And so, once again, the wife of a serving president flies off to Europe in search of a cure for a non-life threatening problem. For plastic surgery, if there is a grain of truth to the unofficial disclosures attributed to sources in the presidency, though that is all that the citizens underwriting this expensive treatment have: the president does not deign to tell us what is wrong with his wife.

Mrs Patience Jonathan — who will not be pleased with me for not addressing her by the cherished self-appellation of Dame even in her moment of distress — is recovering in Germany after having her uterine fibroids removed. No, she did not go to excise her ruptured appendix, as was earlier reported: myomectemy; not appendectomy. This also puts to rest the happier reason of much needed rest from exhaustion (so arduous are the labours of the first spouse) as her spokesman informed us. The eagerness of Nigeria’s rulers to whisk themselves or their wives off to tend to every real or imagined ailment abroad at public expense is nothing short now of a national calamity. And it invites even greater scrutiny than ever before. For want of a better term and since we are speaking of diseases, I will call this infuriating habit bordering on a disorder of the mind the expatriate syndrome or expatriaitis.

According the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “expatriate” in its verb form means “to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country”; “to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere”; also “to renounce allegiance to one’s native country.” Now, clearly, our rulers do not live abroad, though we must include the qualification “physically” while sticking to the literal sense of the word.  But while they may reside in their official quarters, have palatial homes in their villages, state capitals, Abuja and Lagos, their most cherished mansions are to be found in the priciest neighbourhoods of London, Paris and Washington, D.C.  In any case, I am more concerned with the second sense which warrants the diagnosis of expatriaitis, defined as a disease of the mind that causes its victims, who, for my purposes here are Nigerian rulers, to see themselves as foreigners, and so to shape their thoughts and actions with reference to a developed foreign country, especially a European one. I lay no claim to exactitude, but it will do.

If an expatriate is not merely one who resides outside his or her own country (ex patria) but can also be one who has “renounced” or “withdrawn” allegiance to the native country, then our rulers are expatriates to the core. By tell-tale deeds, they betray their primary allegiance to Europe.  As a result, they feel no sense of patriotic duty or responsibility to the land of their birth. If the Christians’ holy book is right when it says that where a man’s wealth is there will his heart be also, then nothing proves this claim more than the ultimate destination of the billions our rulers steal: Swiss banks and other Euro-American institutions of graft. In other words, Frantz Fanon was right to describe the emergent African bourgeoisie as having “black skin” and “white masks.” It is a product of the dubious legacy of colonialism, what we refer to in popular parlance as “colo-mentality.” We may turn the phrase a little to “black skin, whitewashed minds.” Our rulers, still ravaged by the unbroken and unexamined, though mostly unconscious, legacy of external conquest and domination, are no more than mere stand-ins for the erstwhile colonial masters whose allegiance was always to Europe.

Thus, a quarter of a century after General Ibrahim Babangida flew to France to treat a leg injury, no succeeding head of state has thought it necessary to build, or made it possible to build, a medical facility where his head- or tooth-ache, cough, malaria, arthritic toe, “general debility” or, God forbid, any more serious ailment, may be treated. Babangida’s long-standing injury was given the grandiloquent name of radiculopathy, a condition more appropriately associated with the spine and eminently treatable at home, but, no, he had to go to Europe. Then there was the case of Mrs Stella Obasanjo who died in Malaga, Spain, after a cosmetic procedure to remove stomach fat.

And so it happens that more than two years after the national embarrassment of the saga of President Yar’Adua’s endless trips to hospitals in Germany and Saudi Arabia to save his ailing heart and liver, his successor, Goodluck Jonathan, has chosen to shame us anew with another medical trip fiasco. This time, the rumoured emergency that necessitated the junket to Germany was uterine fibroids, a condition that many women are known to have without even knowing it because it is generally benign and so seldom requires surgery, except for cosmetic purposes. And, indeed, the word is out that this was the real reason why Mrs Jonathan flew to Germany and checked herself into the Dr. Horst Schmidt Klinik in Wiesbaden, a facility, let us note, shared by the United States Army’s medical department.

How else but in the light of the utter obliteration of national competence and self-belief following a chronic case of expatriaitis can it be explained that Mrs Jonathan’s fibrosis was allegedly misdiagnosed as appendicitis or food poisoning by the doctors at the presidential clinic? Yet the misdiagnosis is only a symptom of the cancer of self-doubt that has now overawed our collective being. Leading to the crying shame that such routine procedures as appendectomy and myomectemy could not be performed at the presidential clinic.  Nor in any of our teaching hospitals. Nor in any of the country’s countless private hospitals. But then, I assume that with our rulers’ necks turned rigidly towards Europe, to anywhere but home — see the staggering number of foreign trips Jonathan has made since assuming office — the president even thought for a second about the possibility of a cure at home.

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