It was Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683), English writer, who once said, “Look to your health: And if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy.”
Health, it is said, is wealth. And anyone who has been ill from mere headache can relate to the travails of Mr. President in recent weeks.
When the president transmitted his letter to the Senate for vacation to the United Kingdom, little did we know that the subsequent events to follow would raise much rocus and fuss within the polity. However, for a minute, let us all sheath our ideological swords and thank God Almighty for the president, his family and Nigerians at large, for making it possible for the president to return alive; for it could have been, indeed, worse. God forbid!
Nigeria is sui generis-on a class of its own. There is hardly any country in the world that is akin to Nigeria. Our ideologies, credos, languages are multifaceted and multidimensional. Truth be told, it would be a Herculean task for any leader to placate the various interests and tendencies of this nation in one breath. This has been the major challenges of previous leaders in this nation, whether military or civilian, including Abacha, Gowon, Murtala, Shagari, Shonekan, Abdulsalam, Yardua, GEJ, OBJ, IBB, et al, however well-intentioned they might have been.
What makes a Southerner happy to be a Nigerian is quite different from what makes a Northerner happy to be a Nigerian. Sometimes, this is caused by ignorance, sometimes by the weakness of the human mind, which loves to categorise. Other times, because of the various vested interests by different groups. One fact is indisputable; uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, particularly in Nigeria, a country with about 388 ethnic groups that speak over 350 languages (Onign Otite); some say over 500.
Sometimes, we forget that our leaders are also human, with their weaknesses, foibles, strengths, fears and anxieties. It would be unfair to gloss over some great things that PMB has done for Nigeria. His has been that of service to his nation, since his youth, when he was born of a Fulani family on 17th December, 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to his father, Adamu, and mother, Zulaihat. He is the twenty-third child of his father. Buhari was raised by his mother, after his father died when he was about four years old.
At over 74, Buhari is not a youth. Indeed, one of the first regrets he expressed upon becoming president was that he wished he were younger. Even if he were younger, with the luggage that is Nigerian governance, he, or any one, could fall ill. So, why did his minders make a big issue of his ill-health? Why did they turn Abuja House, London, into a Mecca of some sort, giving a babel, a cacophony of PMB’s state of health? To be sure, Buhari lost his privacy, anonymity and individuality the day he became president. Even as a private citizen, making my modest contributions to national risorgimento, from my own little corner, Nigerians from all works of life rose up for me when I was kidnapped in 2013. I discovered to my eternal gratitude, that I was no longer anonymous. How much more a whole president
No one should blame Nigerians, who voted for Buhari for inquiring into his state of health. Except for the unseen and invisible social media activists that Wole Soyinka derogatorily and painfully called “Slugs”, “Millipedes”, “Imbecile”, “barbarians”, and “blabbermouth”, in his “Wolexit” threat frustration, I do not know of any responsible Nigerian patriot, who wished Buhari dead. But, his minders and visitors complicated matters. They engaged in phone calls; reported he was either on vacation, to “do routine medical check-up”; or that when they visited him, he was “hale and hearty”, “cracking jokes”; “very witty”; “in his elements”.
No one believed them, not even the Muslim Rights concern (MURIC), which, through its Director, Professor Ishaq Akintole, rejected government’s opaqueness, saying “we refuse to accept the Federal Government’s claim that the president is hale and hearty. That sounds more like tales from moonlight”. PMB has now shamed his image makers, who cried more than the bereaved. In a no-holds-barred interview, he told a bewildered nation:
“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…
I couldn’t recall when last I had blood transfusion, I couldn’t recall honestly I can say in my 70 years. I couldn’t remember this drug that Nigerians take so much, very common, I think one of our terrible things is self drug administration. We have to trust our doctors more and trust ourselves more, the places I visited they only take drugs when it is absolutely necessary. They don’t just swallow everything.”
Thus, in one fell swoop, Buhari accepted being critically ill; received blood transfusion; and warned against self-medication. That was highly presidential, honest and commendable.
Ruben Abati narrated his personal experience when GEJ had a stomach upset in London and had to be rushed to a hospital. GEJ had quarreled with Abati’s innocuous statement to the media, to the effect that GEJ was indisposed, but that it was nothing to worry about. GEJ felt he should have disclosed the exact nature of his illness. This was how Abati recall GEJ as putting it:
“This press release does not disclose that I am here just because of a stomach upset. You have to tell the people what the exact ailment is to prevent any speculation. If you don’t state it as it is, you will allow people to start guessing.”
“Anytime I am ill, just tell Nigerians what exactly is wrong with me. That is why I sent for you. Nobody knows tomorrow, but whatever is related to my health as president, you must inform Nigerians fully.”
Gbaam! That is the stuff presidents are made of: PMB and GEJ’s openness with Nigerians. I hope the Goebbels are hearing.
