Op ed

Had Mandela Been Nigerian…

Nelson MandelaNELSON Mandela Rolihlahla Mandela, much loved 94-year-old icon of the anti-apartheid struggle is in the news again over his health.

The world wants to see him back on his feet again. We wish him a quick recovery while we ponder what would have happened if he had been a Nigerian leader, former or present.

At his age, rumours of his death have become routine. Two years ago, the South African government was castigated for concealing his illness for as long as it thought necessary. Criticisms about the media gag could have forced government to finally issue a statement.

It detailed the patient’s progress, respecting his privacy, but allayed public fears about the state of the former South African President, who has distinguished himself with his care for humanity. Worries about his health are global, with millions of internet users searching the web for the latest information on Mandela.

Mandela’s medical treatment in South Africa raises important points in the light of the secrecy of our governments, the penchant of government officials for medical facilities abroad, and the consistently deplorable state of our health services. Are Nigerians told about ailing public officials who are flown abroad at public expense?

Why do our officials neglect our health facilities and government officials only visit them at commissioning or to commiserate with victims of major emergencies? How would our health system work when those who supervise it do not use it?

Mandela would not be flown to any foreign hospital. He had series of tests in South Africa, under the guidance of “The Defence Force which is responsible for all medical requirements and care of current and retired presidents,” according to a government statement, issued when he was ill in January 2011. Nothing has changed. He is still being treated in South Africa under the watch of the Defence Force.

How do our leaders, past and present feel, when they read these lines that indict their parochial policies? Do they realise the security implications of their medical treatment abroad?

Concerns over Mandela reflect global adoration for a man who gave so much to free South Africa from apartheid. Mandela was jailed for 27 years for plotting an armed struggle against South Africa’s whites-only government. His release facilitated processes that ended apartheid and the first all race elections which the African National Congress won in 1994 and Mandela became President. He voluntarily stepped down in 1999.

Nigerian leaders should have cause to worry about Nigeria. They are not building a country that will adore them as it adores Mandela, nor one with facilities that can treat its leaders even if they suffer something as minor as a headache.

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