by Abimbola Adelakun
Since the news broke that Mrs. Patience Jonathan was hospitalised, there has been a systematic repetition of history. I take that back, history doesn’t repeat itself; such linguistic constructions in the intransitive mode shrewdly obscure the oft-unpleasant reality that the actors of history are active agents of concomitant actions that culminate in a déjà vu. In short, people repeat history; it doesn’t repeat itself. Even when we witness and study history, we still tend to fall its victim, proof that we are susceptible to the same human vulnerabilities as the former actors of history whose actions we now repeat. This is one of those things that make the work of historians and historiographers exciting. Do we really learn from history or do we only master it to recognise “history” when we pass through the same road again? It is a question with answers beyond the scope of this piece.
Today, Mrs. Jonathan is on my mind and no, it’s not because I’m concerned Bayelsa State is missing a Permanent Secretary but because her current story reads so familiarly that it uncannily resembles reading a history of the present.
It was a month before this time three years ago when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was ferried to Saudi Arabia for treatment; a journey from which he, literally speaking, never returned.
Prior to his eventual death, his aides lied through and beyond their teeth to sustain an illusion of normality; to deceive Nigerians that he was still fit to rule. The drama of his death should -had Nigeria been a different country- have formed tomes of scholarship, and the basis of trials over the roles played by certain actors some of who now pretend they love One Nigeria more than Lord Lugard!
While Yar’Adua was in the pangs of death, his sickness was so theaterised that seeing him came with as much drama and excitement as a UFO sighting. If a certain newspaper was not reporting how he sat up in a chair in his study, somebody else would swear he just had tea with him. At a time he was shipped into the country in the middle of the night and quickly hidden away in Aso Rock. His sickness became a comic raw material for cartoonists, parodists and comedians.
And then came the religious leaders — the Chief Imam of Abuja mosque, Ustaz Musa Muhammed — who painted a picture of a recovering President and even warned off those who were murmuring about a post-Yar’Adua Nigeria. Christian leaders, like the biblical Three Wise Men, also visited Aso Rock and when they came out, “Bishop Arrogance” declared he owed the public no explanation, conveniently forgetting that nobody is greater than the people who made Him.
While all these were going on, then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan was playing his role of a stand-in with all the dignity his mien could muster. He saw all that transpired and in his heart probably thought he would have done things differently if he ever made it to power.
He is now the President and in 2012 and he is repeating history: His wife has been away for five weeks, purportedly nursing an ailment in Germany. In that period, he and his men have brought out an old copy of the Yar’Adua script and they are staging excerpts from certain acts and scenes and hoping the audience will not recognise the similarity.
When the news initially broke that Mrs. Jonathan was hospitalised abroad, her aides denied there was anything wrong other than that she was taking “a moment’s rest” from her hectic schedule, especially after hosting the energy-sapping African First Ladies Summit in July in Abuja. They went on to add that she would soon be back. The point of whether Germany, of all places, is a good rejuvenation spot for someone needing rest was moot. But since then, we have been fed all manner of inanities from the aides who keep spinning one story after another to cover their now bare derriere. There have been all kinds of stories circulating about the nature of her ill-health: she has been said to suffer from food poisoning, uterine cancer, uterine fibroids or even the debilitating Parkinson’s disease.
The issue is, what would it have cost them to admit upfront that the First Lady was sick and required a medical intervention out of the country? Definitely, they would have faced criticisms of flying the First Lady abroad while hospitals at home lie comatose but then, it would have augured better for them than the way their pants go on fire with each press release and interview. Perhaps, some people would have wished her dead (and so many others will pray for her too) but it would definitely have been easier for them in many ways.
I admit part of the issue here is cultural – we are a people who speak with Pentecostal faith of “I am strong” even while lying on a hospital bed – but Mrs. Jonathan is in the public glare and her health is definitely a matter of popular interest. If she were an Oyinbo woman, her health would have been the subject of Talkshows and a lot of young and middle-aged women warned to take care of their health; Oprah Winfrey would have used the opportunity to launch a weight loss programme for plus-size women who urgently need to jump some jacks. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta would have interviewed a number of researchers on the ailment. And the First Lady, if she recovers, would have written a motivational book talking about the story of her survival. The last thing anyone would have done is to hide the sickness and that is not only because they are an exhibitionist culture but they realise that to fall sick is human; it is futile to hide it. Even Sani Abacha, in the pre-Internet age didn’t hide his successfully.
And this is what ails Mrs. Jonathan: the President and his co-travellers have failed to learn simple lessons from history, as recent as it is. Even though they had ringside seats to the Yar’Adua drama, they are playing the same old script, which landed Yar’Adua’s cabal on Nowhere Island; they even show video clips of the First Lady to pretend she’s hale and hearty. The question is, if they didn’t learn and are repeating this history, how many of the same mistakes of the past are they not, thoughtlessly, repeating?