London: Our elders have taught us that a toad does not run in broad daylight unless something is after its precious life. But a 68-year old man competed with airplanes on a tarmac in a hot afternoon when nobody was pursuing him.
In June 2012, the sitting President of the Republic of Ghana, Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills, turned the tarmac of the Kotoka International Airport into a jogging ground. In his suit and tie, the frail-looking president reminisced his days as an athlete with a pang of nostalgia. With a huge crowd of cheering party spectators, he trotted on the tarmac. The reason?
He wanted to prove a point.
He was fitter than the fittest fiddle for the 2012 election, which was five months away.
Unfortunately, he died the following month, on July 24, 2012.
Nearly six years afterward, another man is taking a walk in the streets of London. This man is the Vice-President of Ghana, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia. That walk was captured in an amateur video, which has been shared on WhatsApp with the same kind of zeal people share leaked sex tapes.
In that video, there is a song which is loud but not audible:
Me tease o
Menwuu yɛ o
Me tease o
Menbubuu yɛ o
Onyame n’adom nti memwuu yɛ o
Honhom kronkon adaworoma nti
Menbubuu yɛ o!
[I’m a live. I’m not dead. I’m alive. I’m not dead. By the grace of God, I’m not dead or paralysed].
Frightening rumours have been rife since the Office of the President released a statement on the Vice-President’s ill health. The following day, another statement purporting to be from the Office of the President flooded social media to the effect that the Vice-President had been flown to London for further treatment.
The Head of Communications at the Office of the President issued a disclaimer, describing that statement as fake. But the dust of controversy did not settle before yet another a statement signed by the Chief of Staff confirmed the content of the “fake statement.” The Vice-President was in the United Kingdom for a medical leave.
Bawumia walks on the street of London
But are there not good medical doctors in Ghana to treat him? The Information Minister, Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, explained that it was for a special reason, in addition to the healthcare that necessitated Dr. Bawumia’s trip to the UK.
The man needed some time to rest, he explained. And he could not get that privacy in Ghana once his illness had been announced to the whole nation. A delegation of visitors from Wa to Walewale, Bole to Bolga, Keta to Kete-Krachi and Kumundi to Kumasi would line up outside his house to greet him. Islamic clerics would line up to recite the Quran while tongue-speaking pastors would take turns to pray for him.
Fake Malams and so-called men of God would take turns to explain to Dr. Bawumia why he was sick and who in the party, opposition, or his family was “doing him.” Traditional priests from Gambaga would want the opportunity to remind him that his great paternal granduncle was not buried well and his ancestors had rejected him. His tears were responsible for the Vice-President’s sickness and the cow had to be sacrificed.
Ministers, deputy ministers, district chief executives and heads of institutions would not be left out. National, regional, constituency and polling station executives of the party would want him to know how much they cared for him. The main opposition party and the smaller parties would want him to know that they care. And the media would pitch camp outside his home to report on the kinds of insects and birds that fly above the house and whether it portended good or ill omen. So, in essence, Mustapha Hamid’s second reason made a lot of sense.
But couldn’t he have been taken to Peduase Lodge or somewhere discreet to be attended by a team of doctors while he rested? Like Aquah Safari in Ada or Zaina Lodge in the middle of the Mole National Park?
The Majority Leader, Osei Kye Mensah-Bonsu, gave the most honest opinion on why the Vice President had to fly out. According to him, our hospitals did not have the best equipment needed for healthcare. He said there was a time parliamentarians were to do some medical examination of a sort. And some of the samples were flown to South Africa for testing. So why should they keep the man here when he could be close to the source?
And it didn’t start with Dr. Bawumia. President Mills returned from the US before his death. Former Health Minister, Major (Rtd) Courage Quashigah, died in a medical facility in Israel. Former Finance Minister, Kwadwo Baah Wiredu, died in South Africa while receiving treatment.
Our politicians and leaders go outside because our hospitals are a mess. Hundreds of trained medical doctors are currently at home while many hospitals and health facilities have inadequate or no medical doctors. There is a tussle over how the University of Ghana Medical Centre should be managed. Common sense ought to teach the Ministry of Health that if the facility is managed by the ministry or the government, it will mess up like Korle-Bu. Our leaders will not fix our problems when they are not affected by those problems. It’s an African thing.
This month, Uganda bought its only radiotherapy machine for the treatment of cancers. The previous machine, which the country had in the past broke down in April 2016, after 21 years in operation.
“Globally, in the best-case scenario, for every 250,000 people you should have one radiotherapy machine,” says Dr Jackson Orem, a senior oncologist and director of the Uganda Cancer Institute, told the BBC.
Uganda has a population of 40 million. And Yoweri Museveni and his ministers will not care because if they fall ill, they will travel abroad for treatment.
We were talking about Dr. Bawumia’s walk in London, weren’t we?
I had kept in touch with someone close to the second family and anytime I asked, the response was, “Oh he is doing very well.” On Friday night, however, I was alarmed. A journalist I trust so much said credible information from a top member of the NPP said Dr. Bawumia had been paralysed. I almost believed him until Dr. Bawumia’s video and photos came up. For me it was timely and helpful.
After the authenticity of the photos and video could not be questioned, attention moved to other angles. Critics said his security was compromised. How could a whole vice President walk without a security escort?
Someone on a WhatsApp platform swore the man could hardly walk so Samira had to prop him up. Others asked whether it was necessary at all for him to have done that. Media and communication experts propounded theories of how government communication had been undermined by the release of those videos. Why was there no official communication instead of a social media video?
Irrespective of what the concerns were, two things stood out. The video was very important to calm the nerves of those who love the Vice-President. It laid to rest their fears and cured the mischief that the malicious propaganda sought to spread.
For another group of people, however, those photographs and video were tormenting to watch. For them, their hearts would have been gladdened to see Dr. Bawumia return in a wheelchair or in a casket draped in national colours. That’s what politics has done to our humanity.
We do not know whether Dr. Bawumia would jog on the tarmac, or he will walk from Kotoka to Kanda to prove he is really fit. But two issues should be important at this moment.
The first thing is to fix our messy healthcare system. What is good for the politician is also good for the man or woman who voted for that politician.
Second, those who like to do politics with the health of a fellow Ghanaian must be suffering a different kind of sickness that even Bawumia’s doctors will struggle to diagnose. Nobody can beat their chest and say they will be alive tomorrow because they are so healthy. We have examples of footballers who collapsed and died while playing. Politicians are not super humans.
Finally, the President and the Vice-President should make time to rest. Not long after the swearing in of President Akufo-Addo, I became alarmed at the number of official events he was attending each week, from Monday to Sunday. I remember once telling Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko to tell the President’s handlers to slow down because it could be detrimental to his health, especially at his age. There is a lot of mental and emotional fatigue with such jobs and adding physical stress to it could be deadly.
I am not a medical doctor, but I know the harm stress can do. Last year, there was a time felt I was breaking down and suspected it was malaria. My wife advised against taking any malaria drug until I had tested. I tested negative for malaria but I doubted the test. But the pharmacist asked whether I had been doing stressful work within the period. When I said yes, he asked me to find time and rest. I reluctantly took his advice.
Fortunately, I was not working that weekend so I slept a lot. Amazingly, I recovered without taking any medicine.
The president and his vice should hire the right people and fire them if they cannot work to their satisfaction. This will save them the stress of having to do things their appointees should be doing. Ghana needs them, alive and healthy. And their families need them even more. They should always remember that the very day President Atta-Mills died, Ghana got a new president. And life did not stop.
A word to the wise, our wise elders say, does not need emphasis.