Given the arduous demands of the Office of the President and governors, and the action instituted before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, by a human rights group, Centre for Good Governance demanding to know the health status of President Muhammadu Buhari, health experts say medical reports should be made pre-requisites for candidates seeking political offices.
According to them, this would spare the country the misfortune of being saddled with leaders whose medical challenges adversely affect their performance.
American President, Donald Trump, Friday, had his annual medical examination at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, a year after his doctor advised him to up his exercise regimen and slash calories.
According to AP, Trump spent more than four hours for a checkup, which was supervised by his physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, and involved a panel of 11 specialists.
“I am happy to announce the President of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s physician wrote afterward.
Modern day presidents have undergone regular examinations in order to trap any potential problems on the way, as well as assure the public that they are fit for office. But Buhari spent over 100 days in London treating a medical condition that is still unknown to Nigerians till date.
“Without a doubt, the demands of political leadership, especially the office of the President of any nation requires that the holder of such office should be in sound state of health,” the President, Nigeria Medical Association, (NMA), Francis Faduyile told The Guardian, adding: “The school of thought that has been clamoring for this the world over premised their argument on the incidences of ill health that prevented occupiers of such offices from being able to discharge the attached duties and responsibilities, and with deaths in some instances from conditions that were previously known.
“It is a fact that certain health conditions may become aggravated by stress and exertion, which may come with electioneering campaigns and the demands of the office of the President. The public declaration of the state of health or the knowledge of it, will guide the electorate in making informed decisions about the candidates, especially in developed democracy. It is also considered as part of accountability process (as an intending high ranking public officer).
“As laudable as the ideology may seem, it is pertinent to note that extant rules and laws do not stipulate that an aspiring candidate for political office, President inclusive, must undergo thorough medical examination. Not even mandatory by law for the President of the country. Fundamental human right is also a key issue in terms of disclosure of health status by the candidates,” the NMA boss said.
He, however, described as exemplary and worthy of emulation, Trump’s submission to medical examination saying: “This certainly comes with public trust and will clear or affirm any form of doubt. Though this has been a common practice for presidential candidates and presidents in the U.S., it must be mentioned that it appears more like a conventional issues and not binding by law.”
A former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Olumide Akintayo said: “As far as I know and understand, the only basis to declare a healthy state is to wake up and be fit enough to carry on with daily chores without hindrance in our country… It makes sense to ascertain the medical status or fitness levels of all cadres of public officers from the Presidency to chairmanship of local councils.
“The inherent benefits are too obvious because a stable public officer has better grounds for an impactful output compared to a sick one who is subsumed or vulnerable to a cycle of failure. Within the context of our existing constitutional framework, I am not too sure there are limitations or hindrances.
“It would therefore be nice to insist this becomes a condition precedent, albeit constitutionally in the foreseeable future. I do also imagine such positive clauses will not become tools for political witch-hunt.”
Dr. Otefe Edebi, a consultant psychiatrist and psychologist is of the view that the mental fitness status of every citizen is very crucial, as it is instrumental to the attainment of full potentials, and positive contribution to the society.
“It is not just the presence or absence of psychological disorder that determines whether a person is mentally fit,” he said adding that having mental health issues should not stop a person from vying for any pubic office, as far as such conditions can be managed well enough to allow the person function properly.
He added: “If every organisation is not excluded from medical assessments, public office holders should also undergo mental health evaluation, which is beyond just looking for sickness. It is important to look into one’s mental health status before vying for a position in order to establish the candidates’ capability to hold such office.”
And for consultant ophthalmologist, Dr. Adegboyega Alabi, since it is a pre-requisite for individuals to undergo medical scrutiny before being offered admission into schools or job placements, public office holders should also subject themselves to such.
While stressing the importance of the eye to humans in whatever profession that they are into, he said Trump should serve as an example to all.
He said the country should put a clause on the mandatory evaluation of the health status for everyone vying for political office in order to “ascertain that they are fit to handle the challenge of their offices.
He cautioned against being denied opportunity to serve saying, “If a person is diabetic or hypertensive, it does not mean that the person cannot run for an elective position or given employment. The purpose of medical check is for a person to know his health status so that he/she can manage those conditions properly.”
