By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Rain does not fall on one roof alone”- African Proverb
JUST about everything that should be said about the illness and absence of Dame Patience Jonathan has been said. Her aides and Presidential spokesmen have been accused of lying, deception, cover-up, insensitivity and irresponsibility over her whereabouts and illness.
Opposition parties rolled out heavy armour against the Presidency for concealing the state of her health, and then for her being treated overseas.
The public is being fed stories about gagged aides in Wiesbaden, Germany; failed cosmetic surgeries and desperate remedial medications. On the whole, the manner the ailment of the First Lady was handled can rightly be described as a public relations disaster and critics of the administration will say that it has lived up to its established standards.
And all these over the lady who, a few months ago, was being pillaged for accepting an appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Bayelsa State Civil Service Commission, then for making a case for the legalisation of the position of the First Lady.
This is the same lady whose run-in with Turai Yar’Adua was so lavishly splashed on the face of a nation. A few weeks ago, Dame Patience Jonathan was even more pilloried than her husband. Now the nation is agog with stories of her illness and all manner of speculation over her condition.
You would think the concern over the health and whereabouts of Dame Jonathan is borne out of affection and compassion from a nation she, in her own inimitable way, thinks loves her.
The fact that she would be sorely mistaken is even less of a tragedy than the entire melodrama of her illness and the way it is being managed. For, no matter what we think of the lady, the fact of the matter is that she is ill enough to have stayed this long in another country, away from her husband, family and those who love her. Where is our humanity, for goodness sake?
Whatever we think about the spokesmen and aides’ gaffes, the simple fact is that one of us is in need of our prayers and compassion, and we should pray for her to get well and return home to the people who love her. We should pray to God to bring her quick relief and comfort and end her suffering and of those who love her.
We should pray to God to spare us all the nightmare of having a loved one in a hospital thousands of miles away, or being that far away and having people bicker over it as if they are on a cruise around the world.
We should pray for Dame Patience Jonathan to recover and come home to her family because that is what we will do for anyone’s wife or mother.
That is in our character, even though our hearts have hardened in large measure because we think our leaders do not deserve humane considerations. Not to feel compassion for her and her family and not to pray for them will make us worse than the leaders we blame for our woes. The Dame and her husband are just human, and this is one time when we should treat them as fellow humans, with all the frailties we have.
A prayer for Dame Jonathan
We should pray for the quick recovery and return of Dame Patience Jonathan irrespective of what she and her husband do when she is back with us. When she comes back into her stride, she and the nation will pick up where we stopped. Make no mistake about it: Dame Patience is an extremely powerful woman. Those who doubted this only need to ask why the nation will get all worked up over her absence and illness. It cannot simply be that the PR over her absence was bungled.
This is standard practice these days. It cannot even be that she is receiving the best medical attention in the world at a time when medical workers are walking out on psychiatric patients in a Federal Government specialist hospital in Kaduna.
The collapse of our public health system has long been registered, and it will take a brave man, or a callous one in Nigeria today who will not avail his spouse the best medical treatment anywhere in the world if he can afford it, or can have the public pay for it.
We should pray that she gets back on her own two feet, and while praying, we should also pray that God will touch her heart so that she can re-direct her abundant energy in a number of areas which will help her husband and the nation even more. When she returns hale and hearty, we hope she will use her fabled influence on her husband to work with the legislature to enact a law preventing any public office holder from travelling overseas for medial treatment of any type. The humiliation which our nation is subjected to every time our V.V.I.Ps travel out is only one reason for this.
The Dame’s ailment is a painful reminder of the loss of Stella Obasanjo and the tragic shuttling of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in and out of the nation in search of cure. The very people who can make sure that we build and maintain world-class medical infrastructure have turned foreign medical trips into routine matters. We spend trillions in Naira in foreign countries seeking relief from the simplest to the most complicated ailments.
This is money which builds medical facilities, trains doctors and medical personnel, and allows research in those countries. Medical tourism is now the polite term for the undignified exodus of Nigerians to Egypt, India, Ghana, South Africa, Dubai and just about everywhere else.
So when the Dame returns, those close to her should please remind her that part of the agony of the distance from her loved ones could have been prevented if she was hospitalised here at home. The money spent on her treatment and the upkeep of her aides will quite probably build and equip a world-class operating theater which can treat her with the same quality the Germans did.
Dame Jonathan’s new responsibility
We should also pray that God will also touch her heart to prevail on her husband to work with other policy makers to pass a law that should stop any public office holder from sending his child or ward to a foreign educational facility. Their children should study in Nigeria, where they have the power and resources to revolutionise education at all levels.
She should lead the battle to convince her husband to transform his thinking and that of his administration to reduce the gulf which exists between elected leaders and citizens. His Minister of Power should not have a generator in his or her house. His Minister of Health should go to government hospitals for treatment. His Minister of Works should drive everywhere by the roads he builds and maintains.
She should remind him of a recent report that 130 private jets owned by Nigerians are valued at $6.3 billion. She should urge him to bring those involved in the subsidy and pensions scams to book.
She should remind him that transformation means doing those things that his predecessor were unable or unwilling to do. She could remind him that they will live with Nigeria and Nigerians when they cease to be President and First Lady, and they will need to feel safe and satisfied that they left the nation better than they met it in 2010.
But first, we should genuinely and sincerely pray that God gives her her health back, and she rejoins her family. This will not be a favour to the Jonathans. Just the act of a humane and civilized people.