Ogbemudia: When the Iroko fell
After carefully reading prose craftsman, Eric Osagie’s unputdownable elergy on the transition of 83-year-old, Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (“The original Bendelite is gone”, The Sun of yesterday), I felt there was nothing left for other writers, without being accused of plagiarism or breach of copyright. To describe the late Brigadier General Ogbemudia as an iroko while alive is to diminish his towering stature, imperishable credentials and intellectual fecundity. Perhaps, one may have to delve into the rare lexicography of colourful and flamboyant politician, Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe, to find the right words: Ogbemudia was simply a man of timbre and calibre, iroko, obeche and caterpillar, all rolled into one.
In 1967, I was a little boy in primary 4. I had carried garri in “Ughughu” raffia bag on my head to follow my mother from my village, Iviukwe, to sell at Agenebode market. The distance, which could be covered today in 10 minutes with a car, usually took us over two hours of trekking and trudging on sandy, undulating and bushy paths, with fire flies, owls, reptiles and rodents having a field day on our way. There was no television (did not watch one till I was in form 2, in secondary school in 1971). The little radio owned by my poor village farmer father intermittently bellowed, “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done; ochebe hey, ochebe hey”, and “Go on with One Nigeria (Gowon)”. I was told by my petty trader and farmer parents that a war was then raging. In my little boy’s mind, I could not comprehend why people would be killing one another.
On this particular day, we had left Iviukwe for Agenebode market, at 4am, intending to get there early enough to sell our garri to Idah traders, who crossed the River Niger to Agenebode with canoes and boats. That was when the baptism of fire took place. As dawn approached at Agenebode junction (Igegbode), I suddenly beheld soldiers wearing green helmets covered with camouflage leaves, well starched camouflage uniform and heavily polished black boots. They were intimidating, fearsome and menacing. I was scared.
I had never beheld such a frightful sight. I screamed in horror, in gripping fear, threw my garri sack away, and ran to no particular destination. The soldiers saw my innocence, laughed and beckoned on me to return. I held my mother by her apron for the remaining three kilometres to the market proper. I was later to learn these were Nigerian soldiers, who had come to flush out the Biafran soldiers from Agenebode, using the Idah axis, during the civil war.
This background is necessary to give you an idea of how Ogbemudia came as Military Governor to open up every nook and cranny of this old Midwest Region (created 9th August, 1963, from old Western Region, by popular plebiscite); later Bendel State, and now Edo and Delta. The twins are “the heart beat of the Nation (Edo) and “the big heart” (Delta). The coinage was a culmination of the vision and uncommon transformational compass of one man, Ogbemudia.
My first real encounter with this phenomenon of an homosapien was in 1973. I was then in form four at St. Peter’s College, Agenebode. The new Okumagbe of Weppa Wanno Kingdom, Francis Eruah Omoh, was being crowned. Ogbemudia came to Agenebode to present him with the Staff of Office. There emerged an ebony dark, handsome, tall swagging soldier in well starched uniform and a swagger cane. I could still picture him today in my mind’s eye. I was part of the cultural troupe led by two classmates, Isah Okhosagha and Clement Omozuapo, that entertained the august visitor. I was active in the Debating, Dramatic and Press Societies. My love for writing and acting had developed in primary school, where as a primary six pupil, we acted Wole Soyinka’s “The trials of Brother Jero”; and in the secondary school, Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. I could still quote verbatim, till date, nearly the whole of Julius Caesar, starting with “hence home, you idle creatures…”
We screamed, shoved, pushed, shuffled, to catch a glimpse of this soldier, this transformationer wizard, who etched his name forever in the sands of time. That path from Iviukwe to Agenebode was later to be transformed into a major highway, that remains till date, as one of “Ogbemudia roads”, nearly 50 years later. Like an elephant, it is difficult to comprehend a complete picture of S.O.O. From his rare virtue of humility (which he adorned like a second skin), to his gregariousness, sense of humour and ever widening smiles, Ogbemudia remains in the pantheon and hall of fame of prodigies that developed Midwest region, giving the people a genuine sense of governance. He brought fame to Midwest people and Bendel (he was also a civilian governor in 1983).
This “Up Bendel” colossus established the famous Bendel Insurance and Bendel Insurance Football Club. His template for rapid infrastructural and industrial development stamped its feet in Bendel Brewery, Nigerian Observer, Agbede Farms, Warrake Farms, Delta Glass Factory, Ugheli, Midwest Institute of Technology (which transformed to University of Benin), Benin Technical College, Afuze Sports Institute and the famous Ogbe Hard Court International Tennis Competition that threw up the likes of David Imonite, Lawrence Awopegba and Nduka Odizo (the Duke).
I got closer to this larger-than-life icon at the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, where I chaired the Civil Society, Trade Union, Labour and Media Sub Committee. He called me his son. He was simply a father, a counselor, a philosopher, a calm analyst, whose insight into national issues was incredibly penetrating, fecund and simply luminous. A visionary Pan-Nigerian, Patriot, and distinguished Elder Statesman, Ogbemudia was simply fantastic.
I can summarise Ogbemudia’s life in three latinic words: Vini, vidi, vici (he came, he saw, he conquered). Adieu, father of modern Edo and Delta States. Farewell, tested nationalist and soldier of untrammeled valour and courage.