Don’t they know that there is a metaphysical and indeed, physical link between the health of the president and the health of a nation? No one needs any peep into the Ouija-board to know that since Buhari came back from the infirmary in 2017, he had literally and figuratively ceased to be capable of administering Nigeria.
The President Is A Sick Man is the title of a book written by Philadelphia-born, award-winning American journalist, Matthew Algeo. It is a chronology of the medical travails of President Grover Cleveland, a lawyer, statesman and one of the most famous public speakers of his time. Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States of America, from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897. The book chronicles how inexorably linked the health of a president and the health of the nation are.
Cleveland was America’s first and only two non-consecutive terms president in history. He was also the first democrat to become the American president in 28 years. Famously renowned for always speaking the truth, he was regarded as a very virtuous man, so much that his most memorable quotation, ramped up into a cliché was, “Tell the Truth.” Like Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, whose minders ingenuously chiseled out an alias, Mai Gaskiya, out of his simple lifestyle which, unbeknownst to the generality of Nigerians, was earlier on a façade covering a gross latitude for egregious corruption by the people who surround him, America was later to find out that wrapped up inside that Cleveland shawl of “telling the truth” was the most untruthful cover-up in American history, far more scandalous than Watergate. What revealed Cleveland’s real persona was his battle with mouth cancer and an extraordinary, even if political cover-up of this infirmity that lasted for almost a century, garnished with a successful attempt to keep it from the American people.
Cleveland had assumed the American presidency on March 4, 1885 as the second bachelor president in the history of the country, after James Buchanan. Critics called Cleveland debauched, due to his penchant for “bringing his harlots to the vicinity of the White House.” However, on July 1, in the summer of 1893, Cleveland suddenly disappeared from the radar and couldn’t be found anywhere in the White House. Or anywhere in America. It was a challenging time when America was embroiled in what newspapermen labeled, in oblique vernacular, “The money question.” America was teetering on the brinks of financial and social chaos. The economy was threatening to kiss the canvass; unemployment figures were competing with the firmament in height; banks and factories were shutting their gates with reckless abandon and stock prices were in a free fall.
On May 5, 1893, two weeks shy of his 56th birthday, the second day of his swearing in at the Capitol for a second term, Cleveland noticed a rough spot on the roof of his mouth which, by the prodding of his wife, Frances, prompted the invitation of the president’s friend, New York surgeon and Cleveland’s family physician, Dr. Joseph Decatur Bryant, to look it up. Bryant diagnosed an oral tumour, which was malignant in nature, “an ulcerated surface with an oval outline about the size of a quarter of a dollar.” He called it a “bad looking tenant” that should be evicted post-haste.
Right from the 5 BC, cancer had garnered the notoriety of being the most dreaded disease in human history. America of the 19th century was no exception, nor President Cleveland himself. He was thoroughly afraid. The dread was such that, even Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, Hippocrates, also known as Hippocrates of Kos or Hippocrates II, who was renowned to be one of the most outstanding personalities in medical history, was quoted to have urged that “It is better not to apply treatment in the cases of occult (internal) cancer; for if treated, the patients die quickly; but if not treated, they hold on for a long time.” The fear was that, if the cancer afflicting Cleveland had gone into metastasis, the lower part of his left eye socket would be removed during surgery and thus permanently impairing his vision.
On July 1, 1893, President Cleveland got lost inside the Oneida, his friend, Commodore Elias Benedict’s yacht. For five good days, he was declared missing. William Williams Keen, America’s most famous and celebrated surgeon of the time and a team of other surgeons, performed the surgery to remove the cancerous tumor that had grown dangerously and embarrassingly on the president’s upper jaw and palate. The most shocking aspect of it was that, one very enterprising newspaper reporter, E. J. Edwards, later got wind of the information and reported the secret surgery. Cleveland’s Garba Shehus descended on the journalist with the highest acerbity ever. They even labeled him “a disgrace to journalism.” It was not until decades later that one of Cleveland’s surgeons exposed the startling disappearance.
Last week, Nigeria undertook its own ample share of the unwitting communication of the superhuman status of African presidents to the public. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria jetted out to the United Kingdom to undertake his own surgery inside a Cleveland-type Oneida yacht, “for routine medical checkup.”
I decided to narrate this long story so as to give a background to the African and Nigerian experience of the Cleveland disease – not in terms of the disappearance per se but the stunt of keeping ailments out of the people’s purview by elected presidents. While some may argue that the covert Cleveland surgery legitimises many similar situations in Africa, the fact that this happened in America, in the “dark age” of the 18th century, delegitimises such argument.
