Breeze Reporters

A Second Term For An Aging President?

President Muhammadu Buhari had notified the nation he will be seeking re-election in 2019. If nothing untoward happens, the All Progressives Congress (APC) would look no further for a presidential candidate in 2019; they now have one in Muhammadu Buhari.

On one hand, the declaration is exciting his base and sycophants. Wild jubilation greeted the news on the streets of Kano, Nasarawa, Katsina, and the government houses in Imo and Adamawa.

On the other hand, unfazed detractors of the president like Ayo Fayose and Fani Kayode, playing the long script of their party, of course, have quickly lampooned the president’s second term announcement.

Let us plainly note that the president by virtue of provisions in our Constitution is at liberty to seek re-election for another four years. By seeking another term, therefore, the president is breaking no law. Noted?

But when you remove the constitutional gymnastics from the discussion, the remaining big issue will become the president’s health and age. The president is not only advanced in age, he is also known to have certain undisclosed health challenge. This president was out of the country for about 104 days for medical leave. In fact, he’s still under doctor’s guidance by his own account.

Anyways, sickness is not a respecter of age. So, I will not count this against him. Nonetheless, the distressing biological realities of old age is not something you can dismiss. By December 2019, the president will be 77-years. His energy is sapped; and his body and mind weakened. Even the abnormally competent Late Lee Kuan Yew didn’t perform at his best at this age.

People think that with old age is wisdom and experience. Not anymore.The advent of communication technology had demoted that argument. Old age no longer has exclusive hold on wisdom and experience. In fact, the older you are today, the more ignorant and misaligned you probably are in the workings of the 21st century.

A biological challenge for old age is lost of memory and declining capacity to think deeply. As people get older, not only do they become weak physically, but the capacity of their brains to think astutely and make critically balanced decisions increasingly declines.

According to medical experts, our memory and brain begins to shrink as we grow older, starting from as early as age 30. In their widely cited 2003 study, “Patterns of Functional Decline at the End of Life” Lunney, Lynn, Foley, Lipson, and Guralnik argued that as people grow old, their physical strength and cognitive abilities declines, especially as they approaches dying. The word “frailty” is very popular in articles and books on aging.

In his fascinating book, “Being Mortal” Atul Gawande made a similar anecdotal point, citing the case of Felix Silverstone, a 80-years old gentrician who himself had written extensively on aging. “I can’t think as clearly as I used to,” the gentrician complained to Gawande. “I used to be able to read the New York Times in half an hour. Now it takes me an hour and a half,” he continued. “Even then,” as Gawande pointed out in the book, “he wasn’t sure that he understood as much as he did before, and his memory gave him trouble.”

Buhari was never known as the scholarly nor technocratic type. And now that he’s old, it will be even more difficult for him to grasp or engage his aids in a constructive debate about technical economic memo or report.

What’s more, aging do not only leads to weight loss, or hair loss, or memory loss, it also makes people lose their social skills and they become increasingly closed-minded. An argument made by Gawande in his book deserves quoting at length: “Most reduce the amount of time and effort they spend pursuing achievement and social networks. They narrow in….Studies find that as people grow older they interact with fewer people and concentrate more on spending time with family and established friends. They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future.”

Apparently, the president entrusting key decisions to a clique of “kitchen cabinet” made up mostly of longtime friends, associates and a uncle is a failure of old age. His naive, disconcerting wish at the beginning of the administration that only trusted friends and close associates appointed into headship of parastatals and agencies wasn’t pragmatism but a telltale sign of biological weakness brought about by old age too. His slow and uninspiring leadership is rooted in old age (when he was a young military head of state, he confronted issues quickly and forcefully).

If president Buhari wins reelection (which, if elections were held today he will with a wide majority), Nigeria will be stepping up in the ranks of countries headed by relatively old people (I don’t mean this as a compliment). Cameron, Cuba, Tunisia, Lao,Algeria are some examples of countries that have heads of state above 70-years. You know what else these countries have in common? Troubled economies.

Buhari without doubt is a decent man by his rights. He’s arguably patriotic, and have shown the best of interest for Nigeria’s development. Even his untainted integrity is a shining example. But he is apparently weak in body and mind. he’s conspicuously out of touch with this new age. Nigeria needs a young, cosmopolitan, and creative president.

By Meibara Rommel

Staff Writer

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