Foreign Medical Trip: Between Buhari’s Privacy and the Public Right to Know

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In spite of President Muhammadu Buhari and his handlers’ thinking, social critics insist that the public has a right to know what ails him and the cost to the nation, writes Shola Oyeyipo

President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to London last week for a meeting with his doctor without a clear agenda has again opened the debate on the right of privacy of the president and the right of the public, whose money is used to finance his medical trips, to know what ails him.

While his handlers insist that only the president could state his health challenges publicly, social critics argue that as the chief executive of the nation, he could not keep the people in the dark about his personal health challenges since his actions affect all sectors of the country.
Since Buhari began his foreign medical tourism two years ago, many Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with the unsuccessful efforts of presidency officials to shroud his ailment in secrecy. Often, the real purpose of the trips are masked until the media unearth them through independent sources.

The current tips to London is not different. The inquisitiveness of Nigerians was once again aroused when the president made a “technical stopover” in London after his recent meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington. And four days after returning to the country, he went back to London to see his doctor.

After doing the needful – conveying the appropriate letters to the National Assembly – what Nigerians got were the scanty information released by Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, the president’s Special Adviser and the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, respectively.

Shehu explained that Buhari’s trip was informed by doctor’s advice, when the president was in London for the technical stopover.

“In the course of the technical stop-over for aircraft maintenance in London on his way back from Washington last week, the President had a meeting with his doctor. The doctor requested the president to return for a meeting, which he agreed to do. President Buhari will return on Saturday, May 12th,” he said in a statement.

Adeshina, on his part, heightened the anxiety of the already very suspicions Nigerians, when he declined to say precisely on Channels Television on Tuesday, if the president would actually return as promised.

Though he assured Nigerians that there was no cause for alarm over the president’s health, because he merely travelled for a ‘review’, however, when he was asked about the possibility of the president returning on the fourth day as scheduled, his response was that only God has the guarantee over such matters.

A few hours earlier, Adesina, during a phone-in-interview on Channels Television Breakfast Programme, Sunrise Daily, had said only the president could reveal details of his ailment.
He said, “It is something private and personal. The fact that a man is a president does not remove his right and privileges to privacy. So, unless Mr. President comes out voluntarily and willingly to tell the country that ‘this is what I have suffered from, this is what I have been treated for’, even the medical doctor does not have the right to say it.”

Strong and debatable argument, no doubt, but critics say the fact remains that he is no longer a private citizen. He is more or less a symbol of Nigeria. So, it is, therefore, not abnormal for the people to want to know what is going on with him. For them, a lot of Nigerians, knowing his predicament would pray for his full recovery.

In any case, they argue, the monies being used to transport and treat him belongs to the public, contending that tax payers are entitled to know what their money is being spent on.
“One big question the president needs to ponder over is, if the same condition warranting his consistent trips to London had afflicted an ordinary Nigeria, how would such person have survived?” asked a public analyst.

Last year, Buhari spent 104 days in London for medicals. Many Nigerians grumbled about it, with several of them asking him to step aside if the pressure of the office was telling adversely on his health.

It was due to the secrecy that surrounded his 2017 vacations that at a point, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, claimed that Buhari was suffering from voice impairment and was on life support in a West End London Hospital.

He dismissed an audio message of the president greeting people for the Eid-el-Fitri in Hausa language, saying it was “absolute lies,” and that “the audio message was only a damage-control strategy aimed at further deceiving Nigerians.”

The president was eventually vindicated, when he returned and recovered over a period, but for every such trip characterised by inadequate information or calculated silence, the people also felt justified to take speculations as truth. A former aide to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, reacting to the development said, “So President Buhari’s plane was big enough to fly to the US without a ‘technical stopover,’ but too small to return to Nigeria without doing a ‘technical stopover’ in London? It took two days for the ‘technical’ work. And it is a coincidence that his doctors happen to be in London.”

Expectedly, reactions have continued to trail Adesina’s update that only God could determine the president’s return as scheduled. Steve Busayo, a public commentator, asked, “Is it by force to do a second term?” He, therefore, urged Buhari to retire back to his home in Daura, Katsina State.

One Sam Orakpe was even more concerned about the handlers of the president’s publicity, because to him, managing the president isn’t an easy task, particularly on issues like this.

According to him, “Buhari’s image makers are over working themselves by trying to manage what is not manageable. The Nigerian citizens in London are doing a fantastic job for us by always chasing the man away from London. Must he be president at all cost?”

Though pro-Buhari commentators have argued that like anybody, the president could fall sick and get well and as such, politics should not come into that, but a quick check among Nigerians, especially on the social media, shows that the people acknowledged that Buhari has some health challenges and age is no longer on his side and ‘must’ constantly see his doctor.

But their anger is that beyond the recognisable lies they are getting from the presidency, they are appalled by the failure of the Buhari administration to upgrade the nation’s health facilities in spite of his huge health challenges that constantly take him to London.