation and his health.
Silence is not always golden. It can be somewhat destructive if care is not taken. I’m reasonably certain that President Buhari is on a short vacation as announced when he was travelling. Even if I do not know exactly where he is, I believe he is resting and possibly seeing his doctors for an annual check up. Why make a sog and dance or fetish of this? President Buhari is human after-all. It is sad that we often make mountains out of molehills by our actions, inactions and ill-actions. Nigeria ought to have learnt useful lessons from the days prior to the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. This was how Nigeria was thrown into total confusion in 2010 because of the inordinate ambitions of a few people. I believe we have come a long way since then. I thought we had established that our public officers, especially our leaders, are in the spotlight and the full glare of the citizenry. That is the price you pay for leadership. You cannot expect to be in that role and then want to be a private citizen. If you want that, then you stay in the confines of your sitting room or the “other room”! You certainly do not aspire to public office, if that is your desire. There are very good reasons why we need to know what is happening to our leaders, especially the President and the Vice President. Our Leaders forget that they are Public servants. Emphasis being on the word “Public”. They are being maintained by our hard earned money, tax payers money, whether they are on holiday, or on a routine medical check or a major medical operation. We therefore have a right to the information that is presently being hidden from us. If the President does not care as some of his aides are suggesting, we care! It is our country and we asked him to lead us.
The state of health of the President, Vice President, and other major leaders in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are of paramount concern to us. If they are ill and unable to govern, legiste or dispense justice, we, the people, must know. They cannot be patched up. It is them, the elected leaders, and not their cohorts, associates and acolytes that we elected to govern and legislate for us. Those associates, kitchen cabinet members or other surrogates cannot overreach the Constitution and govern on behalf of the President or Governors. That is what almost happened during President Yar’Adua’s last days. We vigorously resisted those that sought to hijack the government at that time and succeeded in driving them out of Aso Rock. Nobody can take us back to those dark days. We are not prepared for anybody to set us back.
The Nigerian Constitution is clear on what would happen in case of any eventuality to the President. No Jupiter can change that unilaterally, not even the Vice President. Fortunately, Prof Osinbajo is an esteemed and erudite lawyer. I am positive that he will not allow the Constitution to be suborned. He is a God-fearing and courageous man and will defend the laws of our land as he has pledged to do. I expect that President Buhari will do the same. That is why he has consistently transmitted a message to the Senate that the Vice-President is to act for him when he is away on vacation.
What happened in The Gambia just last week should have shown clearly that the days of reckless rascality in government and governance in Africa are gone forever. Fortunately, Nigeria and its leaders have taken the lead in enthroning democracy in other countries, cue Charles Taylor and Liberia, Gbagbo and Ivory Coast and now Jammeh and The Gambia, and so cannot now turn around to do the opposite in our own country.
On a more serious note, someone needs to talk some sense to the ruling party, APC. In case, the party apparatchik are still living in denial, it should be told in very clear terms that APC is flailing and floundering aimlessly and dangerously. The party is not living up to expectations. Nigerians are suffering and crying. No excuse can change the fact that most of the promises we made have not been kept. Volunteers and non-party members like us are being harassed and confronted on the streets by those who feel let down by a government we helped to midwife. It is shocking that a party which coasted to power on the wave of a significant majority of popular votes has virtually wasted and frittered away its goodwill so fast. Something drastic and urgent has to be done to arrest the slide into oblivion. The best and most charitable friends of APC would admit privately, if not publicly, that this government has failed to sparkle, in fact, that it has been too lacklustre and sluggish. It is as if it feels it has all the time in the world. Why is APC unable to fly?
There are just too many questions begging for answers and APC has stubbornly refused to own up to its many shortcomings and seek help from within and outside. If you not know the way forward, one should be able to retrace his steps before it is too late. Those who invested in APC did so in the hope that it was coming to demolish the behemoth called PDP and make life better for most Nigerians. Never did we campaign that the journey was going to be an Israelite one that would take a total of 40 years instead of four. I believe Nigerians are very patient and understanding people but they often justifiably get impatient whenever they feel someone has taken them for a ride. This is why it may seem they are kicking fitfully and restlessly against the APC and unable to endure the hardships they currently face.
True change is needed and maybe the way to start being accountable is to publish details of the President’s state of health so we truly know where we are!