His family gathered around him in a Lagos hospital, including his elder brother who is now an emir. After days of funeral fears, they thrilled to see him in bed. Some would not chat, others chattered. The man sat erect on the bed but he did not respond. He knew something was amiss. His visiting relatives were puzzled.
He knew a few moments later what he feared when he started to recover. He had lost his sense of hearing, significantly. Tanko Al-Makura experienced the first signs in a bout of fever. He was attending Abacha’s constitutional conference in Abuja. It was the days of zero party, the dictator’s dubious experiment in democracy.
Doctors zeroed in, and thought it was malaria. Later they diagnosed him for typhoid. Chloramphenicol came to rescue as the routine cure of the time. it turned out to be lassa fever. But before they could realise it, it had complicated into his hearing loss. He lost 70 percent of his ability to pick up a sound.
The story of the Nassarawa State governor rose to public eye when he took part in a thousand-man march in Abuja a few years ago to raise awareness to a segment of society to which few pay attention. Not governors, not senators, not presidents, not even columnists.
This week the state is playing host to President Muhammadu Buhari to open what will be the first of its kind in West Africa: A school for all kinds of disability. Those who cannot hear, see, walk. It also includes those like the governor who have partial abilities. It is a school, not a healing house. The lame may not walk, the blind may not see, and the deaf may not hear. But the point of the Comprehensive Special School in Lafia is to heal what is even more important than the senses: the mind. Greek philosopher Socrates said our senses deceive us, so we should place more premium on sensibility rather than the sense. So, we should think, and that was the beginning of what philosophy teachers call the Socratic Method.
But the story is not just that it will admit about 400 people from around the country at the start, or that it is well-equipped, or that its free, or that it has recruited teachers who have graduated in special education. It is to muse on how or whether leaders with disability can transform their shortcomings to the greater good of society.
What Al-Makura is doing is to remember his privilege. As I recall, perhaps he is the first governor we have had with disability. Or maybe he is the first to confess it and rid it of its stigma. But does a leader with disability come to terms with it and turn it to the good of all?
Some have it in office, others have it at birth. Al-Makura had it when he was 37 years old. Could he have shown this level of compassion if his ears did not fail him. Although he claims he had always shown compassion, we may never know if he could have built this sort of comprehensive institution.
We had the story of Ibrahim Babangida when he was head of state, and IBB was then called Maradona, in homage to the football baron who wriggled through defences with his magic feet. IBB was called Maradona because of his pollical sleight of feet, playing conman with his decoys about his transition programme. The late Ogun State governor Bisi Onabanjo tagged him Maradona. It stuck. IBB caught an affliction in his leg. It was called radiculopathy.
He left for Germany and he returned healed. IBB had suffered something serious. A press photographer caught him once frowning as he writhed in pain and reached down to the painful leg. But it did not change IBB as a ruler. He was still cynical about democracy, still egoistic about power, and he still clamped down on democrats. Maybe he might have redeemed himself if he built a hospital or showed some compassion for the vulnerable around us. IBB was not moved by his own disability.
The former Yugoslavian leader and world war 11 hero, Josip Broz Tito, was held down with a bad leg and had to be amputated. In a country riven apart by ethnic woes, his sense of compassion stung the country together, he did not love the Slav more than the Croats or Muslims. His sense of humanity for the father of non-alignment became even more acute, according to his biographers. He died a uniter and man of the world.
In the United States, presidents have shown great empathy because of their handicaps. The founding president George Washington, a general, and the man that led the Americans against colonialist Britain, had a drawback as a child. His was an acute learning disability. Some of his biographers say it accounted for compassion even as a slave owner. For his time, he was liberal, giving many rights to his slave and freed all of them at his death.
John F. Kennedy hid his from the public. But historians now say he was sick and that accounted for his sometimes scrawny looks. He was permanently on medication. JFK played important role in the birth of the civil rights movement that his successor, Lyndon
B Johnson was to turn into the Civil Rights Act. JFK’s sister also suffered permanently mental illness.
Perhaps the most acute of such stories is that of Franklyn Roosevelt, who suffered from polio. The leader who beat Hitler and introduced the New Deal during the Great Depression, had a patrician bearing because he was born to the country’s upper crust. Historian Doris Kearn Goodwin says his polio helped to humanise him and gave him the common touch.
What Al-Makura is doing, should hopefully, bring more attention to leaders and empathy. Even though the president will open a comprehensive primary health care centre in Kwandare and a market first conceived in 1996, the highlight is the work for the least appreciated among us.
We must treat them as we treasure legacy in the fashion of a father to his disabled daughter known as “poor fool” in the Nobel Prize winning novel A Good Earth by Pearls Buck. He treated her specially unlike the patriarch Kennedy treated his daughter. They are our equals.
As autism spokesman Temple Grandin noted, “I am different, not less.”
Dakuku plays the blues
As Boko Haram has retreated as an army and played up its cowardly role as suicide bombers, the militants in the Niger Delta raised their voices as if to say, “we are still here.” They are about to break the deal since the days of Yar’Adua and return to the violence of the creeks. Why, of course, because oil price is on the rise!
That bring our attention to the security. As Conrad said in his famous novel, The Secret Agent, the first condition of wealth is security. An agency that comes to mind is NIMASA and the man that comes to mind is Dakuku Peterside. The last time he stole public attention was when he released the annual revenue. He joined Ishaq Oloyede and the customs chief and Senate tormentor as the executive who brought up annual revenues to unprecedented highs.
Dakuku may have to step up his game again in the area of security. Our pipelines and oil rigs may be endangered again. Our part of the world witnesses the highest piracy attacks in the world, 50 percent of kidnapping, with seafarers as significant victims. His agency now has a few strategies like the acquisition of new aircraft, helicopters and vessels as well as greater alliance with the navy and air force as well as an array of equipment. It is part of what is called the Blue Project or Blue Economy. Dakuku is playing the blues for the maritime economy.
As the price of oil tops $70 dollars per barrel, we should prepare for the irritants of prosperity. Here If Dakuku made the wealth, we expect him to secure it.