For the past couple of weeks, one of the most dominant news items has been the continued stay of President Muhammadu Buhari in the United Kingdom on vacation and the rumors about his health.
While there have been rumors that his health condition is grave with some even alleging he is in coma, the President has himself confirmed that he is staying indefinitely until his doctors are satisfied that “certain factors are ruled out” in the course of his “routine check-ups.”
The position of the President is as garbled and non-explanatory that of his senior aides regarding his health: while his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu claimed to have spoken to the President’s personal doctor and was told the President was not in any serious condition, his Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina cited doctor-patient confidentiality as the reason why whatever is ailing the president cannot be disclosed.
In the confusion between President Buhari and his media spokesmen over what narrative to stick to regarding the health condition of the President, they have succeeded in doing little in shedding new light on his illness or lack of it, and in the process, stoked the controversy and fed the rumor mill even more.
Nigerians are still yet to know what exact illness or routine check has kept their President in the UK a week longer than he had initially planned to, and will not buy into the argument that doctor-patient confidentiality prevents them from knowing. The moment President Buhari was sworn into office, he ceased to be a private citizen, but became the president of 177 million people, Africa’s second largest economy and the most populous black nation on earth.
The issue of the President’s health is too weighty to be swept under the rug or downplayed, especially in a country such as Nigeria with many political uncertainties. This is further made worse by the fact that the controversy over late President Umaru Yar’adua’s illness and eventual death are much too recent in our memories, and the parallels between these two scenarios are increasing.
What Nigerians want to know is the exact state of the President’s health with specific details over what is afflicting him. What they want to see and hear is the President directly addressing the people.
However, what they have been treated to are half-truths from presidential aides, pictures of him with top politicians and senior public office holders like Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara disclosing that they spoke with him on the phone and giving him a clean bill of health.
These cannot substitute for a direct address to Nigerians by the President; indeed, if he can make jokes with Saraki as the Senate President claims, he should be able to make even a short video message to the people who elected him.
It is true that no human is above falling ill now and then, and many Nigerians do wish the President the best of health and want him to recover as soon as possible. But the longer the Presidency continues to act secretively on his health, the less empathy will be felt for him.
The best way to end the rumors and prevent what is likely to be hysteria over the President’s condition is to come clean about his state of health.