A Consultant Cardiologist, Dr. Emeka Okocha, who spoke on the need to maintain a healthy heart and by extension a healthy body said: “The Presidency is number one job in the country. Anyone vying for that office needs to be very fit and be able to do their medical check ups routinely in order to ensure good health because it is very important for our leaders to be healthy.
“If those aspiring for the Presidency are not mentally fit, they can make a lot of mistakes. Remember the number one citizen is fed with a lot of information by various bodies and he/she has to take decisions on those information, so if that particular office holder is not mentally fit to take a decision, that is very bad for the country.”
Another consultant opthalmologist and the First Vice Chairman, NMA Lagos branch, Dr. Adetunji Adenekan said: “It is an important thing for every human being to check their health, especially when they know that they have a lot of responsibilities ahead of them, which can be time and energy consuming and also demanding to their health.”
While maintaining that medical reports should be a pre-requisite for people going into public offices,” he warned, “declaring your health status should not be a stigma for anyone, but an avenue where they can be helped. I don’t agree with those that are saying a person that has a particular health condition cannot hold an office, either in private or public service.
“In other words, if a medical expert has not confirmed that a person is not fit for a particular job, such a person should not be stigmatised or denied the opportunity to work. This is because such a person can have the capacity to run that office.”
He, however, maintained that “subjecting oneself for medical check up before vying for a public office should be mandatory because for people to get employment or gain admission to institutions, they are also required to undergo medical check up to ascertain their fitness.”
According to the Medical Director, Charis-Med Hospital, Dr. Olajide Jinaudu, “It is a common saying that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. So being a president comes with serious responsibilities and it is indeed a Herculean task.”
He added that to function effectively as president, the occupant of such office must have sound health. “The state of his heart, kidneys and liver are very important. It is very important to carry out test like Cardiac Assessments (ECG, Cholesterol Profile, BMI, Echocardiography), Renal Assessments (Serum Electrolyte, Urea and Creatinine, Abdominal Ultrasound, and Urinalysis), Liver Function Test and Abdominal Ultrasound Scan.
“It should be made clear that the essence of these tests is not to pry or intrude into the would-be president’s private life, but to ensure that he/she is fit for the task ahead. It is also important for us to dwell more on the preventive side of medicine, not the curative part.”
For Esta Morenikeji, a fitness instructor and founder Zone Fitness NG, since the office of the president is the most high-pressure office in the country, serving there could amount to carrying the weight of the whole country on one’s shoulders. Therefore, whoever occupies that office must be physically fit.
“It’s no longer news that exercise has numerous health benefits. Regular exercise protects the heart and blood vessels from cardiovascular diseases; reduces one’s risk of diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases. It also improves cognitive performance and reduces stress.”
“So, as we head to the poll to elect our next president, the physical fitness of the presidential candidates should be one of the factors that influence our choice of president. If someone cannot climb the stairs without stopping to catch his/her breath, that person isn’t fit to carry the weight of the nation on his/her shoulders. If the body is unfit and sick, it will definitely affect the president’s performance. At this stage in our national life, we need a president who’s fit to lead.”
On her part, a Senior Registrar, Department of Community Health, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Odusolu Yetunde emphasised the need for presidential candidates to be medically fit before coming into power as work pressure would definitely have a telling effect on their health, especially if they did not know not their health status.
She said: “Health as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a state of physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Thus, medical checkup ensures that the individual is made to know or be aware of his or her state of health.
This medical checkup is done by a certified physician on an individual through general and systemic examinations, as well as the use of diagnostic tests, which help the clinician to arrive at a diagnosis of the state of well-being of the individual.
Some of these diagnostic tests may involve taking of specimens from the individual such as blood, sputum, urine, stool etc. While some involve the use of instruments/ devices/machine on different parts of the body such as xray, CT scan, MRI, endoscope etc.
She said; “For a would-be leader aspiring to the highest office in the land, it is of paramount interest to ensure that the leader is fit and healthy… An astute leader should ensure that medical checkup is done regularly to ensure soundness and fitness, which is needed to handle the affairs of the state. A leader who does not do medical checkup and abide by the advise and counsel of the physician risk to jeopardise his or her health, which in the long run can affect the governance of the state or nation as the case may be.”