In light of the speculations over the extent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill health, the Nigerian Bar Association, Christian Association of Nigeria, Trade Union Congress, socio-cultural groups, health sector unions and some prominent Nigerians have called on the National Assembly to amend the constitution to mandate public office holders to make their health status public.
The groups said such an amendment would be in the best interest of Nigeria considering its experience with former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who left a vacuum in government while receiving medical treatment abroad.
The Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ilorin branch, Mr. Issa Manzuma, said the President, Vice President and other public officials should be mandated by the constitution to make their health status public.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital on Friday, Manzuma said in advanced countries, public office holders are made to disclose their health status.
He said, “The President is the first public officer of the nation, so it will be right for him to make his health status public and for other public office holders to also make theirs public. There should be nothing secret about the health status of public officers, especially the President.
“It is only in the third world countries where the health status of the President and other public officers is made secret. It is not like that in advanced countries. When their leaders are undergoing operations for certain ailments, the information will be in the open.”
His counterpart in the NBA, Ikeja branch, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, said, “It is a reasonable thing for citizens to demand to know and make it a point of electoral decision. Why will I vote for a man who is not fit to carry the burden of a particular office? And we are talking about the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To occupy such an office, it takes someone who is very strong physically, mentally and emotionally.
“Personally, I support the call to have an amendment that will mandate public office holders to disclose their health status but whether the politicians will not make a fool of such an initiative is a different case.”
Also, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the constitution should be amended to compel all public office contestants to undergo “compulsory” medical examinations and submit the reports to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
He said, “Under the Freedom of Information Act, President Buhari cannot be compelled to disclose his health status. The constitution has, however, imposed a duty on the Federal Executive Council to ask the President to resign on medical ground if he is unable to discharge the functions of his office on account of infirmity of mind or body.
“As the cabinet members will always be reluctant to ask the President to step down, the constitution should be amended to compel all contestants to undergo a compulsory medical examination and submit the report to the INEC.”
Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Christian Association of Nigeria, Kwamkur Samuel, while calling for constitutional amendment, said the health status of public office holders should not be hidden from the public.
He said, “I will advise that in the process of amending the constitution, the National Assembly should consider an amendment that will prevent our leaders hiding any medical challenges which may not make them perform their functions effectively.
“Any medical challenge that will prevent a public officer from performing his function should be checked because they are going there for a rigorous assignment and not pleasure. If you have any medical challenge that will make you not to perform your function effectively, you should let the public know. There should be a law that will prevent public office holders from keeping their health status a secret.”
“Why not (have such a law) if it is the global practice, but which health institution will verify the health status if it is faked by the politician?,” President, Trade Union Congress, Mr. Bobboi Bala Kaigama, said, while expressing doubt that Nigerian politicians would be truthful with the process.
The Coordinator, Federation of Middle-belt Group, Mr. Manasseh Watyil, also called on the National Assembly to amend the constitution to make it mandatory for the President and other public office holders to declare their health status publicly. “If the constitution is amended in this regard, it would be better for Nigerians. It would help us to avoid falling into the same crisis over and over again,” he said.
The President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, noted that it was wrong to continue to allow the poor health of Nigerian leaders hold its citizens hostage.
He said, “Honestly, I don’t think it is right for one person to hold the lives of about 180 million Nigerians hostage because of his poor health. Before the election or appointment of public office holders, especially that of the President, their health status should be disclosed publicly.
“If someone wants to join the civil service or a company, such a person would normally be made to go for medical examination and disclose their health status to the government or the company. So why don’t we do that for someone who is going to manage the affairs of about 180 million Nigerians?”
The Ijaw Youth Council is also in support of the constitution’s amendment to order public office holders to disclose their health status to Nigerians.
Its spokesperson, Eric Omare, said, “The health status of public officers, especially that of the President, Vice President and governors, should be among the qualifications considered before election.”
The National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Mike Ogirima, said Nigeria’s democracy had reached a level where the constitution should make it mandatory for persons seeking political office to declare their health status. He noted that having the sound health to run a public office goes beyond physical well being.
He said, “Anybody aspiring to any public office should be physically, mentally and even spiritually fit. A good state of health is not just the absence of disease or mere physical incapacitation, it goes beyond that and that is why people should know.
“As of now, it is not in the constitution that public office holders should declare their health status before they occupy that position. But I think, as our democracy has evolved, we are getting to that point where it should be part of the law and the country would benefit from it.”
Also, the National President, National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr. John Onyebueze, chided the Senate for allegedly throwing away a bill that would have set up the office of the Surgeon General or Chief Medical Officer of the federation, which would assess the health status of any political office holder and give authoritative statements on their health status.
He said, “ I’m disappointed in the National Assembly, especially the Senate for throwing away the bill, because of their selfish interest; knowing that if there is such office, they would be called upon to carry out medical check-up.
“So, there should be an act to establish that office, making it mandatory for people seeking political office to declare their health status, so as to prevent this shade of darkness that usually looms anytime we have mystery concerning the health condition of our President.”
National President, Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals and National Vice Chairman, Joint Health Sector Unions, Dr. Obinna Ogbonnna, said, “If you are to serve, people should be able to determine your fitness level. If you are not physically fit, you will not be able to discharge your duties. So we should not put people who are indolent or inactive in offices to run our affairs.”
A former lawmaker in the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said once elected into office, the President and other public office holders should be made to undergo comprehensive medical check-ups and their health records given to select officers in the government for future reference.
Founder of the Medical Art Centre, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, said there was the need for a “clause in the constitution that would mandate the declaration of the health status” of the President and other high ranking political office holders in the country.
Get real time update about this post categories directly on your device, subscribe now.