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Bola Parkinson: A Plague To Be Averted By Kennedy Emetulu

July 7, 2022

Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge Tinubu’s talent as a politician. I know he is a determined man who would always go for what he wants. But, the presidency of Nigeria should not be for anyone who sees it as something that must come to them, someone who views it with a sense of entitlement – an “E gbe kiniyi wa” or “E mi lo kan” candidate. That is just plain dangerous. It is even more dangerous when we consider Tinubu’s political history in Lagos and the South-West. However, most dangerous are citizens who sat through the convention to watch the aspirants live and still come up with the decision to vote Tinubu! How? Why?

I don’t know if I’m the only one incredibly puzzled by what happened at the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential convention that produced Bola Tinubu as the party’s presidential flag-bearer in the forthcoming general election. I admit, I am shocked by the outcome. And I say so as someone not very much in the business of being surprised by what passes for politics in Nigeria.


Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge Tinubu’s talent as a politician. I know he is a determined man who would always go for what he wants. But, the presidency of Nigeria should not be for anyone who sees it as something that must come to them, someone who views it with a sense of entitlement – an “E gbe kiniyi wa” or “E mi lo kan” candidate. That is just plain dangerous. It is even more dangerous when we consider Tinubu’s political history in Lagos and the South-West. However, most dangerous are citizens who sat through the convention to watch the aspirants live and still come up with the decision to vote Tinubu! How? Why?


How can 1,271 Nigerians who know what our nation has suffered as a result of voting in persons who have serious health issues as Presidents still sit down and vote for Tinubu who EVIDENTLY is suffering from Parkinson’s disease? In addressing them, Tinubu was shaking like a leaf in the wind, spending more than 12 seconds to open to another page in his labored speech, yet they voted for him!


We recall how Umaru Yar’Adua was evacuated to Germany during the 2007 presidential campaign and all the lies and denials that followed until the poor guy gave up the ghost on the 5th of May, 2010. That triggered a constitutional crisis that saw Nigerians rise in defence of constitutionality to see the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan take over, despite the best efforts of ‘the cabal’ to thwart him.


Arguably, Nigeria suffered worse under President Muhammadu Buhari because of his poor health and his incessant hopping on the plane to London for very lengthy periods to go take care of his health. That Buhari is still alive today is a miracle for which we all thank God. But, again, like Umaru Yar’Adua, the lies about his state of health by his handlers could not hide the fact that Nigeria has suffered greatly from the consequences of his ill-health.


Now, let me make something clear. It is not a comfortable thing talking about the ill-health of another mortal because we are all brittle beings at the mercy of the Almighty. Any of us can fall ill at any time and it’s not a crime. It’s true that as private citizens, whatever happens to our health is our business and the business of our family, friends and close associates and loved ones generally. It is not the business of the nation how you go about looking after yourself or how your handlers go about looking after you. 


But, when you are occupying a public office as high as that of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or when you aspire to it, then your health becomes a public issue because the Constitution frowns upon a severely ill person occupying the position of the President. This is why it is scary that some people sat somewhere in Abuja in the name of a party convention and chose a man suffering from a degenerative disease without cure as the presidential flag-bearer of their party in the forthcoming general election. It is scary because this is the ruling party with the capacity to put this man in Aso Rock as successor to President Muhammadu Buhari!


To properly contextualize this problem, we need to understand that the fact that someone suffers from Parkinson’s should ordinarily not be the end of their working life. In Europe or America, for instance, what usually happens, in order to avoid discrimination against such a person, is that they are given less tasking jobs that they can do in their condition until it is practically impossible for them to continue with the job because of the progressively degenerative nature of the disease. Parkinson’s impedes your ability to walk, your ability to carry or move things, your ability to read and write, your ability to concentrate and learn and your ability to use the phone or have a conversation and so on. How then can we as people who are compos mentis decide that the office of the President of our nation is the place we must install a person suffering Parkinson’s, even if we say this fellow is the brightest amongst us? How can we look ourselves in the eye and declare ourselves true patriots if we have no scruples rooting for a Tinubu in his condition in the Nigeria of 2022 with all the problems our nation is facing?


Honestly, there is a sense in thinking that these people supporting Tinubu and Tinubu himself are taking advantage of what is supposedly a lacuna in our laws. Under the eligibility provisions of the Constitution as it concerns the health of anyone seeking to be President, section 137(1)(c) says a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of the President if under the law of any part of Nigeria, he is adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind. This is all it says with regard to health as qualification for election to the office of the President. So, it only talks the mental health of the person seeking the office and not their physical health.


But, we can get an idea of what the objective of the Constitution is with regard to the health status of any person seeking to occupy that office by looking at what the law says with regard to someone already occupying the office. Indeed, we will look at the law in the context of our history of attempts by two different presidents and groups to game the system, so as to avoid what is constitutionally and indeed morally necessary.


