WHILE the furore on the health of 91-year-old icon of the anti-apartheid struggle Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was on last week, our focus was on his well being, as well as lessons from how South Africa managed a matter of high concern to a global audience.
At his age, rumours of his death have become routine. Last week’s concerns centred on government’s concealment of the illness for as long as it thought was necessary. Criticisms about the media gag could have forced government to finally issue a statement.
Its detailed statement respected the patient’s privacy, but allayed the public fears about the state of the former South African President, whose humanity stands him above others. Worries about his health were global, with millions of internet users searching the web for the latest information on Mandela.
Some points are important here in the light of the secrecy of our governments and the deplorable state of our health services.
How much should Nigerians know about officials who are supposed to serve them? Why was the health of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua surrounded with secrecy? How did management of the deceased President’s health benefit Nigerians? What have we learnt from that experience?
More importantly, Mandela was treated in South Africa. He was not flown to any foreign hospital. He had series of tests in South Africa, under the guidance of “The Defence Force which is responsible for all medical requirements and care of current and retired presidents,” according to a government statement. In which hospital would we have treated an ailing Mandela, if he was Nigerian? Do our leaders see the results of their parochial policies?
“Given the medical history of our former president, his health over the last few years and his age, these tests are necessary in order to provide optimal health care. Medically there is no need to panic.
Dr Mandela suffers from ailment common to people of his age and conditions that have developed over years. We may recall that he has suffered from tuberculosis whilst on Robben Island and has had previous respiratory infections. I can assure all South Africans and the world that Madiba is in the good hands,” the government said.
Mandela has not made any public appearances since a brief spin in Soccer City Stadium before the final of the World Cup last July. Even that appearance was possible because a golf cart bore him.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years for plotting an armed struggle against South Africa’s whites- only government. His release facilitated processes that ended apartheid and the first all race elections which the African National Congress won and Mandela became President, an office from which he voluntarily stepped down in 1999.
Nigerian leaders should ponder about our country. They are not building a country that will adore them the way the world adores Mandela, nor one with facilities that can treat its leaders even if they suffer something as minor as a bout of malaria.