ACTUALLY, Health Minister Professor Babatunde Oshotimehin has a lot more to worry about than the Presidentâ€™s health.
Of course the Presidentâ€™s health, for obvious reasons, is a matter of grave importance, and something to worry about, but not for reasons that have been famously ascribed to it. The economy is comatose, we are made to believe, because the President has been ill for the better part of three months and was away rejuvenating in a far away SaudiÂ hospital.
The banking crisis, fuel scarcity, growing insecurity, have all been ascribed to the Presidentâ€™s absence, even when we know in the deeper parts of our mind that is just a load of crock. And so while the rows are raging over whether or not the erstwhile Vice President Jonathan has been pronounced Acting President leading from due and proper process or otherwise, the biggest concern of the Nigerian Health Minister was not to be co-opted into the dubious mission of sending another delegation to Saudi Arabia in order to visit the erstwhile president. HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are still a major health concern.
So also is cancer, which has become a bigger and bigger concern every year, particularly as higher costs of living continue to push more and more of the population to the fringe of hardly updated healthcare facilities. The Health Minister ought to be worried more about those who cannot go to Saudi, or anywhere for that matter, to get healthcare.
He should be worried even about rising numbers of the monied and middle classes investing in seeking healthcare from such places as India, Brazil and South Africa. He ought to be very worried that procedures as simple as certain cosmetic surgeries are not available in a country of hundreds of thousands of medical practitioners and that a Nigerian presidentâ€™s wife was believed to have died while receiving almost routine cosmetic medical care abroad.
Indeed, the longsuffering, hardworking Professor ought to be far more worried about incredibly high maternal mortality, low life expectancy and increasing difficulty in finding good food, than about the state of health of our erstwhile president. His Ministry ought to take a hard look about embracing genetically modified (GM) food, a scientific innovation the consequences of which are little known.
The state of the Presidentâ€™s health is of grave importance mostly because the president in a nation that operates the presidential system of government is the number one face of the nation. A sick president that cannot be taken care of by his own gives the impression of a weak nation. For military purposes, few would be afraid of a nation whose commander-in-chief is on life support. It can explain, and favourably so, why the state of a presidentâ€™s health can be a matter of top secret.
Fortunately, Nigeria is not at war with anyone. We are not afraid of any other nation, and no nation is certainly afraid of us; not any more. Our bluffing in the face of being added to the United States terror list has tapered and died down to a half-hearted half mumble hardly heard even to ourselves. We have resigned ourselves to it all: The six month long fuel scarcity, fuelled mainly by criminal elements both in the highest of the high and lowest of the low of places.
The dip in our painfully insufficient and critically inefficient power supply in every part of the country. The resort to a â€˜pure waterâ€™ economy, in which the only profitable industry in bothÂ urban andÂ rural Nigeria is the purification of hitherto non-potable water into some semblance of safety using basically crude and outdated machinery.
The monitoring of the processes by government agencies is limited and prone to corrupt practices. The machinery is imported at great cost to our forex supply.
Clearly, President Yar’Adua is in no position to dream, and may not have been for a long time. A man of no mean accomplishment, repute and background, he has, from the inception of his administration, been anointed with such fond pet names as â€˜Baba go-slowâ€™, and eventually â€˜Baba stand-stillâ€™. More recently, his loving compatriots have turned him into a metaphor for desertion.
Hence, rather than say â€˜my girlfriend has deserted meâ€™, you might well say â€˜my girlfriend has gone Yar’Adua on meâ€™.
â€˜Yar’Adua is the best answer for a foolâ€™ has become a common phrase.
Nigerians are not being unnecessarily disagreeable or mean by this distasteful development. They are just making the best of a bad situation as the blues singer crooned, or is it making the beast? It is only reasonable to expect a sick man, particularly an accomplished one, to be in no mood to dream, but rather to preoccupy himself with getting well or in the last resort, dying well.
A sick country, on the other hand, hadÂ better dream, because that is all it has going for it. Dreaming means hope, removing focus from what is to not only what ought to be but also what can be.
And Nigeria can only hope because it still exists. A dead country, too, does not dream.
Note: Last week, this column was bungled due to some malfunction in the production apparatus. My apologies.