The Constitution addresses two situations that require the President to hand over power temporarily or resign permanently where he suffers from ill-health. Here are the sections dealing with these: 


Section 145:




Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.






Section 144:





(1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if -

(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and

(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.


(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.


(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.


(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-


(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and 

(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.


(5) In this section, the reference to "executive council of the Federation" is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.





Then, there is section 146(1), which says:




The Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with section 143 of this Constitution.






So, let’s look at how these provisions have been applied (or not applied) and/or manipulated in our history with a view to appreciating the kind of problem we are likely to face if a man like Tinubu were to be elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It’s a different thing if we have had no experience of the kind of problems this situation creates. But, we can’t go through the experience we have gone through as Nigerians and then deliberately walk into it again. That will be collective madness.


First, the commonest mistake some public commentators make about section 145 is that they overstretch its application to cover a situation where the President is seriously ill when it is not meant to apply in that situation as there are other constitutional provisions for that eventuality - (sections 144 and 146(1)). Section 145 applies only in two situations. The first is when the President is going on a vacation and the second is when he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office when the reason for such is not a serious illness likely to render him incapable of discharging such functions.


President Umaru Yar’Adua who had a health scare during the 2007 presidential campaign that he had to be flown out to Germany amidst all sorts of denials suffered another breakdown after winning the election and taking office. In late November 2009, he had to be secretly evacuated to Saudi Arabia. The nation was kept in the dark about his condition (though, we later got to know he was being treated for pericarditis) and as months passed and Nigerians became clearly aware that President Yar’Adua was not in the country, a ‘cabal’ of administration officials running national affairs behind the scenes came up with the hare-brained theory that there is no problem because President Yar’Adua can run the country from anywhere in the world. They kept saying this, even as they refused to tell Nigerians about his health condition.


Now, the problem really was that President Yar’Adua’s handlers were not quite smart with their attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians. It was obvious that the man was unable to discharge the functions of his office, even if they didn’t want to admit he was grievously ill to trigger section 144. What President Yar’Adua should have done, even though that would have amounted to being economical with the truth, was to transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he was proceeding on vacation or that he was otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, so that such functions could continue to be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.


And that was where they were rumbled. Then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan kept presiding over cabinet meetings without the President and without any authority given to him under section 145. He was as clueless about President Yar’Adua’s condition as the rest of the country. From late November 2009 to early February 2010, the country was on tenterhooks. If President Yar’Adua had transmitted the written declaration that he was unable to discharge his functions for the time being to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he would have provided constitutional cover for himself and the Vice-President, even though his condition would have actually required the intervention under section 144. He would have been able to get away with it because section 144 does not require him to trigger it. It requires for two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation to initiate action. However, if section 145 had been activated, the Vice-President who would by then be the Acting President would not have had a problem keeping the wheels of government running with the hope that once the President recovers he can return to office.


It was the constitutional crisis created by the situation that finally led to a series of actions that eventually got Goodluck Jonathan installed as Acting President. First, there were already rumblings in the cabinet about the whole nation being kept in the dark about what was going on with President Yar’Adua’s health. The disgruntled members of the cabinet found a voice in the then Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili, who, on Friday, the 5th of February, 2010, wrote a strongly worded memo denouncing the lies being spun about the president’s health. This triggered a national discussion morphing into a national protest against those Nigerians christened “the cabal.” Nigerians demanded to know who were the people actually running the country because, clearly, Vice-President Jonathan was not de facto or constitutionally in charge as he should be. On Wednesday, the 10th of February, 2010, the Senate sat and propounded the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer presidential powers to Vice-President Jonathan declaring him the Acting President. 


On Wednesday, the 24th of February, 2010, “the cabal” secretly brought back a severely ill President Yar’Adua into the country. But, apart from the fact that he was too sick to leave his bed and appear in public, they could not act to return presidential powers to him because he did not activate section 145 before leaving for Saudi Arabia and in his absence the Senate had transferred presidential powers to the Vice President who was now lawfully the Acting President. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died on Wednesday, the 5th of May, 2010 in Abuja and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as the substantive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria immediately on Thursday, the 6th of May, 2010. Thus ended that sordid part of our history with presidential ill-health and constitutional manipulation.


But the nation had to face this again in 2015 during the presidential campaign. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Ret), the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was severely ill, but everything was done to hide this from Nigerians. In February 2015, under the pretext of going to Chatham House in London to deliver a talk, Buhari was sneaked into London for medical treatment for an undisclosed illness. He won the 2015 election and took over as President and immediately the rumours about his ill-health gathered steam.