Drawing curtains around the health status of African leaders today, making them suddenly disappear to undertake surgeries inside the Cleveland-type Oneida yacht that was utilised, has a history behind it. It is a mentality of the continuation of the great empires and monarchies of Africa, where kings were perceived to be infallible, super-human and incapable of falling prey to the afflictions of plebeians and common people. African leaders, seeing themselves in the same mould of kings and emperors, believe that they must not be heard to be having failing healths, nor for their health statuses to be made public. In what other way can it be said to them that, no matter one’s status in life, no one is immune to health failings and death? This trend that I call the Kabiyesi mentality, has bred a pandemic of leaders of Africa who, almost like 19th century Cleveland, “abdicate their thrones” covertly to seek remedies abroad, without the knowledge of their people.
In October 2016, that was how President Peter Mutharika of Malawi disappeared off the radar, by which time he was 76 years old, clandestinely undertaking his own surgery inside a Cleveland-type Oneida yacht. He had gone to attend the United Nations General Assembly mid-September and didn’t come back until October 16. This provoked speculations in Malawi that he had died, with his cagey aides failing to divulge his whereabouts. There were later disclosures through the grapevine that he had vamoosed to some parts of Europe to attend to his health. The same was the story of Gabonese President, Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo. At a time in November 2018, Ali was said to have been “seriously ill,” with speculations rife that he had died after suffering from a stroke. He was just 59 years old then. Findings, however, later revealed that he had not died but that was holed up in a Saudi Arabia hospice.
Oil-rich Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who ruled the country from 1979, also eloped to Spain to have his own surgery inside a Cleveland-type Oneida yacht. He had sought medical remedy for an undisclosed ailment in May, 2017. It was after about three weeks of his noticeable absence from the public that his foreign minister, after pressure from the opposition, confirmed his unceremonious absence. Again, until his death at age 95, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was always dashing in and out of Singaporean hospitals. In the same vein, Benin Republic’s Patrice Talon is perhaps one of the rarest breeds of the African leadership caste to have made public disclosure of what ailed him. After the 59-year old president, who took over from Thomas Yayi-Boni, disappeared from the radar for about three weeks, his minders, on June 19, 2017, released the information that he had undergone two successful surgical operations in Paris. He said doctors had found a lesion in his prostate. This further necessitated another surgery in his digestive system.
Last week, Nigeria undertook its own ample share of the unwitting communication of the superhuman status of African presidents to the public. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria jetted out to the United Kingdom to undertake his own surgery inside a Cleveland-type Oneida yacht, “for routine medical checkup.” In March 2017, the then 74-year-old president had suddenly appeared on the radar, after unceremoniously disappearing for seven weeks, from January 19. He had jetted to the U.K. to treat an ailment, which till today remains undisclosed, flakes from which stoked the general perception that his failing health had grossly been responsible for the ungoverned space that Nigeria has being for the period of his presidency much far. It was so bad that some cynics wickedly alleged that the character that was flown back to Nigeria after the weeks of treatment in a U.K. hospice was a Buhari look-alike from Sudan and that the original had passed on. Buhari too didn’t help matters. Anytime his minders fail to put on the latch and he speaks ex-tempore, the president gives them public relations migraine, veering off course into irrelevances like a wandering spirit. This is why they only release him for photo-ops, taking care that he does not get any media engagement. For how long is this window-dressing going to last?
The only known communication of Buhari’s ailment by the presidency was the claim that he had an ear infection, an ailment that took him to the same U.K. in 2016. On May 7 of the same year, Buhari went back to the U.K. for “further medical checks,” necessitating his before-now voluble wife, Aisha visiting him. His Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, acted as President during this interregnum and Nigerians, who had witnessed a previous Katsina kinsman of Buhari, Umaru Yar’Adua, dying in office, were wary of this continuous absence.
If the health failings of the presidents are such that they cannot function in office effectively, since the presidency is not a birthright, let them step aside and their deputies step in. Of course, those who profit from the power stagnation arising from the incapacity of ailing leaders would fight tooth and nail to continue to pad them up.
Whether he personally learnt his lessons from “the mistake” of temporarily dispensing power to his ngbati ngbati VP or that the Villa cabal felt threatened by Osinbajo’s superlative three months performance in office, it was obvious that they both dreaded such ever happening again. So, this time around when Buhari hopped onto the presidential jet to his U.K. infirmary, his minders, seemingly emerging from sleepless nights of studying the constitution, obstinately announced that he would not vacate power to anybody, as the constitution allows him to spend his two weeks projected stay with medics in the U.K. without a transfer of power.
There must be a genetic dysfunction in African presidents, which necessitates them not to disclose their health statuses. Worse still, they try to hold on to power like an adhesive, in spite of and despite their failing health. Let leaders, especially African ones, who have the tendency to be unduly secretive, disclose the facts of what ails them to their citizens. These citizens will in turn pray for their leaders’ recovery. On the claim that the opposition would capitalise on the disclosure to torpedo them, let who is immune to sickness and death throw the first stone.
