The President Is A Sick Man is the title of a book written by Matthew Algeo, a chronology of the medical travails of President Grover Cleveland, lawyer, statesman and one of the most famous public speakers of his time. He was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, from 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897. The book is a chronicle of how inexorably linked the health of a president and the health of the nation are.
Cleveland was America’s first and only two nonconsecutive-terms president in history. He was also the first democrat to become the American president in 28 years. 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 chiseled out an alias out of his simple lifestyle which, unbeknownst to the generality of Nigerians, was a façade that covers 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.
On July 1, the summer of 1893, Cleveland had suddenly disappeared from the radar and couldn’t be found anywhere in the White House. Or anywhere in America. 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 had 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 family physician, Dr. Joseph Decatur Bryant, to look it up. Bryant diagnosed oral tumour, malignant in nature, He called it a “bad looking tenant” that should be evicted post-haste. The fear was that, if the cancer had gone into metastasis, the lower part of Cleveland’s left eye socket would be removed during the surgery and thus permanently impairing his vision.
Thus, on July 1, 1893, President Cleveland boarded 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, got 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.”
I told this long story so as to bring the Nigerian and African experience in focus. While some may argue that the Cleveland covert surgery legitimizes many similar equations in Africa, the fact that this happened in America, in the “dark age” of the 17th century, delegitimizes it.
Drawing shawls on the health status of African leaders today and suddenly disappearing to undertake their own surgeries inside Cleveland’s type Oneida yacht, has a history behind it. It is the mentality of 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 same mould, believe that they must not be heard having failing health, nor their health status made public. This has bred a pandemic of leaders of Africa who, almost like 17th 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 from the radar, at which time he was 76 years old and suddenly undertook his own surgery inside Cleveland’s type Oneida yacht. He had gone to attend the UN General Assembly mid-September and didn’t come back until October 16. There were later realizations that he had vamoosed to some parts of Europe to attend to his health. 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 stroke. He was just 59 then. Findings however later revealed that he had not died but that he 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 own surgery inside Cleveland type Oneida yacht. He had sought medical remedy to an undisclosed ailment in May, 2017. Until his death at age 93, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe was always dashing in and out of Singapore hospitals. Benin Republic’s Patrice Talon was perhaps one of the rarest breeds of that caste to make public disclosure on what ailed him. On June 19, his foreign minister released a statement which said he had undergone two successful surgical operations in Paris, after doctors found a lesion in his prostate, necessitating another surgery in his digestive system.
Last week, Nigeria took her own ample shares of African presidents’ unwitting communication of their superhuman status to the public. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria had jetted out to the United Kingdom to undertake his own surgery inside 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 UK to treat an ailment which till today is undisclosed, flakes from which stoke the general perception that his failing health had grossly been responsible for the ungoverned space that Nigeria had become for the period of his presidency. The only known communication of Buhari’s ailment was the claim of an ear infection by the presidency, an ailment that took him to the same UK in 2016. On May 7 of same year, Buhari went back to the UK for “further medical checks,” necessitating his before-now voluble wife, Aishat visiting him. His Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, acted as President during this interregnum and Nigerians, who had witnessed a previous Katsina kinsman of Buhari’s, Umaru Yar’Adua – dying in office, were wary of this continuous absence.
Whether he personally learnt his lessons of how not to temporarily dispense 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 equation ever happening again. So, this time around, when Buhari hopped into the jet to his UK infirmary, his minders, who had seemingly emerged from sleepless nights of studying the Nigerian constitution, obstinately announced that he would not vacate power this time around. Why? They said the constitution allows him to spend his two weeks projected stay with medics in the UK with him still the president.
The above again speaks eloquently to how power-mongers play God, especially in Africa. Human beings never learn from the temporality of life and power, lessons which providence teaches us every second from the lives of our colleagues who suddenly slump and die, vamoosing from the human space like vapour. Where today are Abba Kyari and Isa Funtua, Buhari’s trusted Chief of Staff and Man Friday respectively who, judging by their disdain for Osinbajo’s applauded fare in office for three months, must have jointly swore that that equation would never happen again? Why would a Buhari, who even when he was home in Nigeria, was considered a mere dressing gown of power, be muzzling his way into not handing over power now that he is in the UK? It is obvious that those who administered Nigeria vicariously even when Buhari was locked up in Aso Rock are the ones fighting for retention of their interests.
There must be a genetic dysfunction in African presidents not disclosing their health status and trying to hold on to power like an adhesive, in spite of their failing health. Let them disclose the facts of what ails them to us and we will pray for their recoveries. On the claim that the opposition would capitalize on the disclosure to torpedo them, let who is immune from sickness and dying throw the first stone.
If the health failing of the presidents is such that they cannot function in office, since it is not a birthright, let them step aside and let their deputies step in. Of course, those who profit from the power stagnation arising from the incapability of leaders would fight tooth and nail to continue to pad the ailing presidents up and retain the iniquitous status quo. 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 to effectively administer Nigeria and that this is being done by proxies. Nigeria has been very sick as well since then.
Now imagine how many Nigerians have died due to the absence of firm, knowledgeable and perspective presidential power. This is why many of these cabal members who make presidential corpses to walk are spending blood money and occupying blood-encrusted offices. The blood of those who die due to lack of grits of power of the office of the president, in the process of cabals making presidential corpses walk, is crying for vengeance.
Credit: Festus Adedayo