President Muhammadu Buhari
While the storm over President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘medical vacation’ abroad rages and has been compounded by his request for an indefinite extension of same, it is important for all Nigerians to wish the President very robust health and pray for his safe return to the task of leading Nigeria.
While Buhari’s decision to go abroad for medical check-up has understandably generated a heated debate and sometimes harsh condemnation, his action is not really an exception. Nigerian leaders have, for decades, as a matter of lifestyle, always sought medical treatment abroad while the case for developing the health-care delivery system at home gets more compelling. Indeed, practically every Nigerian who can afford it does the same.
This, of course, is the shame. And there may be no end to this medical tourism at the highest level until the country’s leaders see reason to develop the healthcare system to a level good enough for them and for all Nigerians.
Making so much fuss about Buhari’s physical health and vacation is an unnecessary distraction. He is human and prone to illness like anyone else. However, the secretive disposition of the President’s handlers and their poor judgment seem to have fuelled the wild speculations about his condition.
It is certainly not a crime for anyone to be indisposed but in the case of a sitting President, as much information as possible must be given to avoid rumour mongering and unnecessary speculations. On this, history should have even been a guide. This same drama played out each time the late President Umaru Yar’adua made trips abroad for treatment until he passed on. And the same shoddy information management system was responsible for so much tension in the land.
If there is any good to be taken away from this current drama, it is that the need for the country’s healthcare system to be improved in the public interest is even more urgent.
On Thursday, January 19, the government announced that President Muhammadu Buhari was proceeding to the United Kingdom on vacation, as part of his annual leave, to resume work on February 6, 2017, and added that he would also undergo routine medical checkup during the trip.
In line with Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the President himself had said the President of the Senate and Speaker, House of Representatives, had been duly notified and while away, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, would dutifully perform the functions of the Office of the President.
So, all the right steps were taken to ensure that the business of government would not suffer. And, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, that business has not suffered.
This notwithstanding, many Nigerians are understandably offended that their President travelled abroad for routine medical checkup in spite of the huge amount of money allocated to the State House Medical Centre, Abuja in the 2016 budget.
This is even more painful when it is considered that such an action seems to have cast Buhari in the mould of those leaders who would not improve their nations’ health-care system but travel abroad at the slightest affliction of a flu. Many, of course, expect him to lead or follow the example of leaders of other nations who hardly seek care abroad but use their own countries’ facilities not just out of patriotism but as an advertisement of how their systems have been well developed.
More worrisome, however, is that one of the tragic fallouts of the trip has been the apprehension over the President’s state of health, culminating even in rumours of his death. Indeed, so feverish have been the speculations that they have taken on the air of a death wish for the President. Suffice to say that Nigerians of all tribes and tongues are renowned for their respect for life and reverence for their leaders. Nothing should ever be said or done to suggest a deviation from or repudiation of this age-long noble virtue. President Buhari is a leader, father, and brother with responsibilities not only to the country but also to his family. It is therefore, unacceptable for anyone to wish him dead. He is not only the current leader of Nigeria, he is the symbol of the nation’s being and stability.
It is however, important for the managers of the president’s communication system to endeavour to stem undue speculations with better ways information management.
In all of these, it is important to reiterate that the state of health-care delivery at the moment is horrible and a combination of factors interplay to force people to seek medical attention abroad. Among them are epileptic power supply; poor attitude to work by the medical personnel, leading, sometimes to negligence; wrong diagnosis; lack of critical equipment; non-availability of prescribed medication; poorly motivated medical personnel and frequent industrial action by different healthcare groups.
Consequently, a lot of medical cases have been mismanaged due to one problem or the other. The way out is for government at all levels to rise up to this national crisis and give the country a better health-care delivery system. In which case, President Muhammadu Buhari has his job well cut out for him after this period of rest.