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Medical vacations and presidential pilgrims

By  Rotimi Fasan

SINCE he decided to extend his so-called medical vacation, we are told, on the advice of his doctors, President Muhammadu Buhari’s abode in the United Kingdom is fast becoming a Mecca of sorts. More groups and individuals are finding their way to this secret hospice that is the new Aso Rock Villa. Never mind that the presidential villa in Abuja is home to a supposedly hi-tech, medical facility that is equipped with the latest state of the art gadgets

That facility for all the president cares is inadequate for his medical needs. It sure can’t meet the demands of his health. And there is no reason why he should patronise our medical facilities or doctors if he has no confidence in either.

It was probably in that state of mind he hightailed it to the UK on a ten-day medical trip that has been extended indefinitely. The extension has led to speculations that suggest his health might be in real danger, and this has prompted different individuals and groups to embark on get-well visits to the president.

The presidential visitors, in practical terms pilgrims, have been making the six-hour trip to Britain to pay obeisance and, without saying so, pledge their loyalty to a man whose state of health is now the subject of high politics.

Among these latter day pilgrims to the relocated house of power in the UK are the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, Chief Bisi Akande and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The last set of pilgrims went from the National Assembly, led by the Senate President himself, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and their lieutenants.

Had he been confirmed by now perhaps Mr. Walter Onnoghen, the Acting Chief Justice of the Federation, would have led a delegation of judicial officers to the president’s bedside in a show of loyalty. Buhari had left the country on a vacation that is now in its fourth week.

While Nigerians have been told nothing concrete of his state of health, while there has been no admission of any kind that the president is by any chance ill, we’ve been inundated with reports of his sound health, contrary to the widely held belief that he might be seriously ill.

Perhaps it’s part of the plan to play down the seriousness of his condition that his wife, Aisha, is yet to make what now seems an obligatory trip by his political associates to see him in the UK. She prefers the warmth of Saudi Arabia, the actual destination of true as opposed to political pilgrims, to the cold ambiance of Europe.

She would rather go for the ‘lesser’ hajj to pray for the quick recovery of her husband (?) than join the bandwagon of politicians on eye-service to the UK. Since the UK is yet to feature in Mrs. Buhari’s itinerary would it not be safe, then, to conclude that there is no cause for any alarm about her husband’s health? Or so her apparent calm amid the raging storm surrounding the medical trip of her husband would suggest.

But if the president is indeed fine, does his absence in the last four weeks not beg the question of his true state of health? What kind of tests are his doctors executing on him that will not permit him, homesick as we’ve been told he is, to return to the warm welcome of his family and the rest of Nigerians? The president has embarked on at least two previous vacations in his twenty months in office. These vacations were obviously meant to provide needed rest, and since he is not a machine nobody can complain about it.

The fact though is that his latest ten-days-turned-one-month vacation is far more than most Nigerians enjoy for working for the same number of months. This would not make much difference even if the retirement age in Nigeria is sixty for public officers and our president is nearly seventy-five. Many Nigerians, especially public servants, are far older than their declared age which is invariably ‘official’. False declaration of age is an everyday fact of life in Nigeria.

Many would have clocked seventy or seventy five by the time they claim to be sixty. It could, however, be argued that we are different.Which is why the president and his minders ought to have been more forthcoming with information about his health.

That way people would have some idea what’s going on and can show more understanding. If the president has thrice gone on vacation in less than two years would it not make sense to ask, as Nigerians have been doing, if all is well with him considering he offered to serve and he was not elected president to go on vacation? Nobody in their right senses can expect a seventy four year old to play the part of a forty five year old.

And if now at about eighty years, officially, former President Olusegun Obasanjo still maintains a relatively strenuous regime , one should not necessarily expect the same of either Buhari or Ibrahim Babangida that appears to be contending with age-related ailments.

But President Buhari’s minders, spokespersons and associates, assure us all there is nothing the matter with his health. From the pilgrims that have visited him in the UK have come reports of his wellbeing- ‘sounded his usual self’ (Saraki) or as ‘fit as fiddle’ (Dogara). Yet the man looks gaunt and weak even from ‘official’ photographs of these visits.

While there may be cultural, religious or even private reasons why Nigerians would not want to make public declaration of their state of health (and many of us asking Buhari to declare his ailment belong here), some of these reasons become untenable for a public servant like a president, governor or other very senior officials, appointed or elected.

The least that can be done in such circumstances is to admit that all is not well. That a man, a human being, is indisposed or suffers from some ailment is nothing criminal. Neither is that a thing to be ashamed of.

There is no point insisting that a man who is obviously ill is as fit as ‘fiddle’, a hoe or whatever. This is what these UK pilgrims to the presidential hospice have been saying.

Yet, it may be of interest to ask how much of the tax payers money goes into these trips? Is it not enough that the president is away on a medical vacation that could be costing the country so much in scarce foreign exchange even when we are being told that nothing is wrong with him? If nothing is wrong with him, why are our political leaders embarking on expensive foreign trips to visit him in his vacation abode? What’s going on here?


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