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The alternative facts of being ‘hale and hearty’ and ‘very ill’

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We are indeed in the era of alternative facts. Nothing is really true or false anymore. Depending on your point of view, a fact can now vary, taking all shades of grey, not leaving out the two extremes – black and white.

We have President Donald Trump and his Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, to thank for this. Like everything American, the phenomenon seems to be gaining prominence globally. Early adopters are already infusing their regional flavours into the craft. The Nigerian flavour is turning out to be particularly obnoxious, at least from my point of view.

I can imagine a dispassionate observer, a non-stakeholder, trying to make sense of President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent 49-day vacation in London. If he analyses media reports on the matter, with particular attention paid to the most credible sources – presidential spokespersons, top government officials, and of course Buhari himself, what will he find? Confusion.

First, Buhari was said to be taking a 10-day vacation to rest. He wrote the National Assembly to notify the lawmakers that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will act in his place while he is away. The vacation story came with a twist, which is that Buhari will “also undergo routine medical check-ups.”

At this point, there was really no cause for alarm. Routine medical check-ups are nothing to worry about. So, no be big deal at all. In fact, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, while the President was about to depart the country, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, explained the vacation this way: “You know that God did the work of creation for six days and on the seventh day he rested. So, if God needed to rest, how much more a human being. So, the President is just going to rest and the statement we have released is straightforward.”

On the eve of February 6, when he was scheduled to resume, Buhari sent another letter to the National Assembly informing it of his desire to extend his leave “in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors.”

In this second letter, Buhari wrote, “During my leave, I took the opportunity to have routine check-ups and consult my long standing doctors in London. In the course of the routine examinations, certain test result indicated the need for a course of medications and further appointments have been scheduled for next week.

“I am therefore notifying the Distinguished Senate that I am extending my leave until the doctors are satisfied that certain factors are ruled out. In the circumstances, the vice president will continue to act on my behalf.”

At this point, some Nigerians began to worry. Speculation that the President may be critically ill and may not survive it became rife. The presidential media team unleashed their arsenal, setting up a defence machinery to ensure image of “Buhari The Invincible” remains erect. A battle then ensued between the Buhari media warlords, led by spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, and the ‘mischief makers’, which pretty much included every Nigerian, who dared to ask questions about health status of their President.

As Buhari’s vacation wore on, with no end in sight, the battle grew in intensity. The confusing stance of Buhari’s camp was, “The President is hale and hearty; he only requires prayers and good wishes from Nigerians.” Whereas on the other side, it was believed that there was a conspiracy. At some point, some believed Buhari may have died or on life support, and the cabal was only covering up as it was in the case of late President Umar Yar’Adua.

After receiving select visitors, such as leaders of the All Progressive Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Chief Bisi Akande, as well as the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the moment came when President Buhari began to make phone calls to his cronies. He spoke with Adesina on the phone while Garba missed his call and got a text message. Adesina’s relay of his phone conservation with his boss was particularly dramatic. Apart from asking about his family and commending him for holding off ‘mischief makers’, the President, according to Adesina, didn’t say much.

It was then apparent that Adesina scored himself high on managing communication on the issues around the President’s controversial medical vacation. But my question was: What is there to celebrate in a communication strategy that portrayed the Nigerian President, my President, as being held hostage in a foreign land by doctors even though he was ‘hale and hearty’? The letters from the President clearly indicated that he stayed back in London on the instructions of his doctors. Why should any doctor detain a man who is hale and hearty?

On the other hand, if he was indeed hale and hearty then it could be said that President Buhari abandoned his country, when his leadership was most needed, to enjoy better things of life in a city built by visionary leaders. And doing so at huge cost to Nigeria, which is experiencing economic recession, could easily be interpreted as hypocrisy, if not wickedness. Many Nigerians indeed asked this question: “If President Buhari wants to rest, must it be in London? What happened to all the beautiful resorts in Nigeria?

March 10, the president returned and the story was different. He not only admitted that he was very ill, he alluded to receiving intensive care, which included undergoing blood transfusion.

“I have rested as much as humanly possible, I have received I think the best of treatment I could receive. I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs. I found out that technology is going so fast that if you have a lot of confidence you better keep it because you need it. Blood transfusions, going to the laboratories, and so on and so forth,” President Buhari said. Does this sound like the definition of hale and hearty?

So at the end of the story, one could ask: Was President Buhari both ‘hale and hearty’ and ‘very ill’ at the same time? Or was he neither ‘hale and hearty’ nor ‘very ill’? If Adesina and others were telling the truth that Buhari was hale and hearty during the 49-day break, then at what point did he become so ill that he needed to undergo blood transfusion and all? Maybe someday, one would get to make sense of this confusion.

As a citizen, I am glad that President Buhari is now healthy enough to resume duties. Thanks to the Almighty God and to Great Britain. But for divine intervention, the British doctors and their well-equipped hospitals, this article may not have had a happy ending.



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