Opinion: Buhari, Medical Tourism and Chronicle of Sick Presidents


By Eniola Akinkuotu

Out of the 45 men who served as Presidents in the United States, at least 12 had different forms of illnesses which sometimes affected their performances in office. Three Presidents (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and Warren Harding) died of poor health. Woodrow Wilson who ruled during the First World War suffered a stroke and for two years, his wife, Edith, was running the government from behind the scenes. It was so bad that Wilson’s cabinet members had no access to him. His wife was the go-between. Dwight Eisenhower who was also President in the 1950s, suffered a heart attack and later a stroke and could not speak for weeks.

Perhaps the worst was Franklin Roosevelt who remains the longest serving President in US history (12 years in office). He was wheelchair-bound and he led America through the Great Depression which remains the nation’s worst recession ever. He is regarded as the greatest President since Abraham Lincoln. Roosevelt as a cripple never appeared in public but his radio broadcasts were so inspiring that after the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, the highest number of American youths willingly joined the army. Roosevelt led America through the Second World War but died in office towards the end. During the World War 2, Roosevelt begged the American media not to publish photos of him on a wheelchair because the USA needed to project strength to other nations during the World War and the media shared this spirit of patriotism and obliged him.

Many other Presidents: Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Grover Cleveland also suffered ill health. Surprisingly, however, none of these Presidents ever travelled abroad for treatment. Even William Henry Harrison, who was the first US President to die in office having ruled for about 31 days (March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841), did not travel abroad for treatment.

Personally, I feel President Buhari has done well by handing over power to his deputy as required by law. Legally, there is no vacuum and he cannot be demonised for being ill. The part that I don’t agree with is his perpetual stay in London. Worse still, the Presidency has even admitted that over £1,000 (N480,000) is spent daily to keep the private jet on the ground. Also, huge sums of money have been spent on the President’s health and other sundry expenses which stands to benefit only the UK Government. The sad aspect is that all former Nigerian Presidents also receive treatment abroad. Former heads of state: Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari and Ibrahim Babangida also receive treatment in the UK and Germany. This implies that even if Buhari were to resign today, the government would continue to foot his medical bills in London. So, what is needed is for a law to be passed such that the government cannot sponsor medical tourism. If such a law is passed, the government would be forced to improve the public health sector or at least encourage foreign investments in private hospitals.

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