Bola Tinubu Sick?: Nigeria's History of Ailing Presidents
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Politics - March 23, 2023

Bola Tinubu Sick?: Nigeria’s History of Ailing Presidents

The health status of President-Elect, Bola Tinubu has always been an issue of national discourse. This is because of the country’s long history of ailing presidents. His recent trip further heightens the fear of Nigerians who voted for his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi, because of his health. 

While reports suggest that Tinubu fell ill after the hectic electioneering that led to his emergence as President-elect, the spokesperson for the All Progressive Congress Presidential Campaign, Festus Keyamo claims Tinubu was not sick, but went abroad for treatment. Keyamo who dismissed reports that Tinubu was rushed to Paris for urgent medical attention, said, “They should leave Asiwaju alone. He deserves some rest after the election.”

Tinubu has been in and out of the country for several medical trips. He confirmed in October 2022, that he underwent surgery on his right knee. His health challenges continue to raise concerns about the stability and continuity of leadership in Nigeria when he assumes office. As we look at this, the question that comes to mind is, will Tinubu be the first sick president to take office? The answer is No. Let’s examine some of the nation’s ailing presidents.

Nigeria has had a number of presidents who have faced health challenges while in office, leading to concerns about the stability and continuity of leadership in the country. Some of the notable instances include:

Olusegun Obasanjo (Diabetes)

President Olusegun Obasanjo governed Nigeria from 1999-2007.  He was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and held the country together against coups and secessionist movements. Obasanjo was very active in governance despite his health condition.

In 2021, he revealed that he had been battling with a deadly sickness, diabetes for over 35 years. Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Ogun State Diabetes Youth Development Camp, Obasanjo said many of his friends had been killed because they were unable to manage the disease.

He said, “Since I was diagnosed with diabetes, a number of my friends have died and the reason is that they just did not manage their diabetes the way they should manage it. It does not matter whether you are type one or type two, so far there is no cure for diabetes, maybe there will be a cure before I die, but I pray that there will be a cure before you die.”

Obasanjo who properly managed his health during his tenure in office noted that he took his drugs along with him every time and prioritised regular blood sugar checks. 

President Umar Y’Adua (lung cancer, Strauss Syndrome, Kidney, pericarditis)

President Umar Yar’Adua, sworn into office on 29 May 2007 suffered from a kidney condition. He was also flown outside the country to receive treatment for pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium, the fibrous sac surrounding the heart) in 2009. Reports suggest that a deadly combination of lung cancers and the auto-immune disease, Churg Strauss Syndrome killed the president who died in office. 

Yar’Adua’s numerous medical trips created a power vacuum which was reportedly usurped by a cabal. After waiting for his return the Supreme Court of Nigeria on 22 January 2010 ruled that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had fourteen days to decide a resolution on whether Yar’Adua was “incapable of discharging the functions of his office”. After the ruling, the Senate controversially used the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer Presidential Powers to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and declared him Acting President.

Goodluck Jonathan (Undisclosed)

President Goodluck Jonathan who became Nigeria’s president after Yar’Adua’s death faced his own health challenges while in office. In 2013, he received medical treatment for an undisclosed ailment in London. Although the nature of the illness was not made known to Nigerians, Jonathan was examined by medical practitioners in London.

President Muhammadu Buhari (Prostate cancer)

President Muhammadu Buhari took office in 2015 and has been named the sick president because of his frequent international trips. Data analysis suggests that Buhari could be suffering from a combination of prostate cancer, sickle cell anaemia, Crohn’s disease and dementia. The report which examined a couple of issues revealed that Buhari was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. It also noted that these diseases are related, adding that the President’s incoherency and confusion could be due to the effect of a common treatment (ADT) for prostate cancer. 

Being sick is not a disability, however, Nigerians know that governance must be handled by an individual who is fit enough to pilot the nation to its promised land.

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