When a patient gets the doctor’s nod to go home from a United States hospital, a wheelchair whirs into view and poises at the bedside. The patient plops into the seat, and a nurse hovers behind and wheels him. The chair rolls through the hallway and stops in the car park where the patient stands in full-blooded radiance. He is wheeled out not as a cripple, but as a sort of overthrow of incapacity, a picture of human buoyancy.
He leaves the hospital air wafting with the odour of drugs, human body fluids and sometimes offal, et al. He also leaves behind the visual of cripples, sallow looks, febrile gyrations and apocalyptic cries. He is a survivor from a claustrophobic room, a triumph. He frees himself from the chair of paralysis. He tells himself: this is a sunny day.
Muhammadu Buhari might have felt like that, not when he left the hospital. He was often in the Nigeria House. He might have felt like that not when he left the Nigeria House, or when his aircraft soared out of the British skies. He might have sighed that victorious moment the plane touched down and he walked out onto the tarmac with the crowd of the beloved cheering and smiling.
But that is what we want to feel all the time, after a nauseous fever, tyrannous headache, or even that typhoid that deprives us of even a limp across the room.
Yet, we all want to feel that sense of the overcomer for Buhari. He was away for about 103 days in a calendar year only about midway through August. We want him, in all his septuagenarian halo, to kick and run, and return to work, duelling the Anti-Magu forces, restoring power, stanching Boko Haram, and quelling the campus trauma from ASUU and, above all, reviving an economy that continues to squeak with stresses of the jobless and poor. Yemi Osinbajo has acted well. But acting is asphyxiating, because everyone wants him to be himself and his principal simultaneously.
So, as he returns home, we all look at him and say, yes, he smiles, he walks all right, he jokes and sustains conversation. We saw that with the Nigeria House pilgrims prior to his return. The last of the visitors was revered Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who may have been the John the Baptist preparing his coming.
Testimonies say he has improved well. But in the first place, we have no clear picture of what the ailment was or is. We have no understanding of the nature of his treatment. We have no knowledge of the doctors’ prognosis. We know little about how his age holds up to the nature of the affliction.
This is a time for faith. But a little Thomas Didymus is seen as heresy. If you ask a question, it is because you wish him ill. After all, as his spokesman, Femi Adesina gloats in his after-visit article, Buhari has proved a liar of all who peddled hatred and rumours about his health. some said, he was in a coma, some said he was on wheelchair, some said he was gone, incapable of returning alive.
We cannot rule out ill-will. Even in the recent PDP convention, references to him and his health bore a sinister sneer hidden in the “get well” wishes. But the presidency and its media team contributed to this, even if they deny it. Humans fill voids with their imaginations. They did so when little imagination was eked out. He was in Nigeria House, so we paid the rent. We fed him. On top of it, we paid the medical bill. No one has disclosed even that.
That is because we still run what I term a democratic monarchy, a system where strong men precede the mass, a feudal throwback. Those who paid him visits almost wanted to crumble before him, a sort of Kabiyesi, or Igwe or ranka dede body language suffused the air. In that circumstance, no one can ask good questions. The visitors, without exception, were an hallelujah throng.
Yet, even if the president does not disclose the full details, I think he should. If he doesn’t, he needs to have a conversation with himself. Does he feel strong enough to undertake the task, or does he feel he can do it only a little. If he can, he should go ahead. If he can do it only partially, that makes him a half-ceremonial leader.
Or does he feel a sense of self-sacrifice, meaning he wants to work for Nigeria at the expense of his health? That will be an ultimate sacrifice. That is also possible. But it is his call. He probably feels strongly about legacy. He wants to be remembered not as a president who fell sick at our financial expense, but who worked power into illumination, bound up the corrupt, set the economy to a high tempo and made health so well that that Nigerian leaders don’t need the Nigeria House to get well.
History and mythology inform us of many such examples, like Iphigenia in the Greek mythology, who is sacrificed by his father Agamemnon, for the national ship to sail to Troy. As Theocritus writes, “By trying, the Greeks got into Troy.”
He will make that call. Not us. As we know, so many who have stakes in Buhari’s health are not just those who wish him to change the country, but themselves. Those who flew out with files for him to sign, who want security of their jobs, who pine for continuous relevance. Buhari is merely platform, a prop. But there are those for whom Buhari is aphrodisiac, who love him whether or not he does well. Charly Boy, whose protest may be inspired by vanity or hate or even love of country, had a taste of the fanatic in a market attack and impunity. The entertainer fled, abandoning his BMW.
As he addresses us today, what will it be? A hard-charging returnee, or a sober, retreating, cautious and retiring fellow? Above all, though, I wish him many sunny days ahead.