Nigeria practices presidentialism, and in a presidential democracy, the nation rests on the shoulders of one man. Health is therefore of major concern in determining the electability of a candidate. This gives no room for arguments. All public offices, the office of the president inclusive, demand occupiers who are sound both in body and in mind. This is necessary so that efficiency and proficiency will be brought to bear in the discharge of responsibilities of the office.
Nigeria is one county where the unthinkable happens all the time; a nation where many citizens for primordial reasons sleepwalk into quagmires and live for another decade blaming others for their self-inflicted injuries. It does not matter to such Nigerians what calamity such choices portend as long as the man propped up is from their parts of the country.
The English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic, Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, in his characteristic lucid prose, made an eternal statement about citizens and bad governance. George Orwell had many Nigeria in sight when he said: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims… but accomplices”. The 2023 presidential election has presented yet another opportunity for backward politics and the dance of the absurd is already in the swirl. And not much is being discussed today about the agenda for the next president or government.
Every role has job characteristics and specifications. The role of the president of a country is not an exception for any reason. The job of Nigeria’s president is perhaps the most stressful. What is more, most other jobs have individuals sparring with the incumbent. The role of the vice president is by far too subdued to be taken as a real sparring partner in discharging the onerous job of the president under the Nigerian constitution.
What this means is that the President of Nigeria is essentially on his own, and would have to outsource his or her presidency if the job will be done where he or she cannot due to health or degree of incapacity. Without focusing essentially on the agenda for the next president of Nigeria, let us dwell on the theme – can the nation consciously elect a sick, integrity-challenged president in 2023?
One of the conditions for recruitment into public offices in Nigeria is health. Yet, the INEC guidelines for the selection and fielding of candidates have no provision for health status. This is a serious omission. Even if it does not form a condition for disqualification, the nation needs to know who they are staking their future with.
There are no serious jobs where the health status of the intending staff is not sought. Footballers and other sportsmen and women pass medical tests before they are engaged. But for a more serious job of the president, the health status of the aspirants and candidates of political parties is treated with levity.
Yes, the job of the president is not a boxing contest. But it certainly requires very serious physical and mental exertions, and a president with a degenerative health condition can only get worse in office and cannot perform optimally and sometimes cannot perform at all as a consequence.
Surprisingly, some well-placed Nigerians have tried to make light of the implications of the poor health of an aspiring president. Some have argued that nobody is immune to ailments. This argument may be tenderable for a president whose health condition becomes obvious or develops while in office. Even at that, one of the conditions for removal of a president or governor from office is health. The Nigerian presidential line of succession is the set order of Nigerian government officials who may become or act as President of Nigeria if the incumbent president becomes incapacitated (serious health conditions), dies, resigns, or is removed from office (by impeachment).
Nigerians must note that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic (as amended in 2010) usurped the powers of the National Assembly in the originating process of the declaration of the permanent incapacity of presidents and vice-presidents of Nigeria. According to section 144(a), the first step in the process is a resolution passed by a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Federal Executive Council.
To begin with, members of the Federal Executive Council are appointed aides of the president. Any of them raising a motion for the passage of a resolution for a medical probe of the president is almost impossible. It is like biting the fingers that feed one. This makes that constitutional provision inoperable. What is more, the National Assembly, which constitutes the representatives of the Nigerian citizens, is not empowered by the 1999 constitution to initiate a medical probe against an ailing Nigerian president.
Since the Federal Executive Council cannot raise a motion against the Nigerian president on health grounds, and the National Assembly cannot either for the reason that it lacks the legal authority to do so, the citizens will have to take preemptive measures: they have to elect candidates they can see from human basic reasoning to be healthy. If such a person when elected falls sick or even dies in office, the citizens can live with it because they didn’t see it coming.
The three major presidential candidates – Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi, and Bola Tinubu – are all over 60 years of age and therefore past their primes. But their health conditions are in plain sight and citizens cannot, therefore, feign any ignorance or afford to indulge in fatalism that what will be, will be.
Recall it was the health condition of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua that brought the convulsion the nation’s democracy is facing at the moment. It was later discovered that Yar’Adua had a renal condition, which relapsed when he came under the pressure of the office of the president of Nigeria. For such an extreme chronic health condition and with benefit of hindsight, Yar’Adua, though an exceptionally good man, was not fit for the job, and Obasanjo who practically foisted him in Nigeria later said he didn’t know about Yar’Adua’s health condition. “Let God punish me if knew”, was how Obasanjo defended his action in that regard.
Yar’Adua’s deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had to finish the residue of his tenure and went for a fresh term, which he won. Jonathan’s determination to go for a second term infuriated the north, which felt robbed and it led to the groundswell of opposition and paved the way for the coming of the APC and the sweeping of PDP away from power.
Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari who took over from Jonathan is himself not enjoying excellent health. Buhari had to spend over 200 days in a London hospital for a yet–to–be demystified ailment, which he still manages. There is no doubt that Buhari’s performance, despite his avowals and good intentions, has been seriously impeded by his health. It is also obvious that to survive the office, the man has to outsource much of the responsibilities of the president. Evidence of this is seeing the president frequently telling Nigerians, “I am not aware”, thus creating the vacuum for an unelected cabal to take charge on his behalf.
Social Psychology research is conclusive that a leader’s performance directly correlates with his or her health. Since this is the case, the question is: can the nation consciously elect a sick President? Nigerians should shine their eyes and vote wisely. Before allowing themselves to be swayed by Atiku’s ‘experience matters’, Obi’s ‘change mantra’, or Tinubu’s ’emi-lokan'(it’s my turn), they must first check out their health conditions to avoid four to eight years of sorrow, tears and blood.
The nation’s experience with Yar’Adua and Buhari has shown beyond any doubt that health is a major determinant of the performance of a president in a presidential democracy, especially in a nation like Nigeria with very weak or non-existent institutions.
• Dr Law Mefor, a Forensic/Social Psychologist, is a Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought and can be reached via Tel.+234- 913-033-5723; Twitter: @DrLawMefor; email: email@example.com.