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President Buhari’s health: Time to stop wondering and wandering

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By Ugoji Egbujo

They said they had predicted Yaradua. They heard the coughing and saw the blotches. Buhari, they said, was dying. Their sources, they would always talk about their sources who tell them things. They were sure he was at best a vegetable. They would mock your doubts. They dismissed all evidences to the contrary as forged. Everyday, they spent useful energy renovating their tales. Some said they could diagnose terminal illnesses from afar. He was too lean, too weak, to live. They ridiculed the announcement of his proposed return. They said Yaradua played that trick. Then, he came back. They were not fazed. They let out an all-knowing guffaw, and pointed towards Governor Suntai. They are relentless and insatiable. The president has become an albatross, they insinuated. Then he missed three executive council meetings in a row, and they are back to where they started. He is incapacitated, they chorused.

But they shouldn’t be allowed to wonder and wander. They are wasting creative energies. They shouldn’t be left to the mercy of even sadistic imaginings. The government owes the public, wailers included, a duty to rescue it from the clutches of exhausting rumours. Rumours will always fill gaps left by defective or absent public communication. And when rumours create tension and brew divisiveness, they become national security concerns. Then, they must be rooted out. The only effective way to contain damaging rumours is through effective, honest, communication and transparency in government processes.

Every worker owes his employer some duties. His primary duty is to keep his part of the bargain, contractual obligations. The employee owes the employer a duty to promptly notify her of any circumstances that may prevent him from meeting those obligations. The employer must be informed of any significant health challenges. The notification is ineffective if the true nature and extent of the infirmity is not stated. A worker who conceals an ailment that denies his employer due benefit cannot be counted as a conscientious and diligent worker. A worker who cannot meet full demands of his work must tell his employer, not just that he is sick but, the nature and extent of his predicament, to allow her make proper evaluations and adjustments.

It is true politics is not factory work. It has come to involve subterfuges and crass opportunism. No one therefore comes to politics with naïve forthrightness. So a politician may want to shield his health issues from his opponents so that he is not exploited. But there must be a deliberate effort to see public office as a call to service. Patriotism must recognize that self interest must be yield to national interest at all times. Many American presidents have in the past concealed grave illnesses from the public and retained their fame. But no research has shown that the outcome of illnesses, amongst presidents, is improved by concealment. It is foreseeable that an informed public could be more lenient with an ill but honest president. If it is country first, then a president answerable to the people cannot conceal the nature of his illness from the people.

President Buhari has a great reputation. A reputation of simplicity, forthrightness and brutal frankness. That is why he treats real politics with condescension, and mixes with politicians with reluctance. President Buhari may have vied for the position four times but he, evidently, doesn’t regard himself as indispensable. Nothing attests to this more than the effortlessness with which he relinquishes power to his deputy whenever he embarks on a vacation. So it is a little incongruous that president Buhari has allowed his health status become such a controversial secret.

President Buhari was elected for his rectitude. It is no exaggeration to say that he was brought in to reset standards. President Yaradua had kept his health status secret. He refused the public any knowledge of his ailment. His aides crafted tales of fig leaves for him. None of these helped Yaradua. The impression created was that of a desperate man who was ready to see the country slide into chaos while he clutched selfishly to power, from his death bed. Before then, Yaradua had a reputation of selflessness and simplicity. They destroyed it. Yaradua’s drama helped no one. The country was racked by rumours, suspicions and uncertainty. A group of power hungry politicians, close to the sick president, exploited his illness , abused power and brought the country close to the brink.

The Nigerian public is apprehensive again. Buhari’s supporters believe he isn’t too ill to govern. They do not believe he is critically ill but they also want to know, from the president, his true health status. President Buhari has to set standards.

Integrity is matching words with action. When Yaradua was ill, President Buhari and the opposition were loud in demanding a publication of the president’s health status. They had firmly insisted that the president should resign if he was incapable of meeting the demands of his Job. President Buhari has integrity. He owes the nation a duty to make public his health status. President Buhari abhors hypocrisy. He should meet the demands he made on President Yaradua.

Transparency will soothe uncertainty. An economy pulling out of recession needs no uncertainty. A president whose illness is concealed from the public by a few officials is vulnerable to blackmail by these officials. President Buhari is however, particularly, fortunate. He has a knowledgeable , efficient and loyal deputy. The public and international community have found satisfaction in his deputy. The progress of the state is unlikely to be affected negatively by an extended medical leave. He can attend to his health, retain power, and retain public confidence. Age comes with wear and tear. He is 74, and strong.

President Buhari, just let them know.

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