Now, Nigerians may not know this, but the reason given for President Buhari not quickly naming his cabinet after being sworn in on May 29, 2015, which was that he was taking his time to choose who he wanted in the cabinet, was not exactly true. The real reason had to do with his health. After the experience of a rebellious Yar’Adua cabinet, Buhari and his handlers were wary of appointing a cabinet that could trigger section 144 if he suffers serious ill-health. So, they adopted a wait and see attitude to the whole thing. The idea was if he develops a serious problem with his health within that period of waiting, without a cabinet in place he can confidently go abroad for treatment and be sure the worst will not happen. But, having waited for six months without much trouble with his health, he was ultimately forced to appoint the cabinet in October 2015.


However, in June 2016, he faced the first test with his health. He proceeded on what the presidency said was a 10-day holiday, with a claim that he would be using the opportunity to treat an ear infection. At that point, no one had an issue with this because he did the constitutionally required thing, which was to transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he was unable to discharge the functions of his office for that moment because he was proceeding to London briefly for the stated purposes. There was no issue as to when he would return or whether he would return to his post because no one was thinking an ear infection would render him incapable of performing his duty as President. In fact, the three issues of controversy relating to the matter at the time were, one, the fact that he was seeking treatment abroad when he himself had said during the campaign that he was cracking down on medical tourism and the practice of public officials seeking medical treatment abroad; two, the fact that he was travelling to London for such a minor medical issue that Nigerian doctors could have handled easily at home and three, the cost to Nigerian citizens and taxpayers of such treatment.


Of course, knowing what we know now, it looks like the ear infection story was a cover for something worse. This is because before the President travelled out for that treatment, for weeks he confined himself to the Villa and on a number of occasions cancelled trips scheduled for outside the country and within. The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo represented him in some of them. For instance, the Vice-President represented him in Papua New Guinea where the 8th Summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States was held and at the 48th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which was held in Dakar, Senegal. We also recall that President Buhari had to cancel a well-advertised trip to Lagos to inaugurate some projects executed by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode despite the elaborate preparations made by the Lagos State Government and his party, the APC to receive him as the trip was billed as some kind of platform for re-engagement with the South-West wing of the party after some internal disagreements. However, the most high-profile miss on the domestic front was the fact that he did not attend the much-publicised flag-off of the implementation of the UNEP Report on the cleaning up of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know he was ill, we only knew he was holed up in the Villa. Nonetheless, he left for that trip on the 6th of June, 2016 and returned on the 19th of June, 2016. So, constitutionally, everything went well even though Nigerians who questioned his decision to go abroad for such supposedly minor medical issue or the amount spent had a right to do so.


But of all the trips President Buhari made for medical treatment abroad, the trickiest was the one he embarked on in January, 2017. It was obvious that his advisers and handlers were trying to navigate the law in a way to undermine it without breaching it outright. They had an eye on PSR 070316, which is a Public Service Rule that stipulates that the maximum aggregate sick leave which can be allowed an officer in public service who is not hospitalized, during any period of 12 months shall be 42 calendar days. In January 2017, they weren’t sure how long the President was going to be out hospitalized, so they decided to play the non-sick card, which, of course, was a lie. They told the nation that the President was going on a 10-day vacation. We recall that even though the President’s letter to the National Assembly stated the vacation was to start on the 23rd of January 2017, President Buhari was hurriedly evacuated abroad two days earlier on the 21st of January. This lent credence to rumours that this was not a vacation, but a medical-related evacuation. We all were witnesses to how presidential media managers, Femi Adesina and Mallam Shehu Garba and the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed mismanaged the information about President Buhari’s condition, which led them to even begin to publicly engage cantankerously with people over the issue. They kept saying President Buhari was in London on vacation and that he was not in any hospital and he was not ill, even though they had stated that during the vacation he would do some “routine medical check-up”. They insisted he would be back to work by the 1st of February, 2017.


Now, up to this point, President Buhari was still constitutionally in order, even though the lies about his condition were becoming increasingly untenable. In fact, most citizens were mainly concerned with how his spokespersons mishandled information surrounding his absence up to that point. However, shortly before the 1st of February, 2017, we were told that he would be extending his stay indefinitely because he had to wait for the results of certain medical tests conducted. We could see that they were still building up on the lies. Obviously, because they had lied that he was only on vacation and that he was only using that opportunity of the vacation to do some routine medical tests, it was natural to continue that lie by claiming now that his inability to meet up with the 1st February date was because he had to wait for the test results. Terrible story, but that was what they told Nigerians. That excuse was also deployed with an eye on PSR 070316.


