After quite a while, it does seem strange weaving together choice words to make some wealthy sense called an article. Once more, the stimulating factor perking me up from sabbatical is the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari. The Airforce 001 that conveyed the President on Saturday touched down on Nigerian soil at 4:36p.m. Not just the President; the plane had also spent 103days in a foreign land. In fact, they both have some things in common; While Airforce 001 incurred cost relaxing at its tarmac, the President, his retinue of aides and medical personnel all feast on the tax payers’ coffers.
Only the President – and to a large extent his wife, Aisha who perhaps was in the other room when he arrived – could tell how he felt coming back home, having spent only 78 days in Nigeria this year prior to his arrival. Suffice to say that his protracted sojourn abroad was unwilled. The man couldn’t just help but get medical attention where it was. As much as he tried, the demand of the Presidential office in the most populous black nation for a man of his age is overwhelming. It brings to the fore once more, the need for a continental contemplation on the age grade of African leaders in a continent with the youngest population in the world.
The average age of the 10 oldest presidents in Africa is 79.5, compared to 52 in the most developed countries. It is highly paradoxical that the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (93), Tunisia’s Beji Caid Essebsi (90), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (84), Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, (80) Guinea’s Alpha Condé, (79) and several others are ruling in a continent with a global median age of 19.5 years.
Unlike Chinese President Xi Jinping (64), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (63), Russian President Vladimir Putin (64), Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron (39), a writer distinguished Mugabe’s birth era as one preceding the “invention of television, electric razors and automatic bread slicers.” 83% of Zimbabweans were born after Mugabe first came to power as Prime Minister in 1980. How a man of that generation hopes to be in tune with today’s reality in a rapidly evolving world remains a leadership fantasy and one that depicts our floundering developmental pace.
As a matter of fact, not only President Buhari is involved in the medical tourism. President Mugabe has been in and out of the hospital. The opposition in Zimbabwe accused him of “running the show from his hospital bed” after medical trips to Singapore. The 93-year-old has not ruled out the possibility of vying for an eighth term. In fact, he once said he wants to live to 100 and rule for life. It has become so embarrassing for even his family that his wife, Grace, fired a salvo, taunting him to run “as a corpse” if he dies before the next election. To ensure continuity of the ugly trend, his Vice President and possible successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, started his medical tour earlier. The septuagenarian just returned from South Africa for medical reasons.
Dos Santos, Angola’s President of 38 years, spent a prolonged spell in Spain for an unknown ailment, just like Bouteflika who frequents France and has been confined indoors since suffering a stroke in 2013. President Talon of Benin, 59, had operations on his prostate and digestive system in Paris this summer and Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir could have joined the fray for the treatment of an exploratory cardiac catheterization, but for the fear of not being second time lucky following the International Criminal Court arrest warrant hovering over his head.
The ‘Not Too-Young to Run’ bill is a silver lining, but easier enacted than practised. There are intrinsic concerns bothering on the willingness of the aged leaders to pave way for younger ones just as the readiness and competence of the youths for leadership role needs be determined, same for the required resources and experience for the job.
That said, the Buhari escapade has invoked lessons to be learnt. There has been mass criticism of his information handlers, but I maintain that PMB’s character as a retired military officer is a key factor here. There is little a Femi Adesina or Shehu Garba can do if he advises a dogmatic Buhari to disclose his medical status or address Nigerians and the man from Daura says “No.” This is why seasoned journalists as Segun Adeniyi or an erudite Reuben Abati will remain in a quandary holding that position. Unfortunately, resignation isn’t a popular alternative in our clime. The tone of the President’s address to the nation after his return tells it all. It depicts that emanating from a dictator, only decked in a free flowing white agbada and cap to match.
For a choice, another purported Presidential address, circulated on social media could have been a better choice. Save for some overly liberal and amateurish clauses, it was naturally democratic, beautifully worded, States-manly and reassuringly inspiring. Talking of being blunt, there is nothing wrong in having PMB own up to falling prey of the same ill he spoke of prior. What is wrong with him pledging to ensure no Nigerian President has the cause to travel abroad on therapeutic expedition again by virtue of what would be done to transform the nation’s health system? Fidel Castro, out of jingoistic ego chose not to travel out of his country for medical attention, a stance that drove him into reforming Cuba’s health system. Today, the UN’s World Health Organization, says the Carribean Island nation’s health care system is an example for all countries of the world.
Amazingly, despite the hullaballoo that his prolonged absence generated, our lawmakers have not seen any need to enact laws to take care of similar future occurrents. The similar Yaradua instance gave birth to the Doctrine of Necessity. Buhari understood the implication and wisely passed over power to his Vice in his absence. Nevertheless, the law is still silent on how long such a medical voyage could last? Whether or not, it is necessary for the President or any other occupying top position to disclose his medical status? When it becomes expedient for the Federal Executive Council to wade into the medical condition of a President and many more? The unpopular protest by the ‘Our Mumu Don Do’ group and the vigil protest embarked on by Nigerians at the gate of the Abuja House where the President sheltered while in the UK might have only coincided with his scheduled return. But little wonder what magnitude of national discomfiture such would have caused had the President not journeyed back home the following morning.
It is good news that the President is back, but equally disturbing that a lot still need be done with no guarantee, knowing that the President obviously may not be fit enough for the Herculean task. As writer, Frederick Nwabufo opined, “I hope his return will be the heralding of pristine actions for Nigerians. To make his comeback a “hit” like Mark Morrison’s song. And what is this we hear about rodents flooding NIGERIA’S PRESIDENT’S OFFICE? A topic for another day!