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Again, on Buhari’s health and expenses

By Editorial Board   |   21 April 2017   |   4:15 am

President Muhammadu Buhari

In response to inquiries on the cost of the medical treatment of President Muhammadu Buhari abroad, the other day, Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information deemed it a matter of ‘national security’ and a moral [issue]. 

It may be appropriate to accept  the minister’s response for the reason that  abjectly immature opponents of Buhari, his government, and even his political party , the All Progressives Congress (APC), might just exploit  such information to  score  cheap points. Indeed, it is bad manner to trivialise or to exploit for self-interest or political gains, matters of the health of any man at all, not to talk of the President of the country.  In principle, health is the greatest measure of wealth so, no monetary sum can be too much to secure the well-being of any man. It is not appropriate, therefore, to ask, except out of genuine concern and clearly pure motive, the why and how of the expenditure on the health of the president. As noted by this newspaper in an earlier editorial, the African culture forbids mockery of old age or making a fuss about such matters as concern elders.

Nevertheless, it would be equally unfair to presume that question by a citizen and a member of the electorate about the medical expenses by the president is necessarily ill-motivated. For example, the constitutional obligation of the mass media to ask questions about conduct of government is stipulated in Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)  that ‘the  press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to  uphold the fundamental objectives contained in [Chapter II] and uphold  the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the  people.’ And, of course, there is a fundamental reason that the media must do this not for its (sectional|) self, but for ‘the people’ as a collective entity. This reason is to be found in Section 14 (2) (a) that says ‘sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government, through [the constitution] derives all its powers and authority.’

In sum, everyone who chooses to be in government, high and low, is answerable to the people. The Freedom of Information Act, 2011, circumscribed as it is by a number of countervailing provisions, also grants ‘the right of any person to access or  request information , whether written or not, contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of  any public official, agency, or institution …’

And the Federal Government should also be reminded of the  promise in the APC constitution to ‘ensure the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act…’  Furthermore, the point must not be lost on people in government that Nigerians are smarting from repeatedly unhappy experiences of public servants’ unpardonably extravagant misuse of public funds. Suspicion of everyone in government is, therefore, pervasive.

The President is a public officer, as decided in the Fifth Schedule of the extant constitution. In that capacity, and like everyone in public service, he obviously has terms and conditions of service that, it is reasonable to assume, include his medical expense entitlement. Since such rightful expenditure comes from public fund, any member of the public has a right to know, even if, by virtue of his esteemed, high office, it is not limited. But it stretches the claim of government secrets too far to construe the simple disclosure of the nature of the illness of a popularly elected leader as a security risk.  Few people outside government would share such exaggerated anxiety and there should be no room for such large sense of danger in a democratic system of government worth the name.

It is not out of place for leaders to disclose their general state of health. It is done in other places with confident leadership. A military ruler once travelled abroad to, as he told the nation, treat a leg ailment called radiculopathy. In any case, the nation was once told of the ear infection that afflicted President Buhari and for which he went abroad to be cured. Every one wished him well. The president is human, he can be sick. He is a public servant, and he has a right to receive treatment at public expense. His humanity needs not be made the subject of unnecessary speculations. To do so is to fuel the perennial distrust of government or leaders.

It is also pertinent to say that if local hospitals were made as good as what obtains in foreign lands by a government that is constitutionally charged to ensure the welfare of the citizenry, Buhari would have no need to step out of these shores for treatment and, therefore, questions of  his medical bill might not even arise.

Openness in government is the most potent  weapon  for sanitizing  this corruption-ridden  society for the simple reason that political  authorities possess the instrumentality  to  whip every other sector into  the line  of  rectitude. It is also a measure of integrity, a virtue urged upon the nation in Section 23 of her constitution.  But if government is less than transparent in its conduct, others in the polity would follow suit. That is antithetical to the change promised by the ruling party. Only transparency will earn the trust and respect of the people.




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