Old Age, Sickness and Presidency; By Abadom Amechi


IF a sick man is elected as president, the natural thing for him to do is to first mind his health. Health, it is said, is wealth. A healthy mind in a healthy body is what the office demands. One must be alive first in other to lead.

There are psychological effects of terminal sicknesses, like persistent sadness, anger, irritability, constant mood change, concern about self-esteem, fear of physical appearance and behaviour change, all these will lead to psychological imbalance. A sick person is not okay, physically, emotionally, socially, mentally and psychologically and will never be in right frame of mind to discharge the responsibilities of the office.

It is an expression of lack of capacity for deep reflection or outright deceit for anyone to argue that the president is not a logger, who requires strength to fall wood, cut it up and load it on a truck for sawmill, or a footballer who will need to run round the field for 90 minutes in any game, or cart pusher, who requires physical strength to do his job. They argue that what the president needs is mental strength. A sick body is a sick mind. Nigerian president is the most powerful in the world, and the demands of that office is physically and mentally tasking. A sick man is not okay both mentally and physically.  His mental and physical health barometer readings will be too low that it will not be able to bring the right pressure to bear on the job. Let us not deceive ourselves.

In 2007 PDP foisted on us Umaru Yar’Adua, a nice man who was already sick and needed care and rest. He was persuaded against his wish by some people who realised that his sickness, and attendant physical and psychological weakness can be exploited. For the few days his health allowed him to perform, he doused the restiveness in the Niger delta and introduced the amnesty programme. He returned the Lagos state withheld funds. He was about going to embark on wholesome electoral process reforms when death struck. While in office and struggling with ill health, some cabal hijacked his government. It took the strident voice of the civil society and labour movement to put pressure on the National Assembly to do the needful.

I have never been a fan of Buhari, and I did not vote for him both in 2015 and 2019, but I was happy over the emergence of APC, to effectively challenge the unbridled audacity of PDP. Whether President Buhari had good intentions for seeking to rule, no one can rightly say.

He has been in government for close to eight years, but I doubt if he is in power due to his sickness. He has been in and out of hospital in regular succession and when he is not around, who runs his office, and what is the intention of that person or persons? It is a dangerous thing if a man who did not get mandate to rule finds himself in control of the levers of power. There has been this rumour of some cabal being in charge as His Excellency goes in out of hospital. The late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, was accused of being the head of the group. Whether it is true or false, I do not know, but I find it difficult to believe that what we have seen in the past seven years of this administration are reasons why President Buhari struggled to clinch power in three consecutive elections before winning the 2015 elections.

If a president is healthy and of sound mind, he will be able to put his vision to action. He takes full responsibility for his actions and inactions. We cannot continue to experiment with an office that carries enormous responsibility. For a sick president, the possibility of bulk passing for wrong actions are very likely, but a healthy person takes full responsibility. Those who desire to take control of the levers of power through the back door without any mandate should stop pushing and persuading sick persons to public offices at all levels.

If a leader comes into office and become sick, that is understandable as all human beings get sick from time to time. If a president becomes sick while in office, we have a duty to pray for his speedy recovery. As number one citizen of the country, it will be uncharitable for anyone to wish him dead. The death of a serving president truncates his vision for the nation.

History has records of presidents who became sick and died while in office. An Ethiopian president, Meles Zenawi, died in office after a brief illness. Zenawi came into office healthy and ruled his country for years, and in 2012, he was sick and died.

On March 17, 2021, Mr Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania died in office, just few days after he won a re-election for a second term in office. It was discovered that he developed high blood pressure and died of heart attack. He was greatly missed. John Atta Mills, a Ghanaian president, died in office in 2012. The list goes on. For president who became sick in office, we can understand, but not the case of one who is already old, weak, sick and demented.

The idea of urging and persuading old and sick people into public office is retrogressive and reactionary. In both private and public sectors of our economy, sixty is the benchmark for retirement. Except for judges and university professors who are still allowed to get to seventy. Most blue-chip companies in the world today are managed by global chief executive officers who are below forty-five years old. Great countries are electing young, educated, healthy and energetic people into public office, while we are here killing ourselves over old, sick and demented people.  Finland last year elected 34-year-old Sanna Marin, a young woman as Prime Minister. New Zealand, Salvador and Ukraine are countries whose leaders are all less than forty-five years.

Nigerian politicians behave like African wild dog that eats its prey alive. Our politicians plunder, decapitate, dehumanise and bastardise. They lack development orientation and capacity. When they succeed in getting weak, sick and old into office, they preside over that leader to perpetuate their corruption while the lame duck leader is busy minding his health.

Majority of Nigerians are dismayed, and utterly frustrated by the failure of the same group of politicians who have been in power from their active days until their moment of inaction. Their leadership has brought misery and poverty. Our hopes have been brutally dashed. Nigeria is ranked in Hank’s Annual Misery Index Report of 2021 to be among the eleven most miserable countries in the world. The people who brought us to where we are, are still desiring to take us further down the pit.

Comrade Amechi, a trade unionist and pro-democracy activist, writes from Lagos.


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