11 September 2012

Nigeria: The First Lady's Absence


It is clear that First Lady Patience Jonathan has not been feeling quite well in the past fortnight. The official position on her whereabouts, which came from media aides in the presidency last week, was that she was having deserved rest overseas. But after other accounts suggested she was ailing, mum has been the word at the presidency. This secrecy around her has given rise to speculations. Illnesses that have been mentioned include stress, food poisoning, appendicitis and fibroid tumours. If the silence from official quarters suggests consent, it could therefore be believed that the first lady was first diagnosed with food poisoning at the Aso Rock clinic, but, when the situation worsened, she was flown to a German hospital that detected a ruptured appendix or troublesome fibroids that had to be removed.

Whatever is the truth, there is nothing strange in a first lady falling sick. All mortals fall sick sometimes. But the health of a public figure like the wife of a president should not be hidden from the Nigerians who may choose to sympathise with her and members of the first family. Prayers could be said for her quick recovery in churches and mosques.

It is childish to keep her health condition secret: the state of a first lady's health could make her husband (the president) fail in his duty. Or would President Jonathan perform best during the period of her hospitalisation? When the first lady is sick, the president is sick. And it's good luck to a nation led by a sick president! Have we forgotten so soon how the nation drifted while President Yar'Adua was sick in a foreign country? Not even the current president and his family could have endorsed the action of those who hid Yar'Adua's state of health from the nation in those days. May God forbid Mrs Jonathan suffering Yar'Adua's fate, but have we learnt anything from that mistake?

The wrong diagnosis of the first lady's sickness in Abuja and her trip to Germany for medical attention further highlight the tragedy of the nation's health system. The Aso Rock clinic boasts the best equipment and the best doctors in the country, yet the first lady had to seek treatment abroad. The fate of less privileged Nigerians that patronise "mere consulting clinics" and glorified mortuaries can only be imagined. And what about those who cannot afford treatment at all in any hospital?

We have nothing but best wishes for the first lady as she recuperates in Germany. And we thank the hospital and its staff that have taken the mother of our nation out of danger zone. We hope she will be back home soon to help her husband in the daunting task of running the country.

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