In any case, we could see at that point that even if we had accepted their excuses for President Buhari extending his stay, the action he undertook under section 145 was no longer enough because we were now straying into medical reasons for his absence. Besides, the Constitution does not provide for the President being absent or being away indefinitely. I mean, one of the things the supporters of the President said at the time was that his situation was different from that of President Umaru Yar’Adua because Buhari transmitted the necessary letter handing over to the Acting President to the National Assembly, but what they were not saying was that they couldn’t continue to refer to the fact that he transmitted a letter as justification for staying away for that long on medical grounds. That letter was only useful where the President was expected back at his duty post shortly after. 


The President eventually returned on the 10th of March, 2017. it was obvious they couldn’t sustain the lies anymore because the President looked severely emaciated and disoriented in the little time the public saw him. More crucially, he himself spoke of how really sick he was, implying he had to take blood transfusions and so on, which altogether clearly pointed to some serious illness, even though he wasn’t disclosing what this was exactly. He then added ominously that he would soon be returning to the UK for further treatment. Meanwhile, between then and the 7th of May, 2017 when he returned to the UK, he was hardly seen in public or in office. His handlers said he was working from home. Indeed, the only times Nigerians saw him were when he was scrambled to attend the Aso Rock mosque on Friday, the 5th of May, the seventh anniversary of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s death (in order to quell the rumour that he was incapacitated) and when he received the girls freed from Boko Haram captivity on Sunday, the 7thof May, 2017. Even then, those watching him with the girls on television could see his condition was dire. A few hours after that he was once again evacuated to London. 


We can look back now and thank God President Buhari survived his illness to return to take over. He and his handlers learnt from the fiasco of the Umaru Yar’Adua situation by ensuring that at all times before leaving the country, the President triggered section 145, even where the reasons given were obvious lies. However, the Constitution expects that a patriotic citizen occupying the position of the President would know when to resign to go take care of his health because that is indeed a personal decision considering all the circumstances. That is the purpose of the constitutional provision for resignation in section 146 which stipulates resignation as one of the circumstances under which the Vice-President should take over as substantive President in order for there not to be a vacuum in government. But rather than take that opportunity, President Buhari and his handlers left the Vice-President in an acting, ineffectual capacity while the nation suffered unduly. They decided to ride it out, rather than give Nigerians the opportunity to move on from him. And it worked because, unlike Yar’Adua, he survived and finally returned to take back the wheel.


But what became obvious from these two episodes of serious presidential illnesses was the fact that presidents gravely sick who should be resigning or who should be made to resign by the operation of section 144 can game the system by simply making themselves unavailable in the country once they trigger the operation of section 145. This is because once the President is out of the country, the operation of section 144 becomes virtually impossible. First, no one would expect that a Vice-President or Acting President who would be the direct beneficiary of the President resigning or being removed would convene a meeting of the executive council of the Federation with the aim of removing his boss who is not around. Rather than that to be seen as anything constitutional, it would be interpreted as treason. Basically, it would be unseemly to preside over a meeting that he himself would be the beneficiary even if it would seem the proper thing to do to move the nation forward. Also, assuming we cross the bridge of the executive council of the Federation making the necessary declaration under section 144(1)(a), how would they go about activating the next step, which is the medical examination of the President when the President himself is not around to be medically examined?


So, while we thank God that President Buhari survived the illness to return to steer the affairs of state, we cannot ignore the damage his absence of over a hundred days away due to serious illness caused the nation. Indeed, there are those who put the blame for his lacklustre performance as President squarely at the foot of this illness. It is quite possible that if Nigerians in 2015 had known that he would take that much time out due to illness they would not have elected him.


That is why we need to critically look at this Tinubu case because it looks like we are walking straight into a pit again, and, this time, with our eyes wide open. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease. There is no cure and it doesn’t get better. It only progressively gets worse. The issue here is not about Tinubu’s age. There is no constitutional upper limit in terms of age to contest for the presidency. Tinubu, at least officially, is not older than Atiku Abubakar or Joe Biden. But the others do not have Parkinson’s or any degenerative disease that can hamper their performance as President. I wouldn’t want to guess what would happen between now and the election in February next year. I don’t want to guess what will happen when the presidential campaign kicks off in September. But, clearly, Tinubu is not a fit and proper person to be voted in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 


We are faced with so many challenges that require the full attention of a fit President to tackle. The All Progressives Congress (APC) delegates, for whatever reason, have closed their eyes and minds to the needs of the nation by choosing Tinubu as their presidential candidate. It’s their right. But it’s also the right of Nigerians to overwhelmingly reject Bola Tinubu in the general election purely because he is not fit to be President of Nigeria on the grounds of ill-health. Of course, Tinubu himself knows he is not fit, but he thinks his ambition is more important than our national needs. So, we Nigerians should tell him to go take care of his health in as emphatic a manner as possible. It’s in our hands now.




*Kennedy Emetulu is a Nigerian commentator on national and international affairs