By Gozie Irogboli
Early this week, the news of the purported death of President Muhammadu Buhari who was on medical vacation in London was rife on social media and other informal communication platforms. When the said news filtered in, I took it for what it really was: a rumour.
First, he was on medical leave in London, not Daura and if anything had happened to him under the noseyeyes of the ever-vigilant BBC and Sky News reporters, it wouldhave been world news.
Secondly, President Buhari is a Muslim and by the Islamic ordinance, a dead body is not supposed to be kept beyond 24 hours without burial and so if he were dead as rumoured his body would have been brought home immediately for burial.
However, much as the purported news of the death of the president was a rumour, we must not lose sight of the lesson to be learnt from it. The attitude and reactions of the general public to the death rumour are something to be analyzed and put in proper perspectives.
For Nigerians, a people that believe it is bad to speak ill of the dead to be dancing and jubilating at the news of the demise of their president is a clear indication that the regime of the president has not met their expectations and this is something the presidential aides should communicate to him in clear unmistakable terms. I was appalled when I read in one of the national dailies about a threat from the presidency to punish those behind the death rumours. This is not the first time the premature obituary of somebody in authority has been spread. In fact, it happens regularly and it provides a useful gauge of the popularity or otherwise of the personality involved.
No doubt, the role of the personal aides of the president is not only conflicting but counterintuitive and it is fueling the undesirable rumour. Information from the Presidency as reported in the news media states that the president was neither sick nor in the hospital thereby contradicting the report last week that the president was embarking on a ten-days vacation for health reasons.
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Again, the Special Assistant to President on Media and Publicity Mr. Femi Adesina, the respected erstwhile president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors averred that Nigerians have no right to ask the president about his health status. I must say that Nigerians have every right to know the condition of the person whom they have entrusted with the responsibility of taking decisions that affect their lives and destinies.
Evidently, the job of the President is daunting and taxing physically and mentally; it is neither for the sickly nor the physically incapacitated, so it is imperative that they be informed appropriately about the condition of the President. Nigerians deserve the right to know the true state of the health of the man they have elected to govern them. The continued silence of the Presidency on the matter is what is fuelling the debilitating rumour. Nigeria has a large population of gullible citizens who not only believe rumours but luxuriate in spreading them. Nothing short of hearing from the president himself is enough todouse the palpable tension generated by the rumour.
Most times, Leaders fail not because they are not willing or able to perform but because of the overzealousness of their personal aides who fail to advise them accordingly. For parochial reasons, some sycophants indulge in eye-service and praise singing instead of rendering the needed advice. For selfish reasons too they fence the leader from well-meaning individuals. Some, spend time pointing out imaginary enemies instead of good ideas while some will create enemies for the leader. Some under the guise of protecting the leader will build an impregnable wall between the leader and his people. A good adviser or aide is expected at all times to carry out actions and programmes that are supposed to lubricate the administrative process and make the job of the leader easier.
Good people care about how people talk about them after their departure. When one learns in advance about how he is going to be mourned, it is expected that he would make necessary adjustments. Steven Covey the author of the seminal book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advised that one should cultivate attitude consistent with how one wishes to be described when one is lying in state. Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833 – 1896), a Swedish, chemist, inventor and philanthropist devoted the enormous wealth he made from manufacturing explosives to philanthropy by establishing the Nobel Prize because in 1888, when he lost his elder brother Ludvig the press erroneously published his obituary describing him as the merchant of death for inventing dynamite. It was the cruel Herod who ruefully aware of the fate that awaited him at his death who signed a decree authorizing the execution of some prominent citizens in Palestine in his time on his death bed so that upon his inglorious exit from this world, instead of the people celebrating their freedom by singing and dancing, they would wail and mourn for the eminent citizens whose death warrant he had signed.
Nigerians are clearly disenchanted about the sorry state of affairs in our country at present as epitomized by the jubilation instead of mourning at the rumoured death of the president. But some are really not surprised. I must say that I did not only expect what is happening now; I predicted it long before now. I deliberately refused to comment on the current state of affairs in the country in the last twenty months because I believe we need to give the president his time to perform since that is what Nigerian wanted. We need to pray and support the government since the success of the government will translate to our success too.
Thus, for the APC led government, I must say it is time for stock-taking. Can they honestly claim they have done well? The answer is practically no. The APC government has been distracted by the obsession to cling on to power at all costs instead of fulfilling its mandate of good governance to the people. Our hard-worn democracy is seriously under threat as opposition and criticisms are stifled, court orders flouted with impunity, elections flagrantly rigged or declared inconclusive where it was possible to rig and national unity fractured by executive recklessness.
The past twenty months have been wasted trying to hunt down opposition and muffle criticisms. If a smidgen of time and energy put into this wasteful venture is directed at confronting the challenges facing our country, our country will be the better for it. Democracy thrives on vibrant opposition and freedom of expression. It is objectionable trying to turn the country into a one-party state by intimidating members of the opposition into defecting to the ruling party. Nigerians desperately yearn for good governance based on the ideals of representative democracy. Nigerians want a government that will rule with equity and justice; that will take into consideration our distinctiveness and cultural diversity and will restore the country on the path of peace, prosperity and progress.
Irogboli, an economist and public policy analyst
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