Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the president, Femi Adesina, spoke to Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, concerning the ongoing debate over President Muhammadu Buhari’s health and the delay in reuniting released Chibok school girls with their families. Excerpts:
Is there any possibility that Nigerians will be told the actual health status of President Buhari?
It is only the president himself that can declare that. And when he came back from London on March 10, he said it that he had never been that sick in his life. That is a declaration of his health status.
There are demands that he should go the whole hog and talk about his actual ailment…
It is within his prerogative to do that. Nobody can do it for him. Not even the doctors treating him can do it for him. Under the Hippocratic Oath, nobody can do it except the patient. Nobody. Under the Hippocratic Oath, it says that even the doctor has no right to reveal the health status of his patient to anybody. So, it’s only Mr President that can say what exactly is wrong with him.
Don’t forget that in June last year, he went abroad to treat an ear problem. That ear problem had first been treated here in Nigeria and then, when he was going on vacation, he used that opportunity to also consult specialists in London. When he came back, he told the country that this was what was wrong with him. So, the prerogative is his own to disclose and if he wants to disclose, he will. But nobody should be asking him to do it. That would be an infringement on his right.
But how does he perceive the suspense his non-disclosure is putting Nigerians through?
Nobody should be in suspense in the real sense of the word. It’s like they say, you don’t have to use Panadol for another person’s headache. If anybody has put himself in suspense, he’s just doing it for himself because it’s not necessary. The law does not compel a president to reveal what is wrong with him. It does not.
The freed Chibok girls, when will they go home?
That question is not due yet. It’s not time for that question. Yes, no doubt they will go home because nobody can keep them forever. But now that they have just come, it is the responsibility of government to ensure that that are rehabilitated-spiritual rehabilitation, physical, mental, sociological, medical, all kinds rehabilitation. They need to be prepared for life in society again, having been in captivity for over three years. If government does not do it, the same people who are agitating that they should go home, will turn round and blame government of being reneged in its responsibility. So, government is doing what it should do for its citizens by ensuring that those girls are kept together in a safe location and given wholistic rehabilitation.
The president, while he was receiving them on Sunday, said going back to school is a priority, that they must finish their education. So, they must be assisted to return to school. Before returning to the larger society, there are other kinds of rehabilitation that should be done. And it is after all that is done that the question you have asked will become due for asking. But it does not mean that their parents will not see them in all that time. No. Parents and families will see them; in fact, those that returned last October, remember they spent Christmas with their families. So, that is the situation. Their people will have access to them, but government also will fulfill its obligations and responsibilities to them for some time to come before they are released to go back to the society.
October is a long time when the first 21 were released and, like you said, they were able to spend Christmas with their families. But why are they still being kept away from their families by government?
It depends on the programme of rehabilitation. I wish you would meet those in charge of rehabilitation so that they show you the programme. It’s when we know the programme of rehabilitation that we will know the time they are due to finally be with their families. And I can tell you this; even a lot of the families, Chibok parents, are glad. Parents of the 21 that came in October, they are glad that their daughters are going through this rehabilitation. A number of them have expressed delight and appreciation to government that government is taking them through this process of rehabilitation. So, I doubt if any of the parents is complaining. The parents are not complaining. They are even thankful to government.
Who is in charge of this rehabilitation? Where are the girls being held?
It’s between security and Women Affairs Ministry. So, it is between the office of the NSA (National Security Services), the office of the DG DSS (Department of State Security) and the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.
In essence, what you are saying is that there is no hidden agenda; government is not holding them because it does not want the truth to be told.
That to me will be most ridiculous, unthinkable. Why would the government want to hide them? Government is just fulfilling its responsibility towards them.
President Buhari said the release of the girls is a good anniversary gift. Could it have therefore been timed to coincide with the anniversary?
Anytime is a good time for somebody who has been in captivity to regain freedom. Anytime. He who feels it knows it. It is those who have been in captivity for over three years that can know the joy and happiness of liberty which they have now. So, you don’t begin to trifle with things like that. You don’t begin to play politics with things like that. If government of the past played politics with Chibok girls, this government will not.
Some people believe that the Boko Haram commanders released in exchange for the girls are too dangerous to be let back into the society. What’s the motivation of government in doing this?
Don’t forget that the president has always said he would bend over backwards to get the Chibok girls. Bending over backwards means doing a prisoners’ swap and that is what has been done. The president even said at a point that if it means paying, ‘I will pay.’ So, that shows you the extent to which the president is ready to get the girls back. And if some prisoners’ swap had to be done to get 82 girls, I think it’s well worth it. All over the world, prisoners’ swaps are done.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to add, as the president said in the statement we issued when he was traveling, to thank Nigerians who have shown understanding; to thank those who are praying’ to thank men and women of goodwill; to thank all those who are desiring to see the president hale and hearty, healthy and strong and doing the good work for which he has been elected. I want to thank them and I want to believe God that God will answer all the prayers being said for the president and the president will bounce back to full health and fulfill the purpose for which God had brought him up to lead this country and the purpose for which Nigerians have elected him will also be fulfilled.