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The Yar’aduaization of Buhari’s Health by His Media Adviser

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina’s troubling ineptitude in media communicatio...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina’s troubling ineptitude in media communication and reputation management is turning out to be President Muhammadu Buhari’s gravest albatross. The true state of the president’s health is now shrouded in mystery and is the subject of unhealthy speculations—much like the late President Umar Musa Yar’adua’s was.

In the wake of a June 4, 2016 Premium Times report that the president had “an infection in his left ear, otherwise called Meniere Disease, … which has drastically reduced his outings in the last one week,” Adesina insisted the president was the picture of good health. “Didn’t you see pictures of him receiving Anglican bishops yesterday?” Adesina told the Cable on June 4. “Did he look sick? The president is as fit as a fiddle. Anyone who says he is sick is telling lies.”

 In less than 24 hours after this forceful denial, Adesina issued a statement saying President Buhari would start a 10-day “holiday” to London during which he would "see an E.N.T. specialist for a persistent ear infection." The president, the statement added, "was examined by his Personal Physician and an E.N.T Specialist in Abuja and was treated. Both Nigerian doctors recommended further evaluation purely as a precaution.”
Dramatization and fictional dialogue courtesy of Dr. Raji Bello
It is remarkable that Adesina didn’t deem it necessary to reconcile his previous impassioned denial of the president’s sickness and his subsequent admission that the president was indeed sick. “Persistent” implies that the president’s health troubles predated public knowledge of it. In other words, it didn’t just start on June 5. Yet Adesina knowingly lied that the president was “as fit as a fiddle” and that people who said the president was sick were “telling lies.” How more barefacedly duplicitous can anyone get?

In more ways than one, the media handling of the president’s health eerily recalls how former presidential spokesman Segun Adeniyi and what infamously came to be known as “the Yar’adua cabal” managed the late President Yar’adua’s health and robbed him of the sympathy he deserved from Nigerians. Everything about his health was cloaked in secrecy and doublespeak. The truth and the Nigerian nation also became casualties of the president’s sickness. (I’m not by any means implying that the same fate that befell Yar’adua would befall Buhari; I am only comparing the media handling of the health of the two leaders).

There is nothing to be ashamed of in sickness. It’s a garment we all must periodically wear in the course of our ephemeral earthly existence. My over 90-year-old father also has an over 20-year-old persistent ear infection that has impaired his hearing. So I am intimately familiar with the distress of an ear infection. That’s why I feel more than sympathy for the president; I feel deep empathy for him.

But while I sincerely empathize with the president and hope and pray that he gets well soon, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the decision to take him to a London hospital to treat an ear infection that Adesina said the president’s personal physician and an ENT specialist have “treated,” especially in the face of the fact that millions of Nigerians (who are stripped of all subsidies) lack access to basic medical care.

There are at least three reasons why this is unwarrantable. First, it is a direct violation of the president’s own April 27, 2016 directive that forbids government officials from traveling abroad for medical treatment. “While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria,” Buhari was quoted to have said in an April 27, 2016 Punch news report. Yet, although his ear infection was already “treated” in Nigeria, he flew to London “purely out of precaution.” In other words, he really didn’t need to go to London; he just went there out of an abundance of caution. Here, I am sticking strictly to the official statement released by the president’s media adviser.

Second, more than 4 billion naira has been allocated to the presidential clinic in this year's budget. That's more than the combined allocation to several teaching hospitals that serve millions of Nigerians who can’t afford the luxury to travel abroad for their medical needs. What I wrote in my May 28, 2016 column titled "Sacrifice by the Poor Amid Subsidies for the Rich" is particularly apposite now. I wrote: "The medical center in the Villa will be maintained with N3.89 billion. But this excludes drugs. Within this budget year, more than N200 million has been allocated to buy drugs for the State House clinic. Never mind that the president actually goes to London for his medical needs.

"In February this year when he went to London for a routine medical check-up, he told Nigerians in the UK that he had been using his UK doctors 'since 1978 when I was in Petroleum.' So over 4 billion naira has been allocated for a medical facility in the presidential villa that the president may not even use, yet the poor are told to 'sacrifice' because the country is 'broke.'"

In these existentially precarious times when workers are owed several months of back wages, wages that are already made worthless by an unconscionably ill-advised increase in fuel prices, when everyday Nigerians are being denuded of every imaginable subsidy in the face of the unimaginable agony several of them already writhe in, how can anyone with even a smidgen of basic morality justify flying the president to London, using public funds, to treat an ear infection "purely out of precaution"?

Third, news of the president’s ear treatment in London has spread wildly in the international media, and has made Nigeria and Nigerians the butt of cruel, unflattering jokes all over the world. I didn’t realize how wide the news had spread until some of my American students asked me with a suppressed but nonetheless detectable tone of derision if it was true that my country’s president had been flown to London to treat an ear infection. In the comments sections of the story of Buhari’s London ear infection treatment in British newspapers, several Britons had a field day mocking Nigerians, with some pointing out that the president may ironically be treated by Nigerian doctors in London.

The shame and embarrassment are just too much to bear. If this had happened in a previous administration, I probably would have ignored it as just one more evidence of the atrophy of the Nigerian state. This is NOT the Buhari presidency I envisioned.

Related Article:
"Sacrifice" by the Poor Amid Subsidies for the Rich
Yar'adua's Health: Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic

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