As the World Economic Forum kicks off today in Davos, Switzerland, health will be a key issue to be addressed by heads of state and governments, business community, civil societies and other stakeholders. With the outbreak of Ebola and other communicable diseases, WEF realized that research has shown that combating the spread of viruses is still a worldwide priority that needs to be addressed under the theme Pandemics and Health at the forum this year.
Considering how Nigeria was able to impress the world by defeating Ebola, through the combined efforts of the Federal and Lagos State governments, how they were able to ensure rapid response and contain the spread of that deadly disease ought to be one of the highlights of the forum to look forward to. I am sure Nigeria will feature in that discourse; but with Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu now hanging in the balance after resigning as the Minister of Health and losing the governorship primary election in Ebonyi State, it is doubtful if Davos would hear the type of story that Nigeria has to tell on how Ebola bowed to the indefatigable Nigerian spirit.
Even more doubtful is the presence of top government functionaries who are seeking elective positions due to the fact that the forum is happening at a time that electioneering campaign has reached fever pitch in Nigeria. This, without doubt, is the shortest campaign period ever in the history of general elections in Nigeria, in which presidential candidates have to cover the whole of 36 states and Abuja in less than six weeks. With barely three weeks to the poll, therefore, it is unlikely if discussing Ebola and other pandemics will be of interest to either President Goodluck Jonathan who is campaigning for reelection or Governor Babatunde Fashola who is leading the campaign of continuity in Lagos State to have his former Accountant General and a cerebral Fulbright scholar, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, succeed him.
While Davos will be discussing Ebola and issues of good health, Nigeria is also neck-deep in its own ferocious health debate, occasioned by the politics of the moment and desperate campaign tactics. It is the health of General Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the leading opposition, All Progressive Congress that has taken over the conversation, with hirelings of the ruling People’s Democratic Party going for the jugular, arguing that at 72, Buhari is too old, weak and perhaps nursing an ailment that may not allow him to function effectively if elected as president.
Ostensibly, PDP appreciates Buhari’s enormous popularity, especially in the North. A man who could single-handedly garner about 12 million votes and swept through the entire Northern landscape like a hurricane during the 2011 presidential elections must be extra-ordinary. Known to be incorruptible and unrepentantly pro-masses, Buhari somehow represents true change for majority of the common man and the elite who want genuine reforms.
Now that the former Head of State has a formidable nation-wide support behind him; from the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu-led influential South-West political machinery, to the five former PDP governors like Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State who defected to APC and the latest endorsement from retired Generals, it must be a very desperate if not panicky PDP that has resorted to frantic measures to either stop Buhari from contesting or to change the massive tide of support against him.
Sensing that the sheer calculation of the likely outcome is unsettling, with the entire North and South-West looking assured as well as about three states out of the 11 in the South-East/South-South axis looking good for the Katsina-born General, PDP appears constrained to go for the broke. First salvo was to query Buhari’s qualification, arguing rather impertinently that not providing physical copies of his certificates, even after swearing to an affidavit, was tantamount to a disqualification. And as if to counter the endorsement of General Ibrahim Babangida and his cohort, the Army suddenly finds its voice to deny being in possession of the ex-Head of State’s credentials.
But when that route became too hardous, Buhari’s age and health status became the next target. And so ferocious was the attack from Femi Fani-Kayode, virtually asking the General to produce his medical records or jog around the perimeters of the stadium before his rallies, to show how truly fit he is. So hilarious was that call for fitness test that PDP had to release the video of President Jonathan exercising in a gym to show how a 58-year-old stands a better physical chance to govern.
Not a few must be amused that a six-pack, muscular built is not a constitutional requirement in becoming a President. And to imagine all this is coming at a time when all the parties signed an agreement to eschew violence and derisive campaigns.
But by far the most odious of this topsy-turvy campaign was Monday’s front-page advert in a few national dailies in which the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, urged voters to avoid another state burial because Buhari at 72 must close to his grave and might not survive the next four years if elected.
It is hard not to express disgust or even disbelief at the reckless thoughts behind that advertorial as indeed the indiscretion that got it accepted for publication. That advert certainly crossed the border of good taste and stands condemnable.
But it should be a collective shame that politics has descended to this level under our watch. But then to many, Fayose did not pull a surprise, really. He is only being typical, relishing in the profane and the outlandish as exemplified by Monday’s divisive, patently inciting and acrimonious diatribe. However, not being God or ‘Octopus Peter’, how long anyone lives is beyond his call. He has merely confirmed that penchant to which he is enslaved, while betraying his desperation, giving that his fate in politics is intricately tied to that of Jonathan.
I do hope that Buhari would not react the way late Nmamdi Azikiwe reacted when his death was prematurely announced. It is needless to pronounce a curse. The General should be consoled that Fayose has unwittingly campaigned for him by further infuriating the North who will find the odious reference to Murtala Muhammed, Sanni Abacha and Umaru Yar’Adua offensive just like many decent undecided voters in other parts of the country who may express protest with sympathy votes for the people’s General.
Steve Ayorinde wrote in from Lagos.