If the health failings of the presidents are such that they cannot function in office effectively, since the presidency is not a birthright, let them step aside and their deputies step in. Of course, those who profit from the power stagnation arising from the incapacity of ailing leaders would fight tooth and nail to continue to pad them up. Don’t they know that there is a metaphysical and indeed, physical link between the health of the president and the health of a nation? No one needs any peep into the Ouija-board to know that since Buhari came back from the infirmary in 2017, he had literally and figuratively ceased to be capable of administering Nigeria.
The most germane question to ask is, why hasn’t Buhari constructed a world-class hospice similar to the one he visits periodically and shamelessly in the U.K., in his six years of being president? Is it naivety, inability or sheer incompetence? The billions of dollars voted to resuscitate an abiku Port Harcourt refinery will no doubt build twice of such and stuff it with world class medics. Those who argue strongly in defence of Nigerian sovereignty should well know that that same sovereignty is seriously bayoneted by the Nigerian president being a captive patient in a foreign hospital, subjected to the medical suzerainty of U.K. nationals, on their own soil. There is no doubting the fact that all information about Nigeria and what ails her president would by now be in the hands of the United Kingdom government. So what sovereignty are we talking about?
Administering Nigeria has since been done by proxies. This is why Nigeria has been very sick, from all ramifications. Consequently, all manner of afflictions, ranging from security, social to economic, have been attempting to down the Nigerian ship of state. Now imagine how many Nigerians have died, literally and metaphorically, due to the absence of firm, knowledgeable and grounded Nigerian leadership and charge of presidential power since Buhari took ill. This is why many members of the cabal who forcefully make Nigeria’s presidential corpse to walk are spending blood money and occupying blood-encrusted offices. The blood of those who die or get incapacitated due to the lack of grit of presidential power, in that un-Godly process, is crying for vengeance.
Rest Easy In Sleep Eternal, Comrade Odumakin
He was a delight to journalists who sought his riposte to schisms in the polity and the wonky views of enemies of the Yoruba people. Fearlessly, coherently and with unassailable logic, Odumakin granted interviews which must have delighted the alale ile yi – the patrons and custodians of the land…
News of the sun having set for our brother, friend and compatriot, Yinka Odumakin, filtered through the airwaves yesterday, Saturday. It was shocking, unsettling and benumbing, especially for those of us who weren’t aware that Comrade was engageind his own existential battle of ill health. Flags of the Yoruba nation immediately flew at half mast, without prompting. Yorubaland had lost a gem.
Odumakin was a Yorubaman who wore his Yorubaness on his lapel, without caring whose ox was gored, to the chagrin of the enemies within the nationality. He was an Awoist in deed and in truth, who did not subscribe to the reigning fad among political octopods that you had to genuflect by the feet of cows in order to have a chunk of its meat. He was a thorn in the flesh of the Hausa/Fulani establishment and their minions who, in obeisance, gave unworthy rankadede so as to be allowed to mount the horse of power.
To the very end, Odumakin poured libations by the feet of the gods and ancestors of Yorubaland and invoked the spirits of Sanpona and Obaluaye to consume the enemies of his people. You might disagree with him on the modus operandi of untying his people from the twines that the Nigerian system used to bind their feet and legs but you could not disagree with his verve, grit and courage. Perhaps due to his link with those who hold the levers of power, Odumakin knew so much about the system and was privy to its unworkable nature.
He was a delight to journalists who sought his riposte to schisms in the polity and the wonky views of enemies of the Yoruba people. Fearlessly, coherently and with unassailable logic, Odumakin granted interviews which must have delighted the alale ile yi – the patrons and custodians of the land and riled those who disdained Yoruba’s frontline, nature-bestowed position in the Nigerian equation. He was not a snake that meandered on the rock without an imprint. He left his wide marks on the Nigerian soil. Paradoxically, it is the same soil, the same land, that will open its mouth presently to swallow yet another hero of the nationality.
Odumakin and I met late last year when we were summoned by a major custodian of the culture of the Yoruba people, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, to his palace. It was our last meeting. We however exchanged periodic messages, which bordered on our common interventions in the Tribune newspaper.
Those who feel that they can mock or disdain the memory of Odumakin because he was a thorn in their flesh should borrow the garment of Methuselah and refuse to die. The great Comrade has gone the way of all mortals, a road which we all must tread.
Rest on, Comrade. Rest on, Omo Yoruba atata (beloved son of Yorubaland). Rest on by the feet of the progenitors of the race which you valiantly stood for.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.
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