Port Harcourt — Next to name-calling, health has become a major topic in the campaign for the February Presidential election. It is either a candidate has suddenly taken ill and unable to honour a campaign appearance or another has been flown out of the country for urgent medical attention. The campaign office of the candidate will then respond, swearing that their candidate is as fit as a fiddle, and that it is indeed the opposition candidate that is sick! We’ve seen this play out between the two older candidates – Bola Tinubu and Abubakar Atiku. The younger Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso appear to be spared the spectacle, at least, for now.
Tinubu flew to London on 24 September 2022, missing some crucial engagements in Nigeria and this gave rise to speculations that the man was on his way out. Barely a week after he tweeted a picture purportedly showing him cycling in his gym. He said, “Many have said I have died; others claim I have withdrawn from the presidential campaign. Well… Nope. This is the reality: I am strong, I am healthy, and I am READY to serve Nigerians from Day One.” And Festus Keyamo, spokesperson of the APC presidential campaign council, added with a very helpful reminder that Tinubu “is an avid cyclist.” The Tinubu camp continues to grapple with the illness issue. Every slip by their man, every mistake and every head scratching has been attributed to one illness or the other, or in fact, senility. An interesting riposte to these rumours came from the Senate Chief Whip, Orji Kalu, who said on a television programme, “Tinubu’s health is very stable,” adding, “There is not one, no Nigerian above 40 that is not sick.” I will come back to this.
It was Atiku’s turn to issue denials last week although he didn’t perch on a scooter to prove his fitness. The man flew to Dubai and then London, setting off rumours that he was sick. The PDP said their candidate was in London “for meetings on the invitation of the British Government,” and later issued pictures from the engagements.
Are Nigerians right to worry about the health of their President? Yes! Why, when everybody gets sick? It’s true everybody (not just those above 40!) gets sick but the President of Nigeria is not just “everybody.” He embodies the hopes of over 1.4 billion people in Africa, far more than the 200 million+ Nigerians. Nigeria is the largest Black nation on earth, one in every five Black person is a Nigerian; Nigeria is the world’s 10th largest producer of crude oil; Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa. The President of Nigeria doesn’t only lead a nation; he leads a race as became clear with Nigeria’s role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. He is a thought leader and a dream actualiser for the Black race. When you add the domestic pressures of insecurity, inflation and poverty to the job profile, the occupant of the exalted office must not only be fit but seen to be fit for the demands of the role. This does not mean he cannot fall sick while in office, but we have a right to know of any pre-existing morbidity that will potentially imperil efficient discharge of his responsibilities as head of state and government.
We recall the case of late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua whose tenure as President (2007 – 2010) was dogged by reports of ill-health. Nigerians were left in the dark on the condition of their leader by a cabal that had occupied the vacuum created by his unexplained absence until what could no longer be covered happened on 5th May 2010. Nigeria went through a period of stress and shock leading to the Doctrine of Necessity that saw the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan assume office as President. Questions about
Alhaji Yar’Adua’s state of health had swirled even during the campaigns.
In the current campaign, the only official confirmation of ill-health on the part of any presidential candidate was when Tinubu returned to Lagos on October 8 2021 after being away in London for 90 days. He was said to have undergone a knee surgery. His media team said he had surgery on his right knee along with “rigorous post-surgery physiotherapy.” It added, “Contrary to unfounded rumour, he underwent no other surgical procedures and contemplates none in the future. His recuperation has been without complication and ahead of the schedule by the attending surgeon.”
It is sad and disappointing that we will not get what we are looking for. The health of the incoming President continues to be obfuscated in half-truth and partisanship. The handlers of the candidates continue to dish out well-worded press statements until such a time when the truth inevitably becomes public property. Perhaps, Orji Kalu has a point — every Nigerian above 40 is sick. I would even say every Nigerian is sick. Our ailments range from insurrection, terrorism and kidnapping to poverty, corruption and bad governance. So Mr. President, old or new, is rightly one of us — a sick man.
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