Ailing governors and Yar’Adua syndrome
The mishaps involving some state governors in 2012 have raised issues about how best to handle medical issues involving top elected and appointed officials in the country. While some of the cases are handled with utmost transparency, others are shrouded in such secrecy that further heightens uncertainty in affected states.
In the four states with ailing governors, the level of transparency varies from a total blackout – as in the case of Enugu – to the surprising openness in the case of Kogi. Till date, no public explanation has been given about the case of Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, leaving room for speculations and raising constitutional issues. In Cross River State, the governor, Liyel Imoke, aside from handing over to his deputy, sent a Facebook message to people of the state, assuring them of his readiness to return as soon as his health permits.
In Taraba State, the state of health of the governor is a subject of rumours and innuendoes until a photograph of the governor reportedly taken on 31 December, 2012 got in the public domain. There was, however, no audio or video evidence to disprove earlier reports alleging that the governor was brain damaged. Soon after the photograph was released, rumours did the rounds, again, that it was simulated. Even at that, reports from the state indicated that the governors’ supporters were elated at what they saw as a miraculous healing of their leader.
As the three states of Enugu, Cross River and Taraba engage in hide-and-seek over the health of their governors, Kogi State’s case presents a model that has never been witnessed in the country in the recent past. The accident involving Governor Idris Wada was given such a transparent treatment that many know exactly what transpired.
From the point of the accident to the governor’s transfer to a private hospital in Abuja, the entire incident was adjudged to have been professionally handled, especially when such incident involved a top public official. Many journalists in Abuja were surprised that the governor not only chose to be treated in the country, but also in a private hospital. The regular press briefing by the doctor and aides of the governor sets a precedent.
The governor’s media adviser, Jacob Edi, provided information, clarified reports and updated the nation on his principal’s state of health. The height of this transparency was when President Goodluck Jonathan visited Wada on his sickbed and the video was made available. The press briefing by the surgeon who attended to the governor transformed the setting into situations in advanced democracies where the citizenry are offered information on the state of health of their leaders.
A visit to the hospital during the governor’s stay there showed many Nigerians commending an action they saw as capable of changing the attitude of leaders who seek foreign medical treatment at a slight opportunity. Many could not believe that the “small but well-equipped” hospital could treat a state governor, whose security votes run into billions of naira. Reports that it was the governor himself who opted for local treatment changed Wada’s case into public sympathy for him.
Many political observers are, however, worried at the rate at which sick public officers are copying the Umaru Yar’Adua style in the management of illnesses. The late president’s illness and his eventual death created a deep wound, which the country is still suffering from today. The scar of that incident is not healing fast and many had hoped that subsequent cases would be treated differently. Yet, a secret mode of health management for public officials has become entrenched in the political circle.
Now that Governor Wada has set the pace, it is yet to be seen whether other ailing governors will follow suit. For example, a video or audio message from Governor Imoke on his medical treatment would enhance public confidence and dissuade rumour mongers. For the Enugu State governor, it would not be a bad idea for the doctor attending to him to address the press or issue a statement, explaining his response to treatment. For the Taraba State governor, his aides who issued the picture would do a better job by also securing an audio or video message. Airing such message on the state radio should be sufficient to end all insinuations.
Checks, however, showed that the stake is very high, hence, the secretive approach. Attaining governorship is confirmed to be as difficult as choosing to abandon the top post. As Nigerian governors are powerful in the resources and freedom they possess, political pundits believe that no governor would quit unless God took a final decision. This thinking is hinged on the fact that quitting is just not the end of a leader of government; more issues are involved.
Quitting implies immediate re-distribution of political influences and upgrading and re-grading of ethnic groupings in terms of access to state resources. It involves destruction and destabilisation of individual political ambitions and an upturning of a subsisting power structure. Thus, many analysts believe that even if the ailing governors are willing to let go by submitting to constitutional requirements, their aides and caucus would not consent.
In Enugu, for example, those holding the fort for the governor can hardly think of letting go due to the political situation in the state. Aside from reports that the acting governor has no say in the running of the state, those hoping to succeed the governor within his caucus would never support following the constitutional dictation. The state House of Assembly may also become embroiled in a game of cover-up.
In Taraba State, it was instructive that the picture of the governor came at a time the three-month constitutional stipulation is about lapsing. Those within his caucus are obviously pulling the string as an exit means a lot in the religiously-polarised state.
While the hide-and-seek continues, many citizens hope for a day when Wada’s model would become a norm in the country’s public life. As the Yar’Adua phenomenon was a human error, closing its chapter is seen by many observers as the best way to go