President Muhammadu Buhari, affectionately called Sai Baba by his teeming admirers during electioneering, and Innocent “2Face” Idibia, now known as 2Baba, didn’t show up last week Monday, as either promised. Sai Baba remained in London, convalescing, as Information Minister Lai Mohammed, insists that “The President is well, hale, and hearty… He is not ill, and he is not in danger.”
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier reported that the President, whom he spoke with on the telephone, sounded upbeat. The President’s sister, Hajiya Rakiya Adamu, and Senate President Bukola Saraki, also confirmed speaking with him.
To show his relevance in the scheme of things, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said the President discussed “food security for all Nigerians”with him. American President Donald Trump also orchestrated a telephone call with President Buhari.
Rather than douse the tension, it raised it. Some sceptics wanted to know if the Nigerian Television Authority could take its cameras to London, to obtain film footages of the President doing some pushups, or at least lacing his own shoes.
There were outrageous and unconfirmed claims that Mr. President was lying prostrate with prostate cancer. Some allowed that if he was undergoing chemotherapy as a result, his handlers should say so, and Nigerians would understand that he may not be looking his best for TV cameras.
There was relief when a photo of albeit frail President Buhari, with the All Progressives Congress leaders, Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande, went viral and on television last Thursday. Buhari lives, shaming those wishing him dead.
2Baba, on the other hand, called Nigerians out under the aegis of the “One Voice Nigeria” to protest the harsh economic conditions under President Buhari. He then called off the protest, some say, after being “persuaded” by security agents that it could turn awry. Some attributed 2Baba’s no-show-up to his mother, who “pulled his ears.”
They add – without evidence – that security agents leaned on Mama Idibia to lean on her son. It could be embarrassing if Mr. President was reviewing an honours guard at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, while 2Baba was rousing a mob against government at the National Stadium, Lagos.
Imagine a split television screen of a CNN news report contrasting a bonhomie presidential reception of friendly banter and back-slapping, to a mob, carrying placards reading, “Down ‘pressor man,” anchored by civil society activists, speaking in strident tones, and jabbing clenched fists at the air.
The action or inaction of Sai Baba and 2Baba shows the frailties, fickleness, and primordial existential issues of man, summarised in the axiom, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” You cannot rely on promises made by men, be they politicians or wannabe champions of the masses.
As Sai Baba was being secretive about his illness, 2Baba was halting his protest. Both attempted cover-ups failed, because the issues of food, good health, and basic social amenities, are as public as they are private.
Sai Baba must get well before he can attend to 2Baba’s prayers. The Yoruba concluded, “Ti ina ba jo ni, jo omo eni” by counselling you douse the fire on your body before dousing that on your child. America’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, observes that “Title means nothing if you can’t have your health.”
Some Nigerians who are not too “cool” with this argument wonder why Sai Baba offered himself for President whereas he didn’t have the stamina for the office. Surely, he must remember that former President Umaru Yar’ Adua died under the weight of that high office.
And by asking for prayers, Mr. President was shifting his responsibilities for governance to Providence, using religion to cover his shortcomings. Apart from gnawing at corruption with plea bargains and media trial, many Nigerians think the President hadn’t done more than finding his feet since inauguration.
Think of the tailor busy just fixing a thread into the eye of a needle all day, or the lawyer, in the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, making busy. The implications, as President Buhari approaches the midterm of his tenure, would have made my fluent French-speaking Cousin, Kayode Sote, exclaim, “Oh la la!”
Those, including the President, who ask Nigerians, long on religion, but short on spiritual potency, to pray for his recovery miss a vital, but unspoken, aspect of 2Baba’s nearly aborted protest; the need for a credible Nigerian health care delivery system.
With this, Nigerians, including the President, won’t go on medical tourism to treat ailments, minor as ear infection, or major, as Lou Gehrig’s disease or cancer. Dr. Festus Igbinova is asking for more cancer screening centres in Nigeria, as Prof Oladapo Ashiru suggests that all (?) cancer should be curable within another decade.
You could argue that the President cannot wait for a future Nigeria with improved health facilities. Maybe, the next prayer point should adopt the line, “Guide our leaders right,” from Nigeria’s National Anthem in asking God for grace to enable Nigerian leaders to improve the nation’s healthcare delivery system.
As you know, medical tourism of any scale requires foreign exchange: for the treatment; board and accommodation, even if it were in the Nigerian High Commission in London; new clothing; and flight tickets to and fro the host country.
Those who like nitpicking may add the costs of visits by family and friends, and the burning of the long distance telephone lines. You must also add the social cost to the confidence of Nigeria’s medical professionals who don’t get to treat their own President.
When America’s President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr. in late March 1981, he received his entire treatment at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, D.C. He later returned to his White House official residence to recuperate.
It should be understandable why patriotic Nigerians got alarmed after President Buhari extended his medical tour.Whenever a President goes abroad for medical treatment, it heightens the people’s anxiety. This is not to say that people do not die in Nigerian hospitals.
When military President Ibrahim Babangida went to France in 1987, and again in 1988, to treat radiculopathy, there was fear that he might not survive the surgery. After another treatment in 2016, Babangida had to call“Journalists’ Hangout,” Television Continental’s talk show, to dispel rumours of his death. Unfortunately, President Yar’Adua wasn’t so lucky; he died in the process of getting medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo must urgently arrange for a competent medical team, and state-of-the-art equipment to treat the President in Nigeria. That should not be too much to do for a boss. And the kite flown by medical doctor, and Senator, Lanre Tejuosho, that the National Assembly may adopt the 2001 Abuja Declaration, and allocate 15 per cent of 2017 Budget to health care, should soar.
Maybe, it is time to consider Medicare, funded by compulsory health insurance, to meet the cost of medical treatment and hospital care for citizens. To the cynics who doubt if this can be done, former American President Barak Obama would have answered, “Yes, we can.”
Though he later reneged in what some thought was a cowardly manner, 2Baba fixing his protest on the expected date of arrival of President Buhari from a medical tour, provided a metaphor of an inconsistent, ill-prepared, and unnecessarily secretive Nigerian state with a penchant for always aborting its own good intentions.