22 February 2013

Nigeria: Thank Goodness First Lady Didn't Die


In line with our conviction that any man's (or woman's) death diminishes the rest of us, we congratulate First Lady Patience Jonathan on coming back from the shadows of death. Ordinarily, all the media hoopla that attended her illness would have been unnecessary but for the fact that we have over the years elevated the position of the president's spouse to that of an elected high official of state.

In other climes, spouses of serving presidents are just what they are - spouses. Here we waste huge public funds to service the ego and pet fancies of whoever happens to be the spouse of the president at the federal level or governor of a state. The anomaly has even percolated down to some local governments where the chairman's wife is addressed as "first lady" and seen as "she who must be obeyed".

So much has been made of the various lies publicly told by different officials about the state of health of Dame Jonathan. The leading opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), reacted angrily to Dame Jonathan's revelation that she had been gravely ill, noting that "Nigerians must be wondering why the government they elected into office chose to lie to them that the first lady was holidaying abroad when indeed she was gravely ill in a foreign hospital".

The government doesn't seem fazed by the various criticisms that have trailed the first lady's revelation and has been carrying on as if nothing was amiss.

The disclosure itself was not without its hilarious dimensions. At the thanksgiving service where she bared her mind, Dame Jonathan reportedly said: "It was not an easy experience for me. I actually died. I passed out for more than a week. My intestine and tummy were opened... I am not Lazarus but my experience was similar to his. My doctors said all hope was lost. It was God himself in His infinite mercy that said I would return to Nigeria. God woke me up after seven days."

Since all life is ultimately in God's hands, we do not for a moment doubt that God has been gracious to the first lady by granting her full recovery from her undisclosed ailment. But the claim that she died must be taken colloquially as a statement made in exercise of poetic licence.

She couldn't have been a second Jesus (who resurrected on the third day) or the biblical Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead after four days). Her doctors and other care givers would probably have logged her condition as being in a coma, for death is an irreversible state. Even with her allusion to the biblical Lazarus, her claim, though dramatic, is not medically sustainable.

Thank goodness she did not die. We rejoice with her. But linguistic correctness must also be part of the disclosures, lest the impressionable and the ignorant think that coma is coterminous with death.

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