Buhari’s health, trips and a loving nation
Now that President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesmen have reiterated his plan to return to his London-based doctors for follow-ups on his health checks, it is assumed that appropriate lessons were learnt from the president’s last trip and the needless controversies it generated.
For a nation whose citizens are quick to turn reactions to half-truths, rumours and silence into cultural expressions, Buhari’s absence then and eventual return, interestingly, re-affirmed the essence of a stable and united Nigeria. Against the negative wishful thinking of a few, the President returned from that successful medical trip in one piece, and with a feeling of excitement, to a very relieved nation.
Whilst Nigerians are happy to have their president, who has since settled down to work, there are some lessons from that vacation, which should guide the management of future trips.
Despite the unduly long time supposedly spent on medical vacation, the president followed the provisions of the constitution. He did not stay beyond the six months stipulated by the constitution. The president came back healthy and ready to work. Although he painted a harrowing picture of the experience he underwent, his narrative did not suggest that he desired undue pity or any form of sycophantic salutation from Nigerians. That itself is a clear recognition and respect for work ethics. This ethical value was further amplified by his suggestion that he did not like solidarity visits.
Worthy of commendation was the confidence President Buhari reposed in his deputy, even though that was the constitutional thing to do. There was a clear absence of tension between the then Acting President and familial loyalists of the president, despite earlier speculation to the contrary. Osinbajo ensured smooth running of the country by demonstrating astute loyalty to the president while acting out the fundamental obligation of the state to its citizens, especially through genuine communication. That the president would later shower praises on Osinbajo for his deployment of youth and intellect in managing the affairs of the country is salutary and exemplary.
Furthermore, Buhari demonstrated a high sense of transparency when he suggested that he would require further medical attention in the days ahead. This gesture of unabashed truth telling is also quite commendable.
All in all, the spectacle of his smooth going and returning even reflects a stable Nigeria, a pointer to the fact that the nation is developing. However, notwithstanding the stability demonstrated constitutionally by the machinery of state, there were some fall-outs from his last absence that demand urgent attention. These include the poor information management at the presidency and the needless, opportunistic solidarity visits that fuelled unsavoury rumours, amongst others.
One shortcoming that stood out in clear relief was the poor communication management of the president’s health status. All shades of information bloom, from news about a hale and hearty president having a medical holiday, to scare-mongers’ rumour that bordered on death wish, were painted in the public space about the president’s 50-day absence. Politicians exploited the somber moment to mystify a normal human condition and to unduly amplify loyalty and clannish followership. In all this, the communication channel between the presidency and the public fell short of public expectation. In their characteristic manner of habitual sycophantic defence of the principal, managers of information at the presidency found themselves vacillating in dangerous press war.
This bad management of information is not new to the land. It happened during the tenure of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, when a shoddy management of information led to costly political mistakes. The lesson here is that managers of information who are impervious to learning from experience are likely to repeat stupid mistakes with dire consequences for the polity. As the management of information relating to Buhari’s health has demonstrated, there is need for better handling of communication around the presidency.
The message of this shoddy communication management is that in today’s technologically advanced global communication setting, it would be difficult, if not professionally embarrassing and even unethical, to deliberately conceal truth in the name of information management. The effective information manager is one who combines the journalist’s loyalty to citizens and obligation to truth with a sense of responsibility and empathetic conscience. The effective state apparatus is one, which does not mistake personal interests for national interest.
This calls for the creation of a more energetic cabinet and astute presidential staff. How the president would restructure the cabinet for more momentum in the running of the government is a task he has to carry out expeditiously. As the slight transition has shown, the present administration needs forward-looking public officers who can engage citizens in a manner that yields positive results, just as the government’s engagement in the South-south is beginning to produce results. If this kind of engagement is replicated in the economy and other sectors, there will be marked and instant improvement in the lives as well as fortunes of Nigerians.
As the President prepares for follow-ups on his medical care, let him be comforted by the knowledge that he has the love and the best wishes of the people of Nigeria at all times.